Queen of the Realm by WarriorJudge

queen of the realm

LOVE/SEX WARNING/DISCLAIMER : This story involves both love and sex (at times some rough/raw play with very mild BDSM elements – all consensual – nothing severe) between two adult women. If you’re under 18 or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it.

Queen of the Realm
by WarriorJudge

Part 1

The morning after the Conqueror’s and the Queen’s return from Thira, when the summer ended and autumn was fast approaching, a most unexpected guest arrived at the palace in Corinth, requesting an audience with them. After serving breakfast in the Imperial chambers, the Queen’s ladies in waiting left the Royals to their own devices.

The Conqueror sliced open a ripe and juicy pomegranate and offered it to her wife.

The Queen reached over the table and took the offered fruit. “Do you intend on keeping me in the dark, my Lord, or are you going to disclose the identity of our guest soon?” She asked and licked the blood-red nectar from her lips, which accentuated their natural color.

The Conqueror leaned back against her chair and marveled at the sensual sight of her Queen gluttonously consuming the fruit’s succulent seeds.

“How urgently do you wish to know, my Lady?” The Conqueror laid down her knife and folded her arms over her chest. A mischievous glint was evident in her eyes.

“Within reason, my Lord,” the Queen applied her negotiation skills with a sealed face. She leaned back against her chair and folded her arms over her chest, mirroring her Lord’s pose.

“And just what is the measure of reason, my Lady?” The Conqueror inquired, thoroughly enjoying the battle of minds.

Inwardly, the Queen contemplated the pending question, and when she formed a satisfactory answer, she curbed a smile and replied earnestly, “I am willing to part with seven hundred Dinars in exchange, my Lord. The province of Crete under my government is doing ever so well.”

The significance of the sum stipulated by the Queen wasn’t lost on the Conqueror. It was the exact and total sum she had paid the slaver when she had purchased Gabrielle to service her as a body slave many years ago.

“Seven hundred Dinars…” the Conqueror feigned genuine consideration and rubbed her strong jaw with her forefinger. She would grant a retort designed to provoke the Queen as retribution for teasing her about their ill-conceived past. “A tad miniscule, isn’t it?”

Her Lord’s tantalizing words played the Queen’s humor but outwardly she remained cool. “Oh, I don’t know, my Lord. If memory serves, you seemed to think that the suggested sum was a too steep a price to pay for me.”

The Conqueror arrested a smirk at the Queen’s razz and quickly replied, “I have no need for monetary gain, my Lady,” then suggested offhand, “Perhaps a swift assignation in our bed before the meeting?”

“For a bit of information I would inevitably discover in just a short while!? I say, you think very little of my favors, my Lord,” the Queen protested and a faint smile revealed the first chink in her armor.

The Conqueror could taste her victory. “A kiss, then.”

The Queen weighed the offer on the table. It was all she could do not to leap over it and smother the tormenting Lord with kisses.

“Agreed,” she finally stated.

The Conqueror unfolded her arms and let them drop to the sides of her body, mindlessly preparing herself to collect the agreed upon price. “You drive a hard bargain, my Lady,” she concluded.

“I’ve learnt from the best, my Lord.” The Queen rose to her feet, slowly moved from around the table between them, and steadily paced towards her Lord. Facing the seated Conqueror, she lifted up her dress, straddled her, feeling the Conqueror’s familiar bulge against her loins. With a determined touch of her hand against her Lord’s jaw, the Queen pried it open. She leaned down and inserted a probing hot tongue to dance passionately inside the Conqueror’s warm mouth. Leaving her Lord feeble and panting, the Queen triumphantly lifted herself off her and casually said; “It is now your turn, my Lord. We are expected downstairs.”

It took the Conqueror, who had never been the victim of such ardent assertiveness, a few moments to recover from her Queen’s dazzling kiss. “Right,” she muttered once consolidation of mind was restored, “Our guest is Melosa, Queen of the Amazons.”

“Queen of the Amazons,” exclaimed the Queen of the Realm, “How exciting. I’ve heard of them and have always harbored a desire to meet with them.”

“Have you, now?” the Conqueror raised an ebony eyebrow, and pursed her lips. She turned away from the Queen and walked over to her desk.

“Their way of life is quite intriguing, don’t you think?”

“I do, my Lady.” The Sovereign put her crown on top of her head.

“Have you any idea as to the reason for this visit, my Lord?” the Queen asked and covered the distance between herself and her Lord.

The Conqueror took the Queen’s crown in both hands and gently placed it atop her Queen’s head. “None,” she replied.

“Scarce is known about them,” the Queen pointed out, concerned that she might not be sufficiently prepared for the meeting.

“They reside in a forested enclave between three of the Realm’s provinces: Macedonia, Moesia and Thrace,” the Conqueror explained.

“They never sent a representative to our wedding or to the banquet in honor of our daughter’s birth,” the Queen recalled.

“Theirs is a reclusive culture, which I respect,” the Conqueror replied and offered her arm to the Queen.

As the Royal couple made their way to the Great Hall, the Queen went on to inquire, “Are they under our reign?”

“Of course they are. Many years ago, before I conquered Macedonia, Moesia and Thrace, the Amazon nation suffered greatly at the hands of the Romans, who had attacked their lands regularly. After I conquered these three providences, the Amazon nation was taken under my rule. They pay taxes to the Realm like all provinces and in return they enjoy my protection and the peace which I provide.”

“May I ask, my Lord, how is it that the Amazons are being governed by a queen of their own rather than a governor of the Realm’s nobility?”

“A clever question, my Lady.” The Conqueror complimented then answered, “I value their unique traditions.”

The Conqueror’s answer surprised the Queen, but the Conqueror’s words that followed put a rapid end to the surprise, “I also thought that the Amazons would be more amiable to my will if their own queen were to rule them, rather than my own appointed governor.”

As they walked together side by side, the Queen was bothered by the gnawing feeling that there was more to it than the Conqueror led on.

“You have come into your own power, my Lady,” the Conqueror acknowledged with a private whisper.

“I hope you welcome it, my Lord,” the Queen replied and gazed up to look at her Lord’s unrevealing profile.

A few moments passed before the Conqueror returned the exact same words that the Queen had said to her at the breakfast table, “Within reason, my Lady.”

When they’ve reached the Great Hall, Princess Athena joined them.

Once the Royals took their seats at their thrones, the ceremony master announced the arrival of Queen Melosa of the Amazons. The doors were flung open, and the Conqueror’s advisors, military commanders and secretaries who attended the forum, even the guards, sharply turned their heads to the entrance in anticipation, riveted. Amazons made a rare sight.

A woman with colorful fillets in her dark hair, about the Conqueror’s age, confidently strode into the Great Hall, accompanied by five women who strode behind her. She was dressed in a short thin tunic with one breast bare, woolen trousers, a cloak and ankle-high fur topped boots of untanned hide and with upturned toe. A labrys was tucked in her leather belt.

The way that the Amazons were dressed, the manner in which they carried themselves, the fact that they were armed, all captivated Queen Gabrielle and left a profound impression on her. They seemed proud, brave and independent in her eyes. They struck her as women who master their own fate. She had never before seen such women, aside from her Lord and her daughter. She didn’t recall ever seeing women warriors in the Realm’s military forces. Knowing her Lord, she was positive that it wasn’t for lack of equal opportunities but that women abiding by society’s customs and demands simply didn’t enlist. In that regard the Amazons piqued her interest as well.

“Queen Melosa,” the Conqueror addressed the Amazon Queen.

“Your Majesty,” the Amazon Queen bowed before the Conqueror, as did her entourage.

The Conqueror rose to her feet and stepped down from her throne as a sign of exceptional respect.

“I introduce to you – my family,” the Conqueror arced her hand widely at the direction of her wife and daughter, still seated on their thrones, then added, “My pride.”

The double meaning of the word ‘pride,’ which the Conqueror had chosen to use in reference to her family, didn’t elude Queen Gabrielle as she carefully studied the group of women that stood before her, mesmerized.

The Amazon Queen bowed before the Queen of the Realm, “Your Majesty,” then bowed before Princess Athena.

Queen Gabrielle and Princess Athena imitated the Conqueror’s gesture of respect, rose up and walked to stand to each side of the Conqueror.

“Queen Melosa,” Queen Gabrielle addressed the Amazon, “It is a great honor to welcome you to Corinth.”

“The honor is mine, your Majesty. Your beauty, wisdom and grace precede you,” Queen Melosa returned the honor.

Queen Gabrielle regarded the seasoned Amazon leader, “Thank you, Queen Melosa.”

“What can we do for you, Queen Melosa?” the Conqueror asked.

Queen Gabrielle thought she noticed a mild tension between her Lord and the Amazon Queen, and couldn’t help but wonder as to its cause.

“The edges of our hunting grounds surrounding our lands aren’t safe anymore,” declared the Amazon Queen.

“In what way?” the Conqueror inquired.

“In the past moon, eight of our sisters have been killed by unmarked arrows. One of them was my second in command and consort, Hippolyta.” Upon mentioning her consort’s name, the Amazon Queen’s voice quavered.

“My sincere condolences, Queen Melosa,” the Conqueror offered.

The sturdy Queen quickly composed herself. “Thank you, your Majesty.”

“Marauders?” the Conqueror suggested.

“As your Majesty knows, we pay our taxes in hides and wood to the Realm via the governor of Thrace. Had it been marauders, the optimal timing for a raid would have been then. However, the attacks took place during routine functions and nothing was taken, your Majesty,” replied the Amazon Queen.

“Were all your sisters killed near your boarder with Thrace?”

“No, your Majesty, only three. Two others were killed near our border with Moesia and three others near Macedonia.”

The Conqueror clasped her hands behind her back. “What do you suspect?”

“With all due respect, your Majesty, perhaps one or all of the provinces surrounding our lands wish to encroach on our fertile territory and expel our nation from its lands. After all, it is a man’s world, right?” claimed the Amazon Queen.

“Wrong. It is my world, and in my world the governors under my rule ought to do as I command. These are serious allegations.” It was clear that the Conqueror did not appreciate Queen Melosa’s allegation.

“Forgive me, your Majesty, but someone out there is slaying my sisters and I don’t know who or how to protect my sisters. There is tension near our boarders, and the situation is tenuous at best. I dread escalation and further bloodshed.”

“Very well. You are all welcome to dine, wash yourselves and rest from your long journey. We shall reconvene here at midday, by which time I shall render my decision,” the Conqueror concluded.

“Thank you, your Majesty.” The Queen of the Amazons bowed before the Realm’s Sovereign, and accompanied by her entourage, all vacated the Great Hall.

“Leave us,” the Conqueror ordered all present in the Great Hall.

When the Conqueror remained alone with the Queen and their daughter, she seated herself heavily upon her throne, deep in thought. Queen Gabrielle and Princess Athena waited silently for her words.

“It is a conundrum,” the Conqueror finally let out, still pondering, as if she was talking to herself. “Who stands to gain the most should such conflict escalate?” The Conqueror’s mind was reeling, but viable answers escaped her.

Queen Gabrielle was troubled as well, for it was her sister the Lady Lila who governed the province of Macedonia, which boarded with the Amazons’ forests. She was almost too timid to raise the issue with her Lord, though she was convinced that her Lord had already considered the matter.

“You don’t suppose, my Lord, that Lila has a hand in it, do you?” Queen Gabrielle finally presented the question, not without a grain of concern.

It seemed like the very mention of Lila’s name rattled the Conqueror. “I haven’t forgiven her, her slight against you, and if it weren’t for her kinship to you, my Lady, she would have been stripped of her position along with her family, if not worse.”

It had been Lady Lila who had disclosed the fact that Queen Gabrielle had been the Conqueror’s body slave to her youngest son. He later repeated that unpleasant truth to Princess Athena, who up until that point had been unaware of her parents’ dismal past.

The Queen approached her Lord’s throne and stood in front of her. “I know, my Lord, and I thank you for respecting my wish to withhold retribution,” she said.

“Your sister, my Lady, is resentful and vindictive. I have no doubt in my mind that she envies you still.” The Conqueror regarded her beloved Queen, who stood before her, and frowned.

“She has since come to understand her misdeed and atoned for it, my Lord. Lila no longer bears any ill-feelings towards me, I assure you.” The Queen sounded convinced enough.

Not so the Conqueror, though.”You have the most extraordinary capacity to be blind to your loved ones’ shortcomings and improprieties, my Lady,” she said with an unreadable tone of voice.

The Queen was uncertain as to whether her Lord’s words were meant to sing her praises or scold her for lack thereof.

Princess Athena, who momentarily believed that her presence was all but forgotten by her parents, was fascinated by the rare occasion of watching them conducting what seemed to be a private conversation.

“Nevertheless,” the Conqueror continued, “Your sister doesn’t strike me as one to have the necessary stoutheartedness to commit such violent acts or order such violent acts be committed. Agrippa, her husband, is governed by her and is a poor hunter. He lacks the grit to take the life of an animal, let alone the lives of fierce women,” she surmised.

Inwardly, the Queen sighed in relief, but it was short lived upon hearing her Lord’s next words.

“I’m not equally sure the same applies to their sons, though,” the Conqueror stated considerately.

“What do you intend to do, my Lord?” the Queen asked, not entirely untroubled.

A few long moments passed in silence before the Conqueror granted her answer. “Athena and I shall leave Corinth and head to the Amazons’ forests at midday. It ought to be quite a learning experience for her,” the Conqueror decided and averted her gaze to her daughter.

The Queen’s heart churned in her chest when her Lord excluded her from joining the journey to the Amazons’ lands. “May I join you as well, my Lord?”

“It might not be safe for you, my Lady,” the Conqueror explained her decision.

“I am safe the most in your presence, my Lord,” the Queen argued. “Please,” she then said with pleading eyes.

The Conqueror bore a suspecting glare into her Queen then slowly smiled half a smile. “I wonder,” she said thoughtfully and covered her jaw with her fingers as her elbow rested against her throne’s arm, “if your desire to join me has more to do with you not wishing to part with me, or your wish to study the Amazons more closely?”

With a wily smile, the Queen slowly and deliberately perched herself atop the Conqueror’s lap and held her gaze. “Athena,” she called out to her daughter, never breaking eye contact with her Lord, “Excuse us, and on your way out, please inform the ceremony master at the doors we are not to be disturbed. Your Sire and I wish to be alone.”

Athena scoffed and rolled her eyes back in her head. “Honestly!” she breathed. “As if you haven’t just gotten back from Thira!” she scolded them for what she considered her parents’ unbridled and even adolescent behavior, but secretly, as most children one could imagine, she felt joyous and secure to see unadulterated affection blossom between her parents.

As she reached the entrance, Athena heard the Conqueror lightheartedly complaining to her Queen, “Your daughter is an ill-mannered brat, my Lady.”

To which the Queen responded matter-of-factly:

“You are as much responsible as I am for our daughter’s upbringing, my Lord.”

Then there were no more words.

***

Come midday, the Amazon delegation headed by their Queen returned to the Great Hall after enjoying the Realm’s hospitality.

“Queen Melosa, I will tolerate neither murderous acts being committed against the Amazon nation and its Queen consort nor any attempts to disturb or disrupt order and peace in the Realm. Further investigation into this matter is warranted, and given the gravity of the situation I shall handle this matter personally. Her Majesty the Queen and her Grace will join me.”

“Thank you for honoring us, Majesties,” Queen Melosa bowed respectfully.

“Very good. We shall head to the Amazon’s lands tomorrow at first light. In the meantime, you are all welcome to stay as our guests at the palace,” the Conqueror adjourned the meeting.

In light of the Queen’s desire to join them to the Amazons’ lands, a regent had to be appointed to handle the Realm’s affairs during their absence, and so soon after the meeting had ended, the Conqueror summoned her governor to Athens to the Corinthian palace. Just after dark, he appeared before her.

The respectable, silver-haired Nobleman Timaeus met with the Conqueror in her study. The soft, warm firelight emanating from the burning torches around the chamber walls made him appear younger than his years. He had fought alongside the Conqueror in the battle for Athens, in which he had sustained a severe injury to his left leg, which had rendered him limping to this day. He had been one of the very first to support the young deliverer, the redoubtable warrior from Amphipolis. In return for his support and loyalty, the Conqueror had appointed him governor to Athens ever since it had been conquered by her. In years when the Realm had no Queen, whenever the Conqueror had been absent from her throne, whenever her presence had been required elsewhere, it had been the trustworthy Nobleman Timaeus who had managed the Realm in her stead.

Once matters of the Realm were thoroughly discussed and set aside, the Conqueror invited Nobleman Timaeus to join her for a drink by the burning hearth.

The Sovereign leaned over the small wooden table between them and poured spirits into both their goblets.

“Thank you, Majesty,” the old nobleman said and took the goblet into his hand.

“You’re welcome, Nobleman,” the Conqueror replied.

“I was hoping to meet her Majesty the Queen,” he said sincerely and regarded the Conqueror, who emptied her goblet and poured herself a second drink.

“I’m afraid her Majesty has already retired for the night. A long journey awaits her tomorrow.” The Conqueror leaned back into the armchair and leisurely twirled the drink in her hand, observing the whirlpool she created in her chalice.

“Of course, Majesty. My mouth still waters whenever I think about her stock. Do you remember, Majesty, last year when we went hunting together?”

The Conqueror laughed.

“Her Majesty refused to surrender her recipe to my cook,” he joined the Conqueror in laughter. “She persisted that if I wished to enjoy her stock I must invite your Majesties for hunting more often, and was very adamant about it.”

The Conqueror brushed her fingers through her ebony long hair. “You mustn’t take it to heart. It means that her Majesty is quite fond of you. Besides, she wouldn’t let our own cook have it for the same reason.”

The Nobleman’s laughter intensified and he began to choke and wheeze. The Conqueror poured him a second drink as well and put the goblet in his hand, then reached over the table between them and tapped upon his back, till he calmed. When the merriment subsided, it became quiet again save for the crackling sounds of the fire.

“If you’ll allow me, Majesty… On a personal note…” He downed the spirits, which soothed his sore throat, preparing himself courage-wise for what he wished to say to his Sovereign.

The Conqueror averted her eyes from the hypnotizing fire and fixed it on the Nobleman. “You are free to speak you mind, Timaeus,” she said and laid down her drink.

“Back at the meeting…” he began, “the one where your Majesty decided to marry the Queen,” he sounded hesitant.

“I remember,” the Conqueror confirmed with something stern in her tone.

“Back then, I admit, my opinion was one with my fellow noblemen. I was in the belief that the late Princess Lao-Ling was a better match for your Majesty, and a greater contribution to the Realm, but I have since come to realize that your Majesty was right and I was wrong.” The nobleman paused, as if waiting to study his Master’s reaction to his latest statement before proceeding.

But the Conqueror’s face remained sealed and gave nothing away. “How so?” she simply asked as the hearth’s flames flickered in her eyes.

“Her Majesty has proven to be compassionate and gracious towards your Majesties’ subjects. In building the hospices and academies throughout the Realm, her Majesty has bettered the lives of the commoners to no small extant, and in doing so, the commoners not only bear awe and admiration towards you, Majesty, but genuine adoration. And if you’ll forgive me, your Majesty, if I’m overstepping my bounds…” he said carefully, and assessed his Sovereign’s countenance intently for the slightest of shifts.

The Conqueror waved her hand at him, spurring him to continue.

“Her presence in your Majesty’s life appears to have made your Majesty seem…” the Nobleman paused as if trying to pick out the best words possible, “less angry,” he finally let out.

The Conqueror returned her gaze back to the fire, while the Nobleman waited anxiously for her response, wondering if he had made a major error in speaking his mind.

The Conqueror balled her hand on which she wore her seal ring into a fist. “Let us hope others don’t share your view,” she muttered eventually.

A few more moments passed between them in silence. When the Nobleman stretched out his legs in front of the fire, he grimaced in agony. “These old bones!” he blasted.

“Time stops for no one, old sport,” the Conqueror said, then added ponderingly, “Not even for the Conqueror of the Realm.”

The Nobleman chuckled and cleared his throat, “Your Majesty is young still.”

“Of the entire Realm’s nobility’s lies, yours I like best,” the Conqueror said and smiled kindly.

“Grey has yet to invade your Majesty’s mane and not a wrinkle is evident upon you. Time fears the great Conqueror,” he said.

The Conqueror rose to her feet. “Lady Satrina will show you to your quarters for the duration of your stay in Corinth, Nobleman.”

“Is Karpa no longer your Majesty’s steward?” the Nobleman asked with a tad of surprise.

“Old Karpa passed away five moons ago. He served me well till his last day on this earth. I appointed Lady Satrina as steward of my household,” the Conqueror replied.

The Nobleman stood up not without difficulty, “Poor dear old Karpa,” the Nobleman mumbled and shook his head as he felt death biting at his heels.

“Extend my apology to your dear wife for depriving her of your presence in her bed,” the Sovereign offered.

“Unfortunately, Majesty, at my age I have no more use in my wife’s bed. Please extend the same apology to her Majesty.”

The Conqueror slightly nodded her head in approval.

“May I ask, your Majesty, when should I expect your return from the Amazons’ lands?”

“Not before a fortnight and no longer than a moon, Nobleman. I shan’t be detained long,” the Conqueror informed him.

“Very good,” he grunted when he shifted his weight from one leg to the other. “As always, I am honored by the great trust your Majesty places in me and I shall devote my entire industry to perform my duties to the best of my abilities.”

The Conqueror gestured her thanks with another nod of her head. “What are your thoughts regarding these recent events near the Amazons’ borders?”

“I wouldn’t hazard to guess, Majesty. That is why your Majesty is the Lord Conqueror of the Realm and I am but your Majesty’s humble servant,” he adulated and chuckled with a low tone of voice.

The Conqueror received his latest remark in good humor. “Good night, Nobleman,” she bade him before joining her wife in the Imperial chambers.

As she furthered away from him, he bowed before his admired Sovereign as deeply as he could to the point of suffering pain on account of his aged and tired back. “Good night, Majesty,” he responded.
Part 2
The unimpressive autumn sun rose over the grey morning. A small detachment of a dozen soldiers from the Imperial Guard flanked the Conqueror and her family along with the Amazon Queen and her sisters. With their saddlebags sufficiently stocked with sustenance which would need to last them for the duration of the long journey ahead of them, they mounted their horses and commenced a moderate ride, so as not to exhaust the animals, due north to the Amazon enclave.

“How long before we get there?” asked the Queen just as they were leaving Corinth .

“We should be there in four or five days, provided the weather holds,” the Conqueror replied.

As they were riding astride their horses, the Queen noticed her daughter’s eye wandering time and time again to the bare breasts of the Amazons riding with them.

“Athena,” the Queen whispered discretely to her ogling daughter.

But her daughter seemed engrossed and distracted by something far more alluring, it would seem, and didn’t respond to her mother’s call.

“Athena,” repeated the Queen a bit louder than before.

Princess Athena sharply turned her head and seemed almost annoyed that her attention was forced away from its titillating objects.

“What?” she asked, irked.

“It is rude to stare,” the Queen admonished her daughter, making sure she couldn’t be heard by the party of Amazons riding with them.

“I wasn’t staring,” Athena vehemently rejected her mother’s accusation.

The Queen gave the Princess a clear disbelieving look, which convinced her daughter there was no point asserting to the contrary.

“One simply cannot look away. The sight of breasts is so very engaging and… distracting,” argued Athena in her defense.

The Queen and the Princess failed to notice two Amazons who were riding behind them, far enough but not outside of hearing range.

One of them led her horse to ride closely next to the other, close enough to whisper into her sister’s ear, “Well, this golden apple didn’t fall far from the Imperial tree,” to which the other nodded her head in agreement as she regarded the young golden-haired Princess, censoriously.

“Observe my Lord,” the Queen told her daughter and cast an admiring glance at the Conqueror, who was sturdily riding a few feet in front and to the right of them, conversing with the Amazon Queen. “My Lord maintains focus and practices self-control. Nothing distracts my Lord,” the Queen said proudly.

Athena scoffed, “I venture to say focus or self-control has very little to do with it,” she whispered, covering her mouth.

The Queen knew what her daughter meant. The Conqueror had eyes only for her.

By nightfall the Conqueror ordered her men to set up camp to the side of the road. Two soldiers of the Imperial Guard and two Amazons stood watch, with burning torches in one hand and drawn weapons in the other.

The Conqueror invited the Amazon Queen with the remaining three Amazons to join their bonfire. Supper was eaten in silence, save the natural sounds of a night beneath the stars.

Much to the Queen’s dismay, The Amazons weren’t what one would call talkative.

“Have you had occasion to seek treatment in the hospice in Thrace ?” she finally asked in the hopes that her question would ignite conversation, as she refilled her Lord’s plate.

“We keep to ourselves, Majesty, and take care of our own,” Antiope, one of the Amazons, was first to respond to the Queen’s question.

“Our Shamaness, Smyrna heals our wounded and sick,” Queen Melosa elaborated, sensing some asperity in Antiope’s tone of voice.

“I should very much like to meet her and learn from her,” Queen Gabrielle said enthusiastically.

“I am confident that Smyrna would be honored to share her wisdom with you, Majesty, and thrilled to borrow and benefit from your wisdom,” replied the Queen as she put away her empty plate and extended her palms closer to the fire for warmth.

Queen Gabrielle turned to her Lord with a flask in her hand, “More wine, my Lord?”

“I shall take tea, my Lady,” the Conqueror answered.

The Queen moved to squat over the fire. She grabbed the sooty iron pot by its wooden handle and carefully poured a steaming cup and handed it to her Lord.

“I admire your way of life from what little I’ve heard of it,” the Queen told the Amazons when she returned to sit next to the Conqueror. “I was especially impressed by your resilience and perseverance holding your own against Caesar before he was defeated by my Lord.”

“That is due to our surreptitious tactics on the battlefield, Majesty,” Queen Melosa answered not without pride.

“The Amazons used Caesar’s arrogance against him.” the Conqueror explained to her wife , “The Amazons faked a retreat, only to turn together at the precise moment and attacked Caesar’s disarrayed forces, who, seeing the retreating warrior women, had broken rank and could not provide a solid front to the advancing Amazons.” The Conqueror paused and took a gulp of her tea. “A mistake I didn’t make,” she added soon after.

Some of the Realm’s soldiers who stood by and overheard their Sovereign and Supreme Commander nodded their heads eagerly with arrogance spread upon their faces like they were so proud to serve under such brilliant Master, superior to all other leaders.

Upon seeing surprise across the Amazons’ faces, aside from their Queen, the Conqueror went on to say, “A wise leader learns from his mistakes, but a wiser leader learns from those of others. I studied this battle before charging. In battle, when there is much running about and the soldiers fall into ranks, it means that the critical moment has come. When some soldiers are seen advancing and some retreating, it is a lure.”

Princess Athena drank in the Conqueror’s words. She knew that a day discussing warfare with the Conqueror was worth more than a lifetime spent in a military academy.

“Of course. No one wages war quite like the Lord Conqueror,” Antiope commented, but the manner in which she uttered her words hinted heavily to the fact that she didn’t intend it as tribute.

Queen Melosa comprehended as much. She turned to Antiope and said, “Antiope, you have disgraced both your sister-Amazons and me. Apologize to the Lord Conqueror, at once.”

Antiope honored her Queen’s command and apologized to the Conqueror.

“The Lord Conqueror was honorable enough to offer us an opportunity to surrender before any true bloodshed commenced. We were allowed our liberties, our own government and peace,” said the Amazon Queen . “Need I remind you how Caesar’s soldiers treated our younger sisters as opposed to the soldiers of the Realm?!”

Nevertheless, Antiope wasn’t alone in her beliefs. At heart, between Caesar and the Lord Conqueror, most Amazons considered the latter to be, perhaps, the lesser of two evils although not by much.

“We best get some sleep,” the Conqueror said after a few long moments passed in silence. “We have an early start through difficult and arduous terrain ahead of us tomorrow.” The Conqueror rose to her feet.

All those around the bonfire stood as well.

“Good night, Majesties,” the Amazons bowed before the Realm’s Royals.

“Good night,” the Royals replied.

In the privacy of their own tent, the Queen turned to the Conqueror and said, “They don’t seem to like you, my Lord.”

“As long as they obey me, I couldn’t care less whether they like me or not,” said the Conqueror as she began to disrobe.

The Queen poured some clean water into a copper bowl, then squatted before her Lord, took off her leather boots and began washing her feet.

“Is it their pride, do you reckon?” she asked, while her hands kept busy.

“They don’t appreciate having any authority above that of their Queen.” The Conqueror enjoyed the soft touch of her wife’s soaped hands carefully massaging her feet.

The Queen washed off the thin layer of soap from her Lord’s feet and dried them attentively between each toe.

“Now I’ll do yours, my Lady,” the Conqueror offered fondly and moved to kneel in front of her Queen and gave her the same caring treatment as she had received.

“Typically, the Amazons are an unruly bunch and they neither appreciate outsiders amongst their midst nor do they trust them,” the Conqueror told her somnolent and pensively looking wife. “You look tired,” she pointed out.

“I am, my Lord, and I can still feel the horse I’ve been riding on for the better part of the day between my thighs,” the Queen chuckled.

As the Conqueror finished freshening her wife’s feet, they laid themselves one next to the other atop the bedrolls. The Conqueror covered them both with a healthy coat of furs. “Press closer against me, love. It will get colder tonight.” The Ruler’s warm breath gently blew over the outlines of the Queen’s perfectly sculpted ear.

The Queen needed no excuse to press harder against her Lord. “Your body is tense,” she instantly noticed. “Nothing like when we are in Thira . ”

“You have grown to know me better than I know myself,” the Conqueror’s alto voice played like music in the Queen’s ear. “I feel most relaxed when I’m in bed in our villa at Thira when you’re in my arms with nothing but the sea around us.” She paused and then added, ” Thira is secluded and so I worry less about your safety, my Lady.”

“You worry too much, my Lord,” the Queen murmured as she took the Conqueror’s arm and wrapped it around her own petite frame. “It must be exhausting. Nothing will happen to me or to us,” she attempted to grant her Lord a cease from the constantly present concern.

The Conqueror sniggered, “You do realize that any plight that befalls us hence forth is your fault, don’t you?”

Just before she gave rest to her eyes, a thought crossed the Queen’s mind that her beloved Lord had always been in the belief that one can master their own destiny.

***

It took the traveling party another four days before it reached the outer borders between Amazon lands and the province of Thrace .

“We have arrived,” Queen Melosa stated and dismounted her mare next to a low stone-made wall that looked almost improvised. A labrys was wedged between its hyssop covered stones, marking the land as Amazon territory.

As the Conqueror dismounted her horse, she glanced skyward to the heavy cluster of foreboding silvery clouds rapidly forming above them and muttered, “And not a moment too soon. It’ll rain momentarily.”

Princess Athena helped her mother off her horse while the Imperial guards were nearing the border in order to secure a perimeter around their Sovereigns.

“Majesty,” Queen Melosa addressed the Conqueror, “Your men…”

Both Queen Gabrielle and Princess Athena didn’t understand the meaning of Queen Melosa’s cryptic words and turned to look at the Conqueror.

The Conqueror held Queen Melosa’s gaze intently. The ever-present tension grew ten-fold. “Halt!” she finally issued her order to her men and the soldiers stopped their advance and awaited further orders.

“You will make camp here. You are to remain here until further notice,” the Conqueror ordered them. “Under no circumstances are you to enter Amazon lands. Is that clear?”

“By your will, Majesty,” the highest-ranking officer affirmed his Sovereign’s command.

The Conqueror seized the opportunity to educate Princess Athena and so she turned to her and advised, “A Ruler’s orders must be precise, clear and simple. If a Ruler’s orders are misunderstood, it is the Ruler’s fault, not his soldiers’.”

“What about punishments, Majesty?” Athena asked.

“If soldiers are punished before they have grown attached to you, they will not prove submissive; and, unless submissive, then they will be practically useless. If, when the soldiers have become attached to you, punishments are not enforced, they will still be useless ,” the Conqueror answered.

Two Amazons took the reigns from the Realm’s Royals and led the horses behind them.

“Welcome to Amazon lands,” Queen Melosa proudly extended her greeting to the Royal family as they crossed the Thracian border and into Amazon territory.

“What was the meaning of this?” the Queen whispered to her Lord and gestured her head back to where the Imperial Guard detachment was left behind.

“Back when I conquered the Amazon’ lands and negotiated their peaceful surrender, I gave Queen Melosa my word that soldiers of the Realm shall not set foot on Amazon grounds without her permission as long as the Amazon nation keeps the peace and complies with the Realm,” the Conqueror explained to her wife as they walked side by side.

A lightning tore the skies and soon after a thunderclap’s roar followed, then a gentle tapping of raindrops against reddish-yellowing leaves commenced.

As the Queen of the Realm enjoyed the small droplets hitting her face, she couldn’t help but ponder at how highly unusual was the peace treaty that had been struck between the Realm and the Amazon nation.

At that moment, a few feet ahead, from between the deciduous woods six Amazons emerged.

The seasoned Amazon warrior Queen finally smiled and her face seemed to brighten up. When both parties closed the distance between them, Queen Melosa turned to the Realm’s Royals. “Majesties, your Grace. May I introduce to you my daughter, Princess Terreis,” she said.

“Majesties, your Grace,” the young curly redheaded Amazon princess bowed before the Realm’s Royal family.

“A pleasure to meet you, princess Terreis,” Queen Gabrielle offered to the Amazon princess, who was but a few years older than Princess Athena. She quickly took a shine to the young Amazon, who seemed to beam with goodness and great promise.

“The pleasure is all mine, your Majesty,” princess Terreis smiled a brilliant smile of youthful exuberance and delight. “I have long desired to meet with the benevolent Queen of the Realm.”

“Majesty,” the Amazon Queen addressed the Conqueror as she was about to present her second in command. “I trust you remember Molpadia.”

“I do,” the Conqueror responded dryly and dispassionately.

“She will be at your Majesty’s disposal for the duration of your stay,” said Queen Melosa as Molpadia bowed before the Conqueror.

It was the way in which the lovely-looking warrior Molpadia straightened back upwards, casually allowing her woolen cape to fall back behind her shoulder, exposing a bare breast, and the manner in which she looked at the Conqueror, that made Queen Gabrielle sense there had been some shared history between her Lord and the Amazon.

Molpadia all but batted her eyelashes at the Conqueror and said suggestively sans any hint of shame or impediment, “It will be a pleasure to serve under you once more, your Majesty.”

As years with her Lord had trained her, Queen Gabrielle absorbed the less than subliminal insult and held her head up high and didn’t downcast her gaze. Her daughter’s presence only made it all the more difficult. Her mind couldn’t help but wander back to the time when the Conqueror had given her the isle of Crete, and how Lady Octavia, wife of the then governor of Crete , had practically thrown herself at the Conqueror.

The Conqueror ignored Molpadia’s arguably subtle advances.

An older woman, a decade older than the Conqueror, came to stand next to the Amazon princess accompanied by her young apprentice. She was dressed slightly differently from the rest of the Amazons. Her entire body was covered from head to toe with animal skins. She was not armed. A staff with a peculiar looking symbol adorned with colorful feathers was clutched in her left hand. Another symbol was painted on her forehead with a brownish looking substance.

“And this is our Shamaness, Smyrna ,” continued the Amazon Queen.

“Your Majesties,” greeted Shamaness Smyrna and carefully inspected the Conqueror and the Queen that stood before her with wise eyes. “The Lion and the Lioness, the Ruler and the healing Queen,” she stated, “I am deeply honored.”

The stoic Conqueror was suspicious of the Shamaness, who spoke of her and her mate and looked at them as though she could see into them, and so behind unrevealing countenance, she equally studied the older woman.

Queen Gabrielle was profoundly moved by the Shamaness words, which gave her an odd sensation of being truly recognized. These were much more than empty platitudes she had grown accustomed to in all her years as Queen. She immediately acknowledged her powerful urge to get better acquainted with the Amazon Shamaness. “I regard healing as a sacred duty of those who are able to practice it. Easing the suffering bodies of the sick and the wounded is a great privilege,” she said.

“Not just their bodies, your Majesty, but their souls as well,” replied the Shamaness.

Knowing it was about to get dark soon, the Conqueror turned to the Amazon Queen, “Queen Melosa, lead me to where your consort and your sisters where attacked. I wish to examine the area,” the Conqueror suggested as the rain began to intensify and create puddles of water on the ground.

“Of course, Majesty,” Queen Melosa replied, “This way,” she gestured with her arm. After a short walk near the edges of the woods, the Amazon Queen stopped and showed the Conqueror where the bodies had been found.

“There were no footsteps anywhere near the bodies. Nothing was disturbed. It seemed like they dropped where they stood as the arrows hit them,” the Queen said. “We even covered the ground surrounding this area. There was nothing to be found. Not a single arrow missed its target, for we found none that weren’t embedded in our dead. It is the same as the attacks near the other two borders.”

The Conqueror lifted up her gaze and surveyed the treetops line. She had an eerie feeling as if she was being watched. The sounds of thunders and the rain drumming against the ground and the trees, and the wind blowing through the branches, made it difficult to see or hear properly. However, her sharply attuned senses were highly alert. She surmised that whoever it was that shot the arrows was very skilled and had probably done so from a vantage point on a tree high above the ground.

“Tell me, princess Terreis, are all Amazons born into your tribe?” Queen Gabrielle eagerly asked the vivacious Amazon princess, while her Lord was analyzing the surroundings.

“Most are, Majesty. Every spring, those of us who wish it leave the tribe to mate with men in order to conceive. Female issue are then kept with the tribe and male issue are left with their fathers. After the gracious Lord Conqueror decreed all slaves were to be freed from their owners, we took it upon ourselves to adopt the very few who ventured here and made them our sisters,” the young princess told the Queen.

“That is very honorable and compassionate of you,” the Queen said. “And if you had to tell me in a nutshell about the Amazons’ way of life, what would you say?”

“Ours is the way of sisterhood. We love and protect each other. We live for one another,” answered the princess without a moment’s hesitation.

To the Realm’s Queen, the young princess seemed very warm-hearted and welcoming. She then realized that she had judged the Amazons solely by what could be seen on the surface. True, they were tough, strong and appeared a tad aloof, but there was much more to them than that. What stood at the base of their existence was mutual caring for each other. That thought led her to further wonder how she was perceived by others around her. Being Queen of the Realm, at the very top of the world placed a substantial distance, which couldn’t be ignored or bridged, between her and those around her. People could only be a certain way with her because of her station. If someone thought ill of her she would have no way of knowing, because they wouldn’t dare tell what they really thought of her to her face.

“Arrows! Take cover!” the Conqueror’s voice blasted over the roar of the thunder and the impending storm.

Not a moment passed before the first unmarked arrow hit the ground where Queen Gabrielle stood. Mortified and out of sheer instinct, the Conqueror sprang towards her beloved and swiftly extended her arm to grab her wife and guide her to safety.

“Athena!” the befuddled Queen exclaimed in terror.

From the corner of her eye, the Conqueror saw their daughter taking cover behind a wide oak tree. Athena’s warrior instincts were indeed honed to perfection.

“She’s safe!” The Conqueror concisely informed her wife with an urgent tone of voice, as her grip closed around her spouse’s wrist.

The Amazons were too far away from their princess to grant any help with the arrows shooting all around her. “Protect the Queen,” Molpadia shouted to her sisters, who with all the frenzy obeyed immediately and grabbed their Queen, who fought against them as she was trying to get to her daughter. The Amazons along with their Queen quickly dispersed into the woods and took cover behind the tree trunks.

At the same time, before she allowed herself to be pulled away by her protective Lord, Queen Gabrielle threw a quick glance at the Amazon princess, who stood glued to her place by panic not two paces away from her. To her horror, she saw princess Terreis suddenly plummeting to the soaked ground beneath her with an arrow embedded deep into the side of her abdomen.

Without thought, Queen Gabrielle acted upon her instincts as well. She managed to forcefully tug her hand and release it from the Conqueror’s grasp, grateful for the rain that made her skin wet and slippery, which enabled her to do so. She dropped into the mud, pressed her hands against the wound, attempting to stop the blood oozing from it, covered the Amazon princess with her own body, and closed her eyes shut.

As soon as she registered the absence of her Queen’s hand in hers, the Conqueror abruptly spun on the axis of her heels. The sight of her Queen protecting the young Amazon with her own body, with arrows flying close by around her and landing but a hair away from her, made the Ruler’s heart freeze its beatings in a chilling fright.

There was no doubt in the Conqueror’s mind as to her next course of action. Instantaneously, she darted back to where her Queen lay amidst the arrows and kneeled next to her. She simultaneously caught two arrows, which were veering in midair towards her Queen’s back, one in each hand. But, a third arrow, which was launched at the same time as the other two but from a different direction, pierced clean through her left bicep and the side of her light armor till its sharp metal head lodged itself between her ribs.

The injured Conqueror laid her bleeding body over her Queen, shielding her from harm. As she placed her cheek over her Queen’s, she saw that her Queen’s eyes were tightly shut as if preparing her body to be pierced. “I’m here now. You’re safe,” the Conqueror whispered calming words into her wife’s ear, as she saw two streams of blood tainting the puddles beneath them. She hoped none originated from her Queen. She was thankful, though, for her extraordinary abilities that enabled her to protect her love, and for the rain for effectively masking her tears.

Beneath the Conqueror, the Queen suddenly began to tremble, not out of fear for her own life or for the life she was protecting, but for the life of her lover.

A few moments passed and it was quiet again. There were no further soft sounds of arrows cutting through the autumn’s air, nothing but the sounds of nature’s tremulous mood could be heard. The vicious attack was finally over.
Part 3

Princess Athena was the first to come out from behind her hiding place. She fought hard to maintain her cool exterior as she ran towards her parents as fast as her strong legs could carry her. The Amazons ran after her towards their princess.

Just before Athena reached her destination, the Conqueror scowled in pain as she raised her body off her Queen, feeling the sharp arrowhead moving inside her flesh. She was unable to move her left arm, for the arrow that hit her skewered it to the side of her ribcage.

“My Lady,” she said anxiously.

As soon as she felt her Lord’s weight coming off her, Queen Gabrielle moved back to kneel before the mortally scathed Amazon. She felt the Conqueror’s hand skimming over her body along with an alarmed gaze in search of any signs of injury.

The Queen was quick to assure the Conqueror, “I wasn’t harmed, my Lord.” Her eyes traveled from the Amazon princess to her Lord. Only then did she see the arrow sticking out of the left side of her Lord’s body and the blood leaking from its entering points, and from beneath the lower edges of the Conqueror’s light armor.

“My Lord!” she shrieked and was about to remove her bloodied palms, which pressed against the Amazon’s wound, in order to attend to her Lord.

The Conqueror looked at the Amazon lying on the ground. “She’s hurt far worse than I am,” she discouraged her Queen’s intended actions.

“She lost so much blood,” the Queen whimpered compassionately, as she witnessed the pale Amazon struggling for air.

Princess Athena and the Amazons formed a circle around the Royal couple and princess Terreis.

“Majesties,” the terribly concerned Princess Athena let out with labored breath.

“There is no cause for alarm,” the Conqueror said firmly.

Queen Melosa and the Shamaness knelt next to the Amazon princess wallowing in a pool of her own blood and rainwater.

“Terreis,” Queen Melosa gasped and her sorrow rallied quickly to the surface.

The Shamaness assessed the princess’ wound. “It is too sever, my Queen,” she finally said gravely, causing Queen Melosa to burst into tears.

Princess Terreis opened her eyes just barely. She looked up at her mother and, knowing she was about to leave these mortal coils, she said with a broken voice, “I am proud to be your daughter.”

The grief-stricken Queen Melosa wailed uncontrollably.

Too weak to move her head, princess Terreis moved her pupils to fix her gaze on Queen Gabrielle. “Majesty,” she said then coughed out blood in spatters.

“Shhh…” Queen Gabrielle whispered and as her hand tenderly caressed the younger woman’s white cheek, her thumb wiped the blood away from her lips. “Save your strength.”

“Will you grant me my dying wish?” a terrible gurgling sound irrupted from the princess, as she was slowly drowning in her own blood.

Silent tears washed the Queen’s features. “Anything you wish, brave princess.”

“Will you take…” she began, but the blood clogged her throat, “Will you take my right of cast?”

The Queen did not understand. She looked up to her Lord and saw her eyes briefly widening. Her Lord did understand and seemed surprised.

“Right of cast?” Queen Gabrielle questioned.

“Daughter, think about what you’re doing,” Queen Melosa cried out, protesting vehemently, “Her Majesty is not one of us!”

“Mother, at heart, her Majesty is a true Amazon,” princess Terreis insisted with her last shreds of strength. “Will you?” she then directed her question to Queen Gabrielle.

“I don’t understand… What is this ‘right of cast’?” Queen Gabrielle inquired urgently, for she realized the light in the pure-hearted princess’ eyes was quickly fading.

“Promise me,” came out one last faint whisper from between unmoving lips.

“I promise,” Queen Gabrielle said, wishing more than anything to put the princess’ mind at rest.

And soon after the promise was made, the princess drifted away to her final respite.

Profound bereavement descended over all present. It was Queen Gabrielle who broke the fraught silence. “My deepest condolences for this great loss, Queen Melosa, however my Lord is in dire need of my care.”

“Besides, we are exposed, stationary targets staying here in the open. We need to leave at once,” the Conqueror said determinably.

Too distraught for words, the mourning mother just nodded her head.

The Amazon Queen’s second in command, Molpadia, ordered the Amazons to load the departed princess’ body atop a horse.

Princess Athena brought the Imperial horses to her parents. As she tried to offer the Conqueror her assistance climbing upon the well-groomed animal, the Conqueror rejected the offered help and simply muttered, “A ruler must never show even the slightest sign of weakness,” as she mounted her horse without surrendering any indication of the great pain she was in.

The ride into the depth of the thick woods to the Amazon village was quiet, and wet due to the rain. The dimming daylight barely penetrated through the thick treetops and the ground beneath the horses’ hooves was muddy. All seemed to be immersed deep in their own thoughts.

The Shamaness, who rode with her apprentice far behind the Conqueror, posed a question to her student, “What did you just see?”

“I saw the Queen of the Realm jumping to save the life of the princess and the princess giving her the right of cast upon her death,” answered the inexperienced apprentice.

“That is simply stating the obvious,” the Shamaness admonished the novice for what she considered an unsatisfactory answer.

“What did you see?” asked the apprentice in return.

The wise Shamaness waited a few moments before replying, as if giving her apprentice another chance to figure it out for herself. “I saw the ruthless Destroyer of Nations risking her life to save her Queen,” she finally responded.

At the head of the riding group, Queen Gabrielle kept a watchful eye over her Lord, just barely keeping up with her Lord’s galloping pace.

“How are you feeling, my Lord?” she asked, concerned.

Steering the reigns with her healthy hand, the Conqueror adjusted her position in her saddle in order to alleviate some of her pain. “I’ll live,” the Conqueror’s voice was strained.

“Poor princess Terreis. My heart goes out to Queen Melosa. Losing both her daughter and her consort and in such a short period of time… I don’t know what I would do if I ever lost you or our daughter,” the Queen said and shook her head as if shaking it could have stopped these thoughts from occupying her mind.

“Try not to worry so much, my Lady,” the Conqueror said with a voice strained still.

“What is this ‘right of cast’ matter?” the Queen inquired.

“You have just promised the late princess to take her place as princess of the Amazon nation and as heir to the Amazon Queen’s throne,” the Conqueror replied evenly and watched as a surprised expression spread over her wife’s face.

After riding for a candle-mark or so, just before darkness pervaded the cloudy skies, they arrived at the village located in the middle of a vast clearing. Wooden huts upon wooden huts approximately two feet above ground with wooden stairs leading to their entrances were built around a grand center. The center was partially paved and had a large podium close to the center.

The princess’ body was brought to the Shamaness’ hut to be cleansed and prepared for the funeral pyre. The Conqueror and her Queen were rushed to a spacious, candlelit hut next to the Queen’s hut.

Once inside their assigned hut, the Conqueror seated herself atop a high stool. She broke the exposed length of the arrow that wasn’t impaling her flesh, holding her left arm to her ribcage, and the arrow snapped easily enough. Meanwhile the Queen and the Shamaness ordered the Amazons attending them to gather and bring to them certain herbs, clean pieces of cloth, a needle and a strong thread, potent spirits and warm fresh water.

“Please, my Lord,” the Queen handed the Conqueror a piece of wood, “bite on it so that you won’t bite your tongue. It’s going to hurt.”

“That won’t be necessary, my Lady,” the stubborn and stoic Conqueror claimed while thinking that had been the best attempt on her life yet.

“Very well, my Lord,” the Queen receded and moved to stand to the Conqueror’s left and the Shamaness joined her. Both women secured their hold on the Conqueror’s left arm. “Please relax your arm, my Lord,” the Queen requested and the Conqueror relaxed her muscles completely. With one swift and precise motion, the Queen and the Shamaness released the Conqueror’s injured arm from the side of her body. Though excruciatingly painful, nothing but a brief tremor of the Conqueror’s brow and the quick clench of her jaw implied any discomfort upon her.

As the Amazons and Princess Athena stood around them watching in fascination, the Shamaness and her apprentice assisted Queen Gabrielle with mindfully removing the Conqueror’s light armor and allowing access to her wound. Once it was off, the Queen ripped a tear to the left side of the white silk blood stained shirt and exposed the injury.

Next, the Queen took a well-honed dagger and dipped it in the spirits. “Please keep still, my Lord,” she said, then skillfully and carefully inserted it where the arrowhead was lodged, till she was able to pull it out in whole. She brought the blood-covered arrowhead to her nostrils and took a sniff to check for the presence of a poison, and was tremendously relieved to find none.

A substantial amount of blood oozed from the Conqueror’s gash on the left side of her torso and arm. The Queen quickly washed the open wounds with spirits, and then proceeded to sow them with perfect, even, tiny stitches, all the while knowing they would leave scars.

Once she was done, she crushed and grinded the mixture of herbs she ordered with a mortar and a pestle, then added some oil and spirits until a smooth salve was formed. She lathered it on the Conqueror’s wounds, inwardly wishing their audience be gone so she could finally be alone with her Lord. She had so much to say to her. For instance, that if it hadn’t been for the light armor, the arrow in all likelihood would have pierced her heart and killed her, or that she was grateful for her Lord’s protection yet she shouldn’t have done so for the Realm needed its Ruler far more than it needed its Queen.

Queen Melosa entered the hut.

“Majesties,” she said. There was no escape discerning her bereavement. “I came to inquire after your Majesty’s condition, and to thank her Majesty the Queen for trying to save my daughter’s life.”

“My Lord is strong and invincible,” Queen Gabrielle replied as she wrapped the clean white bandages around the Conqueror’s wounds. “As for the late princess, I can only wish that I could have been more successful in saving her precious young life.”

“Thank you,” Queen Melosa said to Queen Gabrielle then turned to address the Conqueror, “May I ask, your Majesty, what have you gathered from the recent attack?”

“Judging from the patterns of the shooting, I am sure there are at least three perpetrators, and had it not been for the poor conditions due to the bad weather, we would have suffered greater losses,” the Conqueror said as the Queen knotted a large sheet of cloth behind the Conqueror’s nape, making a cradle-like sling for the Conqueror to rest her wounded arm in, allowing it to heal properly.

The Conqueror wriggled her fingers discretely, letting her Queen know that her motor functions hadn’t been damaged and remained completely intact.

“Whoever did this has been watching us closely from a great distance,” the Conqueror continued. “I was able to sense them, but not to see them. I have no doubt in my mind that they were perched on tree branches high above ground, well-hidden betwixt the treetops when they took aim. I’m not entirely sure whether they could discern from that distance that I or my family was present as well and that the group was compiled of more than Amazons.”

“I assure you, Majesty, no one could know that the Royal Family would be returning with us,” said the Amazon Queen. “They have managed to kill our princess. She was standing next to her Majesty the Queen when the attack began and the furthest from the rest of her sisters, who were closest to the woods, and their safety.”

“Indeed,” the Conqueror concurred. “Tomorrow at first light I shall return back to the scene with Molpadia and examine the area for any clues. Now, I wish to be left alone with my Queen.”

“Very well, your Majesty,” replied the Amazon Queen.

All present save for the Conqueror and Queen Gabrielle vacated the hut. Princess Athena was housed in the hut that stood next to her parents.

When footstep could no longer be heard, the Conqueror turned her gaze from the hut’s door to her Queen. “What went through your head, Madame?” she scowled.

“My Lord!?” the Queen questioned bewildered, not sure what she had done wrong.

“Risking your own life for a stranger!?”

If it weren’t for the proximity of the neighboring huts, the Conqueror’s voice would have surely roared.

“She…” the Queen started to say then paused, choosing her words carefully. “Her life was in danger and I was closest to her. I did what I thought was right, my Lord.”

“What you thought was right is wrong, Madame,” came the Conqueror’s vexed retort.

“Why, my Lord?” asked the Queen.

“Because the value of your life is immeasurably greater than hers,” the Conqueror answered.

“Why? Because I’m Queen of the Realm?”

The Conqueror neither confirmed nor denied.

“Because you love me?” the Queen tried a different explanation.

“Yes!” the Conqueror responded in a manner that was anything but loving. She was angry, and greatly so, for the Queen’s words enabled her to recognize and be confronted with her own selfishness.

“I’m sure Queen Melosa loved her daughter more than anything else on this earth,” the Queen replied unapologetically. “I acted upon my impulses, upon my beliefs, upon what is in my heart. I saw a young promising woman in harm’s way and my instincts behooved me to help her. It is against my nature to stand by and do nothing. I couldn’t have acted any differently, my Lord, and I would do it again, if I had to.”

The Conqueror let out a deep sigh. She rubbed her forehead with her healthy hand as she considered her wife’s words. “How ludicrous and unreasonable is it,” she finally spoke, “that I should be angry with you for possessing the same traits that make me love you so much.”

The Queen smiled in relief and happiness, and the tension of the day’s events began to ebb away. She walked over to her Lord, who was still seated atop the high stool, and gently wrapped her arms around her beloved, careful not to cause any pain. She breathed in the distinct musky scent of her Lord that blended with the odor of fresh rain and wet leather.

“Besides, my Lord, I never feel fear when I’m in your presence, for I know you will not allow any harm to come to me, so you see, I’m not truly brave.” The Queen placed a hastened kiss on the Conqueror’s neck, and stroked the long, dark, soaking mane before she released her. “It is you, my Lord, who shouldn’t have rushed to place yourself between me and the arrows. The Realm will survive my death, but it might not survive yours.”

“That is where you’re wrong, my Lady. The Realm might not survive yours,” came the Conqueror’s grim reply.

“You’ve made me a promise, my Lord,” the Queen reminded what needn’t be reminded.

“And I will do my very best to keep my word to you, my Lady. However, that is not what I meant when I said that the Realm might not survive your demise. What I meant to say was that it is you who have shown me the beauty in subtlety, and the strength in compassion. Surely you recognize your effect… the way you balance, if you will, my rule with your light.”

The Queen smiled a brilliant smile that surpassed that of the moonlight and dim light emanating from the burning candles in their hut. “Thank you, my gracious Lord,” she said simply, thinking these were some of the words she would forever cherish the most.

“You must dry yourself, my love, before you catch your death,” the Conqueror muttered and handed her Queen a dried piece of cloth.

The Queen helped the Conqueror out of her soaking regalia, and then helped her dry her damp skin. Only then did she attend to herself.

When warm and dry beneath the covers in their bed, Lord and Lady were lying next to one another restless.

“You can’t fall asleep,” the Conqueror stated.

“Neither can you,” the Queen replied.

“What is troubling you, my love?” inquired the Conqueror.

“I need your carnal embrace, my Lion,” answered the Queen as she turned to lie on her side facing her Lord.

The Conqueror chuckled, for her need matched that of her wife, and as always she derived great pleasure from hearing her wife give voice to her desire. “Carnal embrace… I like it,” she enjoyed her wife’s novel term for their sexual acts, “Only we’re not in Corinth or Thira . Queen Melosa’s hut, Athena’s hut, and the one behind ours are but a few feet away. Do you still possess the capacity to be quiet in the throes of passion?”

“I shall be as quiet as you shall, my Lion,” challenged the Queen with a sly look about her, then her expression took one of concern. “But with your injury… should I climb…”

But the Conqueror didn’t let her finish. “No, my love. Tonight my need for you demands…” her voice trailed off, insinuating an unspoken supplication.

The Queen understood. “You need to take me,” she said then gladly surrendered her own admission, “I need to be taken.”

The Queen moved to kneel on all fours, and her breath quickened as she felt her lover positioning herself behind her. When the Conqueror leaned down over her, the Queen felt the injured arm in the sling she had created press against her bare back, followed by the Conqueror’s hot breath and moist lips grazing her nape.

The very knowledge that despite the Conqueror’s impairment she would be dominated as desired and be brought to the brink of sublime satiation and beyond aroused Gabrielle above measure. She knew her Lord better than she knew her own heart. There was no doubt in her mind that in order to assert her dominance in light of her diminished physical ability, the Conqueror would grossly compensate in other ways. That thought sent a shudder down her spine and settled between her thighs when she felt one large and powerful hand roughly grab at her hip instead of two, to steady her and better her angle for entry.

There was no soft and slow exploration of her wet folds, no examination of her readiness to be annexed, but a decisive plunge into her depth, which made her gasp curtly. Before Gabrielle had time to absorb and adjust herself to her Lord’s demanding intrusion, she sensed her Lord’s hand grab the slave collar around her thigh, then pull it hard to widen the spread of her legs. Next she felt the possessive limb being brutally entangled in her golden hair and being balled into a tight fist snaring her tresses in a viselike grip. With incredible force her upper body was hoisted upwards as though it was weightless until she was sitting against the Conqueror’s crotch in a kneeling position, deepening her lover’s penetration into her. Gabrielle’s head was nearly slammed against her Lord’s stalwart shoulder. She felt the wild pumping of blood in the artery of the Conqueror’s neck thumping against her cheek.

The Conqueror’s fingers dug into Gabrielle’s scalp, then sharply turned her head as if she was a puppet and sucked her lips till she brought the smaller woman to float at the fine line between pleasure and pain.

Gabrielle moaned into her lover’s mouth. She sent her hand backwards to rest upon the clamping and unclamping backside of her Lord, so to feel the piston-like working muscles, as her Lord rammed into her. “I love this beautiful, tight, strong body of yours,” she panted between the frenzied kisses and the probing of tongues, “that protects me… that pleasures me… that makes me sweat fire on a cold night and take heel at attention.”

As her unscathed hand glided from her wife’s hair to her breasts, the Conqueror hummed into her wife’s ear, “And I worship this taut, compact body of yours,” her fingers squeezed a nipple, “that drips sweet honey,” her tongue licked a path from the base of her wife’s neck to her sensitive earlobe, “that smells like apples in spring,” the chiseled hand continued its journey to the throbbing bud between Gabrielle’s thighs, “that receives me with complete trust, and keeps me hard constantly.”

The Queen’s fingertips fluttered down the Conqueror’s arm and joined her Lord’s kneading fingers against her drenched need. As her climax was building inside her, her moans and purrs grew louder.

When the Conqueror sensed her beloved Queen was about to achieve her release, her pleasuring hand left the Queen’s fingers alone to finish the task of mounting her want and moved quickly upwards to block her Queen’s gaping mouth, barring the music of ultimate pleasure when they exploded together.

After milking the last shuttering ripples of their release for all its worth, they crashed down onto the bed.

Lying prone on her back, the Conqueror extended her right arm as an invitation. The sated Queen cuddled closely against her Lord’s heated body.

“I knew you could no longer arrest your voice…” the Conqueror chuckled.

“I choose to blame you for it, my Lord,” the Queen replied and smirked.

“This is when I feel most powerful,” the Conqueror began to say thoughtfully, as her hand adoringly drew random patterns on her wife’s back, “Not on the battlefield commanding tens of thousands of warriors, not on my throne making decisions that shape the world, but in times like this, did you know?” the Conqueror asked tenderly.

The Queen shook her head in the negative.

“It is not for the dominance I physically have over you, but for the soft touch of your precious hands, for the feel of your exquisite body against mine, and your delicious lips upon mine. When you accept all that I am with sound love and flawless trust I feel like I can conquer the world all over again with one hand only.”

“Kiss me again, my Love,” the Queen requested, on the verge of tears for her Lord’s words moved her to her very core.
Part 4
The following day, after a night of heavy rains that irrigated the thirsty ground after the hot summer, a frail and distant sun sent her first rays to adorn the dawn’s sky and fight its grayish shade. The Conqueror rode with Molpadia to the exact spot where the attack had taken place the day before.

As she suspected, the heavy rains washed away any tracks that might have been found along with the hopes of discovering the identity of the perpetrators. On account of her injury, the rather disabled Ruler asked Molpadia, who seemed perhaps a tad too eager to comply with the Conqueror’s orders, to climb up several trees in the area.

“If I wanted to hit my mark undetected with a bow and an arrow, these would be the trees I’d choose to situate myself in order to do so,” the Conqueror explained, “And the angles seem about right, ”

As Molpadia slowly scaled up the trees the Conqueror had pointed out to her, the latter instructed her further, “Look for anything out of the ordinary, a broken branch, a piece of fabric or threads that might have been torn from the perpetrators’ clothes. Hair, nails, anything that looks suspicious… anything at all no matter how small.”

Molpadia worked diligently in the hopes of finding even the tiniest piece of evidence. She did so not only because she wished to find the criminals that had taken the lives of her sisters, but also out of a clandestine aspiration to impress the Conqueror, thus earning her graces and perhaps be rewarded with the Conqueror’s desiring touch.

Queen Gabrielle awoke to find half the bed cold and vacant. While she was washing her face from the remnants of sleep in the water basin, the door to the hut was opened and the Conqueror stood at the threshold.

“Good morning, my Lady,” the Conqueror greeted.

“Good morning, my Lord. How are you feeling? Do the injuries bother you?” The Queen lifted her face from the basin, as droplets of water cascaded down her fetching features.

“They don’t bother me at all. As always, you have done wonderfully well taking care of me.” The Conqueror strode into the hut and closed the door behind her.

“Did you go with that Amazon to the area where we were attacked yesterday?” inquired the Queen, wondering why she called the Amazon Queen’s second in command ‘that Amazon’ rather than speaking her name even though she knew it perfectly well.

“I did,” the Conqueror answered and snaked her arm around her wife’s waists. “It proved to be futile. The rain destroyed all traces that might have been left.”

A knock on the wooden door snapped the Royal couple from the tender embrace and they stepped away from one another and faced the door, wearing their formal regal expressions.

“Enter,” the Conqueror called.

The door opened and Queen Melosa entered their hut. “Majesties,” she bowed.

“Queen Melosa,” acknowledged the Realm’s Royals.

“Molpadia kept me apprised of your Majesty’s investigation earlier this morning and I wish to thank your Majesty for your personal efforts in getting down to the bottom of these travesties.”

“As I’ve told you before we came here, I will abide neither murderous acts committed against my subjects nor any infraction against peace, law and order in my Realm,” the Conqueror stated with square shoulders.

“There is another pressing matter which necessitates discussion and mandates your Majesties’ presence in the tribe council forum.”

“The right of cast,” the Conqueror stated, somewhat discordant between grinding teeth.

Queen Melosa nodded her head.

Queen Gabrielle waited for the Conqueror’s tarrying response.

“Very well,” the Conqueror eventually muttered, “Lead the way.”

The Conqueror and Queen Gabrielle were shown into the largest hut in the Amazon place of dwelling, not far from the podium, which stood in the center of the village.

When they entered the hut all thirteen tribe council members, along with Molpadia, Antiope and another Amazon who stood at attendance, rose to their feet and bowed before them. The Conqueror was offered Queen Melosa’s regular seat at the head. Queen Gabrielle was seated to the Conqueror’s right and Queen Melosa took her place to the Conqueror’s left. Once the Royals were seated, the tribe council members sat back down and the meeting commenced.

“Sisters,” began Queen Melosa, “I have summoned you all here to discuss an important issue. As you all know, before she died, princess Terreis passed her right of cast to her Majesty, Queen Gabrielle. I wish to hear your opinions regarding this matter.”

The oldest council member was the first to offer her opinion. “With all due respect, the Queen of the Realm is not an Amazon.”

“True,” replied Queen Gabrielle. “But princess Terreis,” she continued then lowered her gaze in sorrow, “whose death I sincerely grieve, told me before the attack against us began,” she then lifted her head up again and held the eyes of her audience, “that not all Amazons are born into the tribe. There are, albeit very few, those who were adopted into the Amazon nation. Is there any impediment or hindrance which prevents me from being adopted into your nation?”

Another council member took it upon herself to answer Queen Gabrielle, “With respect and all humility, Majesty, your allegiance is to the Realm.”

Upon hearing those words the Conqueror, who had kept silent up to that point, became vexed. “Isn’t yours!?” she demanded an acceptable answer with cold narrow eyes and the grip of her right hand tightened against the armrest of her seat.

“I misspoke, your Majesty,” the council member addressed the Conqueror, “We are your loyal subjects. We pay our taxes and we’ll never raise arms against your Majesty and the Realm, but our closest most immediate affiliation is with our nation and our Queen.”

One of the Amazons who stood in attendance behind the Royals’ seats held an urn in one hand and a goblet in another, moved to serve the Conqueror with wine. Molpadia, who stood next to her, jumped in front of her and took the urn and goblet off her hands. She then leaned downwards from behind the Conqueror, handed her the goblet and as she was pouring the wine into the vessel Molpadia allowed her exposed breast to brush against the Conqueror’s right bicep, all the while trying to make the gesture seem accidental and innocent.

But Queen Gabrielle, whose stare stalked Molpadia’s actions, wasn’t fooled, and neither was the Conqueror, who mentally told herself that a firm reprimand was in order. The minor occurrence, however, was too delicate and too shrouded for others around them to notice.

“Should you accept the right of cast, Majesty, as an Amazon princess and my heir, you’ll become my subordinate and under my rule,” the Queen of the Amazons informed the Queen of the Realm, hoping, perhaps that that true and simple fact would put off any notions Queen Gabrielle might have about claiming the right of cast and fulfilling a dying princess’ wish.

The brief expression on Queen Gabrielle’s face revealed that she was unaware of it.

The Conqueror’s countenance, on the other hand, revealed no surprise what so ever. She glowered at Queen Melosa and declared with a tone of voice that left no room for doubt or misconception, “The Queen of the Realm has no master!”

From behind her, the Conqueror heard a careless, indiscreet scoff that escaped the lips of the other Amazon who stood at attendance, who clearly thought otherwise. It was Antiope, the Amazon who had traveled with them back from Corinth to the Amazon lands and had been privy to the Queen of the Realm waiting on the Conqueror hand and foot throughout their journey and had given her yet another reason to secretly resent the Conqueror.

Brusquely, the Conqueror jumped off her seat, turned around, launched her right arm towards the Amazon’s neck and clutched her fingers around it as tightly as the chokehold of a python. The raging Sovereign shoved the Amazon, who clearly hadn’t anticipated the Conqueror’s swift reaction, and pinned her against the wall behind her, with the Amazon’s legs dangling in midair above the ground.

“I’ve had enough of you!” the Conqueror hissed between clenched teeth. Her blazing eyes darkened, “Have you something to say to my face, Amazon?”

Antiope could barely utter the word “No.”

“I didn’t think so!” the Conqueror flared, not yet ready to release her captive.

Upon seeing the onslaught against their sister, a few of the council members reached for their weapons on an instinct.

As soon as she heard weapons being drawn and seats being dragged against the floorboards, the Conqueror turned her head and glared at them with ominous eyes. “There aren’t enough of you to overpower me,” she stated what seemed obvious in her mind, “My injury notwithstanding.”

“Amazons, stand down this instant! What is the meaning of this disloyal behavior!?”

It was as if those very few who had drawn their weapons snapped out of some haze brought on by panic that addled their minds. They quickly regained control over their faculties, dropping their weapons to the ground.

Trying desperately to avoid catastrophe and doing her very best to disarm the volatile situation as head of the Amazons, Queen Melosa elected to appease the Conqueror, “Majesty!”

The Queen of the Realm did not. She trusted her spouse was only doing what was best.

“Is this the Amazon nation’s gratitude?” the Conqueror’s voice wouldn’t drop lower. “Insulting me and my Queen ?”

“By no means, Majesty. This was the irrepressible demonstration of poor judgment by a single person, who I assure you, will be punished,” said the Amazon Queen and cast an angry look at Antiope.

“Not before apologizing to my Queen.” The Conqueror finally released Antiope, who fell down to her knees where the Conqueror dropped her, coughing violently and gasping for some much needed air in her lungs.

When she finally managed to breathe freely again, she looked up at the Conqueror and Queen Gabrielle and said: “Please accept my sincere apology, Majesties.”

“You will be dealt with later, Antiope,” the Amazon Queen promised her, her anger still clear across her face. “Leave now!”

The Conqueror returned to her seat, as did the others, and once it was calm again the meeting resumed its course.

“The Queen of the Realm has no master,” the Conqueror repeated, stressing her point so that there wouldn’t be any misunderstandings. “Her Majesty is your Sovereign. Whether she wishes to accept the right of cast or decline it, it will be her own choice to make. Either way, I trust that you will all honor her choice and show her Majesty your utmost respect. No exceptions.”

The Conqueror’s message was received loud and clear, by all, including Queen Melosa.

Queen Melosa approached Queen Gabrielle. “I see no obstacle to adopt you, Majesty, into our nation.”

All around them, the council nodded their approval.

“I trust my late daughter’s decision and will honor her memory by accepting her dying wish. The Queen of the Realm has put her well being in jeopardy in order to protect the life of a young woman who was a stranger to her, and for that the Amazon nation will forever be indebted to her. Is your Majesty ready to render her resolution?” Queen Melosa asked.

“It is a great decision and a great responsibility, which I do not take lightly. I will require more time to consider it, Queen Melosa,” Queen Gabrielle gave her honest answer and was immediately awarded with even greater respect by the Amazons.

“Take all the time you need, Majesty. If you like, while you’re contemplating the matter, we’ll be honored to begin introducing you into our ways, with your permission, of course.”

“I would be delighted,” Queen Gabrielle smiled and stood up facing the Amazon leader.

“Then if you do not object, we shall begin your Majesty’s training tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow,” Queen Gabrielle affirmed with joy in her sparkling eyes.

“Majesties, the Amazon nation will be deeply honored if you could grace us with your presence at princess Terreis’ funeral pyre tonight.”

The Conqueror rose to stand beside her Queen. Their gazes met briefly then Queen Gabrielle spoke. “The honor will be ours.”

On their way back to the hut, the Queen waited for the Conqueror to talk about what had transpired in the council’s hut, but the Conqueror, though deep in thought, did not share her impressions with her Queen.

“Thank you,” Gabrielle said after some time had passed.

“For what?” the Conqueror asked, keeping her gaze fixed ahead.

“For allowing me to make my own choice.”

That wasn’t the answer that the Conqueror expected. She expected the Queen to be appreciative of the fact that she had defended her honor. “I see.” She uttered her words almost indifferently.

***

After sundown, the Conqueror, the Queen and the Princess of the Realm attended princess Terreis’ funeral. The grand center under the clear starlit night sky was crowded. All the village inhabitants gathered around the pyre. The Queen gave the most gut-wrenching eulogy, which brought Queen Gabrielle to tears.

As the thunderous, primal drumbeats pounded in her ears, Queen Gabrielle was taken aback by how deep her sorrow and grief over the dead princess ran. As she reflected back to the last and only conversation she had shared with the Amazon princess, it occurred to her that perhaps it was the loss of innocence and youthful exuberance she truly mourned. Terreis had given her a window into how her own life might have been different had she not been sold into slavery at such an early age. She had lost something fundamental that day, like her soul had been reduced in some way.

Being in public, the Conqueror refrained from offering her Queen much-needed comfort.

Many Amazons danced in circles around the blazing pyre to the feral beat of the drums and the poignant wailings of their mourning sisters, and the Shamaness performed the Amazons’ death ritual. Indeed their culture was very different, thought the Queen. One thing was very palpable and conspicuous: the sense of sisterhood, dedication and community between the strong women. Mindlessly, her eyes slowly drifted away from the huge flames and landed on Molpadia, who was dancing in direct line of the Conqueror’s sight. As she was dancing, shaking her shoulders, swaying her breasts and her scantily clad hip, Molpadia’s eyes were transfixed on the Conqueror, as though she was waiting to see if her dance was eliciting any reaction from the Conqueror or whether she engrossed her attention.

The Queen was irked beyond measure not just at Molpadia, for obvious reasons, but at herself as well for not possessing the fortitude necessary to put Molpadia, her subject after all, in her proper place and let her have a piece of her mind. Shouldn’t the Queen of the Realm, the most powerful woman in the world, be able to admonish her subject for such presumptuous insolence? Didn’t the Lord Conqueror deserve a stronger mate, she thought, as she cast a quick glance at her Lord who at the time was regarding Queen Melosa talking to the Shamaness. Molpadia might as well have been air to her.

Princess Athena observed the pyre and the dancing women equally, wishing she would get lucky and take one of the fine women dancing to her bed.

“Just be sure to keep it down. I don’t wish to hear you going at it all night,” the Conqueror said quietly to Athena.

The stunned Princess was caught off guard and wide-eyed she let slip, “How did you…?”

But the Conqueror only smiled and kept her eyes on the high flames.

The following morning, Queen Gabrielle arrived at the training field. She was dressed in traditional Amazonian battle attire, which consisted of a short un-tanned brown leather skirt and a matching sleeveless top, and at her request it was one that didn’t reveal her natural assets. A tall, robust Amazon, who had been handpicked by Queen Melosa, was waiting for her.

The Conqueror and Princess Athena were given seats overlooking the training field.

“This should be interesting,” smirked the young Princess, who couldn’t even imagine her delicate and softhearted mother delivering a beating.

The Conqueror didn’t respond. As she watched the tall Amazon warrior instructing her Queen on hand-to-hand combat, her mind was reeling with many thoughts that made her feel edgy and agitated. She didn’t understand why her wife would want any part of it. What about Amazonian ways was so appealing to her? If Gabrielle wanted to study the art of war, why would she need the Amazons to instruct her when she could have been given lessons from the greatest warrior that ever lived, from the undefeated legendary Destroyer of Nations who was preeminent in this art?

Aloof, the inert Conqueror focused her attention, observing the Amazon warrior demonstrating basic moves of engagement and putting her hands over her Queen’s body whilst doing so. The Conqueror’s breath slowed and her eyes narrowed into thin slits. Her body became tense and unmoving as if frozen solid like a marble statue, as she watched the Amazon warrior place a hand over her Queen’s waist and her thigh behind the Queen’s thigh whilst showing her a method of knocking an opponent off their feet.

The Conqueror leaned to her side and commanded her daughter’s attention. “I shall soon be leaving back to Corinth .”

“What? Why? But…” Athena was confused.

“Don’t speak, only listen. You will stay here with your mother. Under no circumstances should you allow her to leave these grounds and venture close to the borders. If she persists, then by all means use physical restraints if necessary. For the duration of her stay here keep a watchful eye over her and make sure she is safe, for you are the best warrior here and the only one I trust. I shall order the detachment of the Imperial Guard that is stationed at the border between Amazon lands and Thrace to stay there, so that you may deliver messages to Corinth should the need arise. When you ride between the edge of the woods and the border, keep constant movement and wear your armor at all times.”

“It is harder to hit a moving target.” Athena nodded her head in understanding. “I shall avoid that area unless necessary. I will do as you command, of course.”

The Conqueror kept her eyes on her Queen, who was now simulating an attack on her trainer as she had been taught, and managed, not without struggle, to subdue her. When the Amazon was finally lying with her back to the ground, the Queen shot a quick look at her Lord to see if she witnessed her triumph and in search of a proud look in her eyes.

More Amazons stepped onto the training field and practiced their battle skills alongside them.

“Protect her, but never meddle in her private affairs, do you understand me?” the Conqueror warned her daughter solemnly and nodded her head at her Queen in recognition.

“Private affairs? What private affairs?” Athena did not understand the Conqueror’s meaning.

“It takes roughly six moons to train a future Amazon queen. Her Majesty will choose to stay here and be trained,” was all the explanation the Conqueror was willing to give .

The Conqueror was unreadable and it unnerved Athena to no negligible measure. She still wasn’t entirely sure as to the full meaning of the Conqueror’s words. In any event, Athena was in the belief that none of it would ever come to fruition, for after all, the Queen would never stay here without the Conqueror, she thought.

A little after noon, the training session was over.

“You are a quick study, Majesty,” said the panting trainer.

“You are an excellent teacher, Mysia . Thank you for being so patient,” the Queen smiled and wiped the sweat off her brow.

“Let us go bathe with the others,” Mysia suggested as the other Amazons were leaving the training field and making their way to a nearby lake in the woods.

The Conqueror and Princess Athena approached Queen Gabrielle and the Amazon warrior.

“I’m afraid it is inappropriate for me to join you in bathing,” the Queen said as the Conqueror moved to stand beside her.

“Hierarchy here isn’t as rigid as it is in the Realm. We all obey our Queen to be sure, but we don’t practice etiquettes and formalities as it is customary in your court, Majesty. Our Queen eats with us and bathes with us.”

Queen Gabrielle wasn’t sure whether the Amazon warrior was deliberately trying to send her a particular message or whether it was she who was imagining things. The Conqueror’s presence didn’t make things easier for her and it troubled her. Ever since they had learnt about their true feelings for one another, Gabrielle never felt uncomfortable when in her Lord’s presence.

The Queen then smiled. Why shouldn’t she indulge herself? She should do as she pleased. “Lead the way,” she said to Mysia , then turned to the Conqueror and said, “I shan’t be long.”

There is something to be said about clothes. Clothes imply to us as to the nature and the identity of the one who stands before us. They might reveal one’s station and profession or where one has originated from, which house one was brought up in and its customs, whether one is rich or poor. Lack of clothes could make us seem more equal in our eyes, for without them most of us feel exposed, perchance even vulnerable and any barriers between us might be more easily inclined to blur.

The Queen entered the cool clear water with nothing but a towel draped over her shoulder to conceal the brand mark that had been singed into her flesh above her shoulder blade by the Conqueror many years ago. As her sweaty heated body adjusted to the low temperature of the water, Queen Gabrielle observed a few of the women disrobing on the bank. Amongst them she could discern couples, who soon entered the water hand in hand.

Bathing naked in the small, intimate lake might have facilitated familiarity between Queen Gabrielle and the Amazons. She told them about life in Corinth and about the hospices she had built and about her childhood in Potidaea . As they were frolicking together in the water, the Amazons told her about their lives, about their customs and traditions.

It was Queen Melosa joining them in the water that made Queen Gabrielle become even more fascinated than before. She keenly watched how they all related to one another and if at that moment she had to pick out the Amazon Queen, she wouldn’t have been able to. Bathing in the lake that afternoon, Queen Melosa looked and was treated like any other Amazon. Queen Gabrielle was deeply impressed with the Amazon’s egalitarian ways.

Gabrielle was captivated and enchanted by the extraordinary women and the plain and distinct friendship between them. The experience presented her with something desirable to become a part of.

The Queen thoroughly enjoyed her afternoon with the Amazons. She had this odd sensation of fulfillment; she was almost giddy. A decision had been reached.
Part 5
Before dusk, the Queen found the Conqueror and Athena sparring with each other on the otherwise deserted training field and conversing over the clashing sounds of their swords.

Athena asked the Conqueror, “Yesterday, a moment before we were attacked, how could you tell about the arrows, Majesty? I wasn’t aware of them till the first one hit the ground.”

Whilst blocking her daughter’s forceful strikes the Conqueror replied, “At first it was the birds I saw coming out from the treetop flying. The rising of birds in flight is the sign of an ambuscade. Then I heard the arrows flying through the air. If you first become aware of arrows when the first one hits, then it is already too late. You must always be aware of your surroundings. For example, startled beasts indicate that a sudden attack is coming. When there is dust rising in a high column, it is the sign of chariots advancing; when the dust is low, but spread over a wide area, it betokens the approach of infantry.”

It was now Athena’s turn to fend the Conqueror’s attack. “Amazons are known to use trees in their battle tactics, do they not?” she asked, panting from the vigorous effort.

“The thought has crossed my mind,” the Conqueror replied. “A battalion of Archers in combat do not necessarily require an elevated position because they do not take aim at any particular target, just at the general direction of the enemy’s forces. Taking good aim requires time and the enemy’s forces attack in clusters of warriors, so the chances of hitting a target are greater. To hit a specific target from such a substantial distance, any archer, any true marksman, would have to choose a high spot from which to take aim. At the area where we were attacked, there is no other way other than climbing up trees, and those specific trees are easy enough to climb without any special skills or instruments.”

“Nevertheless, perhaps some Amazons wish to overthrow Queen Melsoa and her line from power,” Athena suggested.

“In that case, why kill the other Amazons and why do it at the borders and not in the village? In the village, Queen Melosa isn’t guarded, for she perceives the village safe. Besides, if Queen Melosa and her line were out of the way, the Shamaness and the Amazon council would have chosen someone else to lead them. No specific Amazon would be assured to take reign.”

“Perhaps some Amazons don’t agree with the treaty between the Amazon nation and the Realm and this is their way to elicit war.”

“I’m hard pressed to think there’s anyone foolish enough to believe they could withstand the awesome power of the Realm. They know well enough that they would be wiped out of existence in less than a single morning, and to kill their own for that purpose goes against their ways…”” the Conqueror replied. “Still, we must keep an open mind and not rule anything out.”

As soon as the Conqueror spotted her wife drawing nigh, she halted her arm and stepped back from her daughter, signaling that the session was over.

“There you are, my Lord,” the Queen smiled with bright eyes at the sight of those who were most precious to her in the entire world.

“How was the communal bathing?” the Conqueror asked and sheathed her sword, whilst perusing her wife with inquisitive eyes. Her Queen seemed abundantly happy, light and rejuvenated.

“They seem to make a genuine effort to include me,” the Queen replied, still smiling and in high spirit. “I see that my Lord is still undefeated even with one hand.”

“I’m sure you would be pleased to learn that Athena is the best opponent I have come across in years,” the Conqueror responded in a manner which suggested she had no desire what so ever to talk about her battle skills or her daughter’s for that matter. She seemed peeved and intolerant.

“I am pleased,” the Queen said proudly.

“We are going back to Corinth ,” the Conqueror announced decisively, as she watched her wife’s expression turn from cheerfulness into gloom. “I have seen all there is to see around here. Once in Corinth , I shall summon the governors of all three provinces around Amazon lands to appear before me for inquiry. ”

Queen Gabrielle’s heart soured in her chest for she sensed that something that was exceptionally important to her, something she craved with every fiber of her being, was about to be taken away from her. “But we are already here, near all three provinces. Perhaps my Lord could pay a visit to the governors…?” she reasoned, hoping her Lord would reconsider.

“Out of the question,” the Conqueror rejected and before the Queen could utter a reply, the Conqueror turned to Princess Athena and said: “When you inherit my throne, remember – You do not appear before your subjects, they appear before you. If they fail to do so then you take your army to them. It is as simple as that.”

“Of course, Majesty,” Athena mumbled. However, her mind was too cluttered with concerns about her parents to pay any real heed to the Conqueror’s guidance in regard to ruling an empire.

“Then why not summon them here?” the Queen asked and apprehension crept deeper into her heart.

“When people are summoned to appear before me in Corinth for a catechization, it makes them fearful and nervous, and it is that state of mind, so I have come to learn, that makes the entire process more efficient and more fruitful.”

“I have something to tell you, my Lord.” the Queen spoke as though she was testing her Lord’s reaction and slightly touched her fingertips to the Conqueror’s forearm, as if to mollify her somehow.

“What is it?” the Conqueror asked though she already knew what was in her Queen’s heart.

“I wish to remain here and accept the right of cast,” the Queen stated simply.

“I see,” the Conqueror muttered dryly.

Athena just about cringed where she stood, inwardly wishing she could be anywhere else but with her parents at that moment. Watching the way the Conqueror glared at her mother, she was able to foresee a fearful brawl in their near future.

Queen Gabrielle waited anxiously for the Conqueror’s next words and studied her Lord’s foreboding features.

The Conqueror turned to Athena and said, “I wish to speak with her Majesty privately.”

Princess Athena was only too happy to oblige and with wide and hasty gaits she stepped off the training field and walked towards her hut.

When she was comfortable that Athena was far enough away, the Conqueror turned to her Queen. “Should you accept the right of cast, you will do so without my blessing or my approval.” Her words weren’t uttered in rage but rather calmly, more like a determined statement of fact.

The Queen’s chin began to quiver. “I don’t understand, my Lord,” she said, distraught. “You advocated on my behalf before the Amazon council that it was my choice to make.”

“Yours. Not theirs,” the Conqueror emphasized the distinction and began walking towards the place where she had tied her horse the day before. “Did you think for a moment that I would allow the Queen of the Realm be dictated to by the Amazons!?”

The Queen was barely able to keep up with her Lord’s marching pace. “I thought you’d done so for my benefit… So that I would have the opportunity to express and obtain my heart’s desire.” The Queen’s disappointment was limitless.

The Conqueror didn’t respond.

“I cannot stay here if you do not.” Gabrielle’s eyes weld up with unshed tears and her shoulder slumped in resignation. “Can’t we stay here just a while longer then go back to Corinth to interrogate the governors?” her voice quivered.

“It would take a few moons to train you and I have an Empire to manage,” the Conqueror said and wouldn’t look at her Queen.

“Surely Nobleman Timaeus can manage it whilst we’re here?” The Queen was desperate to change her Lord’s decision. The Queen knew better than to suggest that the Conqueror would travel back and forth.

“We just got back from Thira after spending the better part of the summer there.”

“My Lord, please… I beseech you.” The Queen, like numerous times before, had to resort to begging. “Stay here with me.”

“I have made up my mind,” the Conqueror strictly informed her.

Queen Gabrielle halted her steps, and bore her sad gaze into the Conqueror’s back. “Am I not free to do as I wish, my Lord?”

The Conqueror stopped dead in her tracks with her back turned to her wife.

“Isn’t the Queen of the Realm free to do as she pleases?” Queen Gabrielle repeated her question.

The Conqueror brusquely turned to face her wife. “When you were training earlier today… I noticed that your collar was not around your thigh as always.”

“My collar!?” the Queen was baffled at first by the Conqueror’s words. She could neither see nor understand what relevance her collar had with her desire to remain with the Amazons. “The skirt I was given to wear was a tad short, and knowing the nature of the combat exercises on the training field, I thought it best to take it off beforehand so that others wouldn’t see it. I opted to keep it private as I thought you might want as well.” It then dawned on her that the Conqueror’s ardent reluctance to stay with the Amazons might have had very little to do with managing the Realm or with interrogating the governors.

The Conqueror knew in her heart that the Queen had been right to do so, but still it vexed her beyond reason and she wasn’t about to lose the argument, “Then you should have told me as much beforehand rather than have me find out the way I did.”

“I am sorry if I have offended against you, my Lord,” the Queen offered and lowered her head.

The Conqueror ignored her wife’s heartfelt apology.

“I was hoping that in spite of any reservations you might have, you could find it within your loving heart to be happy for me, or at least demonstrate happiness for my sake.”

“Anger cannot be dishonest,” the Conqueror retorted. “What is it about them that fascinates and attracts you so much?” she asked, not entirely positive that she wanted to hear her wife’s answer.

“I am not entirely sure, my Lord,” the Queen replied after a few long moments had elapsed. “They fulfill some need in me that I have yet to fully understand either its nature or quality.”

“Fulfill some need…” the Conqueror repeated almost in mockery, grossly displeased, and vexed still. “I’ve suspected something like this might happen. That is the reason why I was reluctant to take you with me to the Amazons in the first place.”

The Queen was at a loss for words. All she could feel was an insuperable and overwhelming pain in her shrunken heart. It was then that her tears finally won over and started to stream down the slopes of her face of their own accord.

“When I agreed to become your wife, I had no idea what it meant to be Queen, what it meant to be the wife of a powerful Ruler. All I wanted was to be close to you and to be bonded to you because the love a slave girl bore you was so great… I could hardly contain it. But I have learnt quickly. All throughout our years together, the Realm took you away from me; wars tore you away from my arms. Your duties and responsibilities robbed me of you. I have never placed myself between you and the Realm, between you and who you are. Won’t you do the same for me, my Lion?”

The Conqueror listened carefully to her wife’s claims. She could hardly believe her ears. Never before had Gabrielle spoken to her in such a manner, and what was this about? Was Gabrielle’s argument that she owed her? Hasn’t she given her wife the world? Hot air came blowing out of the Conqueror’s nostrils like out of a raging bull, and her lips were drawn into a tight thin line. “I never forced you to marry me. It was your choice and yours alone,” she mercilessly rebuked her wife, then added like she didn’t preplan her words, “Am I not enough for you!?” Her voice rose to a shout.

After a few silent moments passed and the Queen didn’t reply, the Conqueror resumed walking. By the way that the ——- Conqueror strode, Queen Gabrielle became aware of just how livid her Lord was.

“You are my entire world, my Lord,” she cried after her meekly. The words came out of Gabrielle’s mouth without premeditation or faltering. She wasn’t sure whether she had answered the Conqueror’s question.

“Then by all means, stay here,” the Conqueror eventually said with a chilling tone of voice as she reached her horse.

“I beg you, my gracious Lord, stay here with me. Please do not leave me alone for I cannot stand to be without you.”

“You must take responsibility for the choices you make, Madame. If truly you cannot part with me then you are welcome to join me and I shall be willing to forget all about this whim of yours,” the Conqueror said, disinclined to compromise in anyway.

“Throughout all our years together, I haven’t asked much of you. Of what little I have asked of you over the years, my Lord, I have hardly ever asked for myself.” For the Queen it was the last resort.

The Conqueror mounted her steed and crudely grabbed hold of the reigns.

“At least wait until daylight before you leave, my Lord, please.” But she might as well have been talking to the trees around her.

From above the steed’s back, the towering Conqueror looked down at her sobbing wife, but her heart was too hardened. “Goodbye, Madame,” she muttered with sealed countenance and icy eyes, and kicked her heels into the steed’s ribs.

“My Lord, please don’t leave me!” The Queen pleaded, out of her mind with grief as she watched her beloved Lord galloping away from her. She felt every ounce of strength she still possessed absconding from her body. Her legs crumbled beneath her and she fell with a thud to her knees. She wept violently. So much so that she nearly lost her ability to breathe. Nevertheless, she drew a hefty volume of air into her lungs and cried out with all her might: “Xena!”

The eviscerating cry that carried her Lord and lover’s name could pierce the heart of any being on earth; it could have split a rock into pieces; it could have shattered steel as if it was glass; not the callous heart of the Conqueror, though, who kept riding ahead, never looking back at the devastated wife she had left behind.

The Queen looked up to find that darkness had already set and a full moon adorned the black skies seeded with twinkling stars. Aside from the dull ache in her soul she felt nothing, not even the night’s chill. She lay down on the ground, which was covered with decaying yellowing leaves and pressed her ear against it to see if she could still hear the sounds of hoof beats. She was drained and exhausted. Her breath was slow and shallow and she could smell the suffocating odor of the sand and thought that this how it must feel being buried alive. She barred the vagaries of her mind from running rampant inside her head, including the search for the reasons that had caused her Lord to object so emphatically to staying with the Amazons.

It took the Conqueror but a third of the time to reach the border between Amazon lands and Thrace that it had taken to cover that exact distance the day before in the opposite direction. When she neared the campsite where the Imperial Guard detachment was stationed, her men startled to their feet with unsheathed swords as soon as they could discern the drumming of hoof-beats from a distant.

“Stand down!” The Conqueror’s familiar roar perforated the darkness.

When she reached their campsite, the Conqueror dismounted the neighing animal, and her cloak billowed in the breeze and revealed her injured arm beneath it.

They all bowed before her, none daring to inquire after her well being for that would have been drawn unwanted attention to what might be perceived as weakness. The highest-ranking officer approached his Supreme Commander. “Majesty,” he bowed, “We didn’t expect to see you back so soon.”

“I trust all is quite calm here,” the Conqueror said, and took a flask that was offered to her by one of her men.

“There isn’t much traffic in these parts, Majesty,” the officer replied.

“Good. I’m headed back to Corinth tonight. Her Majesty and her Grace will remain with the Amazons in the meantime. Hand me a quill and three parchments along with wax,” the Conqueror ordered and seated herself by the burning bonfire.

“You heard the Lord Conqueror, and fill up a plate!” the officer ordered the soldiers. They all scurried to comply with the commands.

By the light of the fire, the Conqueror issued three summonses to appear before the throne: the first to Lady Lila, Governor of Macedonia, the second to Nobleman Arkilis, governor of Thrace and the third to Nobleman Simonides, governor to Moesia . She melted the wax onto each rolled parchment and sunk her seal ring into the molten red substance.

“At daybreak, have these sent to the governors of all three provinces,” she instructed the officer and handed him the parchments. When her hand was free she took the plate that was made for her and only then did she realize how hungry she was.

When she was done she put her plate aside. “How many of you have wives, soldiers?” she asked as she gazed almost pensively at the flickering fire.

They all exchanged looks between them till one by one most of them raised their hands.

“They must resent your absences away from home for long periods of time while you’re on a mission , do they not?” the Conqueror asked.

Once again they looked at each other, not entirely sure what their Master was aiming for and what was the desirable answer.

“The truth, now…” she encouraged them.

“Well, mine sometime does, Majesty, as I’m sure the wives of my comrades do as well,” one of them took it upon himself to comply with his Master’s inquiry. His brothers in arms all nodded their head in agreement.

“Mine once locked me outside my home for the entire night when I was delayed by my duties,” another offered.

“Consider yourself lucky,” said the third, “Mine sicced my mother-in-law on me.”

“After the campaign in Chin, my wife had me sleep with our livestock in the barn for no less than seven whole nights. I say, I needn’t tell any of you how hard I was coming back from the battlefield… had she not took pity on me when she did, I dare say I might have sunk as low as taking a sheep instead,” a forth burst into laughter, but a sharp scolding look from the officer, meant to remind the young soldier that he was in the presence of the Lord Conqueror and not his drinking partners in a sordid tavern, stifled his lark immediately.

The officer, who was older than the others, then offered his own wisdom, which could only have come from years of experiences and life. “We lay waste to lands and conquer nations in your Majesty’s name and under your Majesty’s command, but in our homes our wives are the true rulers. And so, whenever I return to my wife from my missions, I come bearing gifts and sweet words.”

The Conqueror couldn’t help but think about what she had brought to her wife when she had returned from the battlefield; her darkness and her whip. Nevertheless, she knew that her Gabrielle shared those dark needs and craved them as much as she did.

The Conqueror rose to her feet, and they all stood with her almost simultaneously. “Commander,” she addressed the officer, “When I reach Corinth I shall send more detachments of the Imperial Guard to take your position here, so that you may return to your wives. Every fortnight there will be a rotation of forces along this border. Until such time, you are to stop anything that moves along these perimeters. You shall interrogate all that you stop as to their identity, where they hail from, their destination, the nature of their business here and you are to search their property for weapons. Those who seem suspicious to you will be escorted to Corinth to appear before me. Is that understood?”

“By your will, Majesty,” he said with his body starched at attention.

The Conqueror mounted her steed. “At ease,” she threw over her shoulder as she rode away from them till the darkness of the night around her swallowed her whole.

Meanwhile, back on Amazon lands, Princess Athena who stood in waiting for her parents to return near their assigned hut began to worry once darkness descended and her parents were still nowhere to be found. She took a torch, and with the Conqueror’s words to her in mind, she entered the woods at the edges of the village where they had tied their horse the day of their arrival, to see if the Conqueror’s steed was still there. As she neared the area, from afar, she saw a figure lying on the ground. It was too dark and too far to see clearly.

She pricked up her ears and squinted in effort to better her sight. Stooped and highly alert, she advanced stealthily. Her initial thought was that another Amazon was murdered, this time only a very short distance away from the edges of the village.

When she was but a few feet away from the figure, much to her horror she recognized her mother and her heart lost a beat, thinking something horrible had happened to her.

“Mother!” she exclaimed and ran towards the Queen, who was lying all curled up and motionless on the cold hard ground.

“Athena,” the Queen responded faintly.

Abruptly Athena knelt down next to her mother and dropped the burning torch at a safe distance. She surveyed her mother’s pale face to the moonlight. Her eyes were open and bloodshot.

“Are you hurt?” Athena asked nearly flustered.

“I hurt inside,” the Queen rasped.

Athena quickly glanced over her mother’s body to check for any visible injuries. Of course there were none to be found. “Hurt inside?” Athena asked in haste, “I don’t understand what you mean. Where is her Majesty? What happened?”

“My Lord has left me in rage,” the Queen replied.

“Oh, mother,” Athena sighed gently. She had anticipated the discord between her parents. Knowing how tender her mother’s heart was, she gathered how devastated her mother must be. Unlike herself and the Conqueror, her mother was incapable of hardening her heart and there wasn’t a high, impenetrable, fortified wall with guards that never sleep around it. Her mother, she knew, felt everything raw. Her heart was not only tender but exposed as well, and she loved the Conqueror more than anything else, and so she took pity on her mother for experiencing such great, paralyzing pain.

Athena took off her cloak and draped it over her mother’s nearly frozen body. She rubbed her hands over her mother’s form to keep her warm.

“You must get inside and sit by the fire or you’ll catch your death out here,” Athena said with the softest of voice. “Please mother,” Athena urged the Queen and gently helped her to a sitting position. “There you go,” she muttered when the Queen was able to stagger to her feet.

“Do you need me to carry you?” Athena asked.

“No. I shall walk on my own,” Queen Gabrielle finally said and began walking with small steps, leaning against her daughter’s arm for support.

“We must get something hot in you as soon as possible.” Athena was concerned, and draped her arm around her mother’s slender shoulders and rubbed her bicep so to generate heat. “You mustn’t trouble yourself. Her Majesty will come around eventually. She loves you more than anything,” Athena attempted to cheer up her forlorn, dejected mother but it only made the Queen’s eyes water up again.

When mother and daughter entered the hut, Athena started a fire in the hearth and helped her mother into her nightgown. She then helped her to bed and covered her. She then seated herself on the other side of the bed and she felt fortunate that she could repay her mother for all the times her mother had insisted on putting her to bed when she had been a child in spite of the fact that she had been Queen and the Conqueror had often reminded her that there had been servants for that.

“What was the row about?” Athena asked.

“My will to remain here and my Lord’s will to return to Corinth .”

Athena waited for her mother to continue, but the Queen cupped her daughter’s chiseled cheek. “You look so much like my Lord that it is as though my Lord is here with me. It is a great comfort to me,” she said sounding tired and her eyelids became too heavy to keep open.

“It is late. You should sleep now,” Athena whispered and rose to her feet. “We shall talk more tomorrow.” She placed a kiss on her mother’s forehead and blew out the candles. “Your training to become Queen of the Amazons awaits you tomorrow. You need to be strong,” she whispered.

Before she left the hut, Athena heard the Queen murmur something unintelligible before succumbing to sleep.
Part 6
Athena opened the wooden shades in her mother’s hut and allowed sunlight to pour in. Queen Gabrielle let out a soft sigh and stirred in bed to face away from the windows. Athena seated herself next to her slumbering mother and gently stroked her hair.

“It is time to get up, mother,” she spoke softly.

Queen Gabrielle’s eyes opened slowly. With a gross lack of enthusiasm, she lifted herself up to a sitting position.

“Morning came too soon,” Queen Gabrielle muttered.

“You will see better days,” Athena promised, “And if I may say so…”

“Of course you may,” said the Queen.

“Since you are already here, you might as well make the best of it. Submerge yourself in what it was that made you wish to stay here,” Athena advised. “That is what I did when I attended the Roman Academy and missed home.”

“Thank you, Athena,” the Queen said as she was getting out of bed.

“What for?”

Queen Gabrielle did not answer. She only smiled.

“I shall leave you to get dressed then,” Athena said and vacated the hut.

As soon as she set foot outside her hut, Queen Gabrielle spotted Queen Melosa and the Shamaness making their way over.

“Queen Melosa, Shamaness Smyrna” Queen Gabrielle greeted.

“Majesty,” both women returned the courtesy.

“I have decided to remain here and accept the right of cast,” Queen Gabrielle forced a smile on her face even though she was deeply overwrought with sadness.

“Good news,” exclaimed Queen Melosa, genuinely delighted. “Would you and the Lord Conqueror care to join us for breakfast?”

“Thank you for your kind invitation, however, my Lord left for Corinth last night, and will summon the governors of all three provinces around Amazon territory for inquiry,” Queen Gabrielle said and managed only just to speak with an even tone of voice.

“To be summoned to appear before the Lord Conqueror for inquiry under these circumstances…” Queen Melosa muttered and shook her shoulders like the very idea gave her shivers all over. She trusted the Throne in Corinth to get to the bottom of these recent events.

“You and her Grace, then,” suggested the Shamaness.

Queen Gabrielle looked around in search for her daughter, but Princess Athena was nowhere to be found. “I believe her Grace has gone for her usual morning ride, and alas I am not hungry.” Truth was, she wasn’t simply ‘not hungry’ but rather completely lost her appetite after her Lord had left.

“Perhaps you care to come with me to my hut so that I may begin preparing you?” asked the Shamaness.

“I would be delighted,” answered Queen Gabrielle.

In the Shamaness’ hut, Queen Gabrielle’s eyes curiously reviewed all the shelves loaded with various herbs and peculiar array of icons. Not much sunlight managed to sneak in. The Shamaness proceeded to light up a few candles, and then sat on a pile of aromatic hides on the ground at the center of the hut and gestured an invitation for the Queen to join her.

The Shamaness threw a few herbs into an iron bowl and lit it on fire. As the herbs burned slowly away, a white smoke permeated the small hut along with a pleasant, soothing sweet odor.

Queen Gabrielle sat down cross-legged opposite the Shamaness.

“Majesty,” the Shamaness began to say, somewhat hesitantly, “For you to be ushered into the Amazon nation as a future leader, we must cleanse your spirit and prepare you.”

“Cleanse my spirit?” Queen Gabrielle wasn’t sure what that meant.

“As we walk through life we accumulate experiences, some are good, some are bad. Our life experiences affect our spirit. While good ones uplift and delight us, the bad ones damage us and infest inside us,” the Shamaness explained and began to brew another concoction over the fire.

As the Queen watched the Shamaness’ hands toiling over the fire, she hurried to say, “I’m in peace and very well-contented, so really there is no need for my spirit to be cleansed.”

“Majesty, I bear you great respect. Trust cannot be easily rendered for one of your station, for obvious reasons. You must feel that you should be careful not to place trust in me, even though trusting is inherently in your kind and generous nature,” the older Shamaness spoke softly.

The Queen gazed pensively at the white smoke and offered no reply. The Shamaness words evoked odd feelings of regret, but the reason for it eluded her.

“I give you my word,” the Shamaness went on to say, “that all that takes place within these walls shall remain here. I will guard your secrets, Majesty, and I will do all that I can to gain your Majesty’s trust.”

The Queen nodded in silence. The Shamaness spoke to her like no other had spoken to her for many years. Her mind drifted to thoughts about the late Princess Lao-ling and she suddenly was overwhelmed by how much she missed her.

When the brew was ready, the Shamaness took it off the fire and poured some into a cup. She handed the steaming cup to the Queen. “It would calm you, Majesty, nothing more,” she promised.

The Queen took the cup and sipped from it just once before she discarded the cup on the ground.

“Some of our old memories are buried inside us. The worse they are the deeper we bury them, but they are never really gone. They become like an invisible ball and chain around your ankle… Something that lies heavy on you and weighs you down with you not being able to see or understand… be aware of it.”

Queen Gabrielle couldn’t help but wonder how much of her past the Shamaness was aware of. On an instinct, she made her features appear even blanker than before.

“Is there anything that is troubling you, Majesty?” the Shamaness asked.

The Queen looked down at her hands clasped together in her lap. She felt a pinch in her heart and saw a flash of her Lord’s face in her mind’s eye. “That I might not measure up… that I might not prove fit to be an Amazon Queen,” she replied after some time had elapsed.

The Shamaness smiled. “You are an extraordinary woman, Majesty. You proved as much when you placed yourself in mortal danger for a young woman you’d never met before. You are the Queen of the Realm and you care for your subjects. I have no doubt in my mind that one day you’ll become one of this nation’s greatest leaders.” She then paused for a few moments and carefully studied the woman who sat opposite her. “Perhaps in time, as this process progresses, you will trust me enough to reveal what’s really in your heart, Majesty,” she said knowingly.

Queen Gabrielle did not protest for she knew it would be an insult to the Shamaness.

“Very good,” the Shamaness finally said. “With your approval, Majesty, I should very much like to meet with you again tomorrow at dusk. It would be best to take advantage of daylight for military training and the darkness for the exploration of the soul. Secrets make themselves more available in the veil of night.”

The Queen stood up. “Thank you, Shamaness,” she said, feeling uncomfortable that she hadn’t been forthcoming with the Shamaness and grossly refrained from cooperating with her. Fact was she desperately needed someone to confide in even though she had hardly ever done so in the past. So much had been lying heavily on her, and she sought some relief. There was only so much she could say to Athena, and besides, a child should never be put between her parents. The Shamaness was older and wiser and had she not been a complete stranger, would have been otherwise perfect for the task.

“Will I see you tomorrow then?” the Shamaness asked and stood facing the Queen.

“Tomorrow,” the Queen confirmed with a nod of her head and left for the training field.

On the drilling field, Queen Gabrielle welcomed Mysia’s arduous training regime and was thankful for it. She hoped that when it was time to retire for the night, the time of the day that she had grown to dread, she’d be too exhausted to think and would succumb to blissfully oblivious sleep quickly enough.

It seemed to Queen Gabrielle that wherever she went, Princess Athena was close at the vicinity. She could feel her Lord’s long reach over her for there was no doubt in her mind that before her Lord had left she had instructed the Princess to watch over and protect her.

After bathing, the Queen elected to forgo supper and retired for the night. In the privacy of her hut, she laid her fatigued body atop the large bed and reached over to the empty side next to her. She slid her fingers against the cool linens, and looked at the moonlight reflecting back from the green diamond ring that the Conqueror had given her in Thira soon after professing her love for her. She buried her face into the pillow that had supported the Conqueror’s head in an attempt to inhale and absorb any remnants of her unique fragrance. She was in luck. She closed her eyes and pictured her Lord lying next to her. She pushed away any straying thoughts about their brawl and simply imagined herself cuddling against her lover’s bodily nook. That would become her nightly ritual.

The next day, bright and early, Princess Athena found her mother sleeping in bed still. Once again she opened the shades, but the Queen refused to open her eyes.

“Mother,” she whispered gently.

When no reply came, she pulled off the covers from her mother’s body, deliberately exposing it to the morning chill.

The Queen’s eyes opened just barely. She was as exhausted as she had been before the night’s sleep.

“You look tired,” Athena pointed out and helped her mother to a sitting position.

“I didn’t get a good night’s sleep,” the Queen replied apathetically. She didn’t wish to alarm her daughter.

“You’ll feel much better after you’ve eaten something,” Athena said and turned around so that her mother could dress.

“I’m not hungry. I best be on my way to the training field. I have kept Mysia waiting long enough. I’m confident that after the exerting exercises I shall develop a healthy appetite.”

But she didn’t. Queen Gabrielle skipped eating completely that day as well, and soon after dark she entered the Shamaness’ hut. She had only one desire, to be back in her hut, in her bed imagining her Lord was there with her.

She even considered taking a horse and riding to Corinth, but the great paradox of her existence in those days was that she missed her Lord but wasn’t ready to face her yet. She wanted to be in Corinth but felt what she wished to achieve with the Amazons wasn’t yet obtained.

That visit with the Shamaness wasn’t any different from the one she had had the previous day.

She answered briefly to the Shamaness’ guiding questions and didn’t volunteer any information of her own. She evaded any personal questions and provided detached, almost diplomatic answers in reply.

Once more, after closing the door behind her soon after returning to her sanctuary, she collapsed on top of the bed, closed her eyes and was back in her Lord’s phantom arms.

The next day was exactly the same as the previous two. Mysia, the Amazon warrior entrusted with the Queen’s military training, could no longer ignore the lack of concentration and the lack of strength which the Queen couldn’t help but exhibiting on the drilling field.

“Majesty, may I ask… are you feeling well?” she asked.

“I am. Why do you ask?”

“When we first started training, your Majesty seemed eager and focused. For the past days your Majesty seems… and please, forgive me for saying this, but you seem distracted and handle the staff as if it is too heavy for you to even hold, let alone wield.”

“I will try and do better,” the Queen shrugged it off.

On the fourth day, again, to the Queen morning came in a blink of an eye. A diminished, unconvincing sun hit her eyelids, but the Queen’s body felt too heavy.

Princess Athena had to wake her up again, only this time she sounded concerned.

“When was the last time you’ve eaten?” she demanded to know, and Queen Gabrielle couldn’t help but notice how much like the Conqueror her daughter sounded, and it made her lethargic heart miss a beat.

“I don’t recall,” the Queen felt almost too weak to speak, like uttering words was a labor that required an effort. She just sat atop the bed and tried to essentially put off standing up and getting out of her nightgown and into her attire.

“You don’t recall!?” Athena was too worried to be gentle and mindful of her mother’s pain.”Last time I’ve seen you put something in your mouth was when the Conqueror was still here! That was a little over three days ago!”

“I will eat when I’m hungry,” the Queen said and forced a smile on her lips.

But Athena saw right through it. She knew her mother well enough to know that when the Queen smiled her eyes would light up. That morning, like in all recent mornings, her eyes were extinguished, bloodshot and there were black circles around them.

Upon seeing that her daughter wasn’t fooled, the Queen dropped her shoulders down and asked nearly indistinctly, “Do you know what the happiest moments of my days are?”

Athena shook her head.

“These moments when one just wakes up and is still not aware of what time it is, or where she is… these are the happiest moments of my days because at these moments I am not yet aware that my Lord has forsaken me.”

It pained Athena to see her mother suffering so, and the Queen’s last words almost weakened her resolve. “I will not stand idly by while you waste away,” she firmly proclaimed. “I understand that you miss her Majesty, I do. I know that you are hurting over the argument that the two of you had had before her Majesty returned to Corinth, but this carrying on must cease.” Athena helped her mother to her feet and handed her, her garments to wear. “I have half a mind to put you on a horse and take you back to Corinth, but honestly, I’m not sure you’ll survive the ride, and regardless, you are my mother and Queen of the Realm and so I must respect and obey your wishes.”

The Princess washed her mother’s face with a wet piece of cloth. “Nevertheless,” she stated resolutely, “Should you insist on continuing in this fashion, I shall be forced to speak to the Shamaness, which so far I’ve been reluctant to do so to avoid even the hint of a scandal.” She discarded the cloth and took a brush in her hand.

“I’m so sorry for causing you such concern and discomfort,” the Queen said remorsefully, as her devoted daughter brushed her golden hair, careful not to cause her mother pain as she untangled the stubborn knots.

Athena halted her motions and looked into her mother’s sad eyes intently. “You needn’t apologize to me, mother,” she said with great conviction. “Just take better care of yourself,” she went on to say and resumed the brushing.

When the Queen was presentable, they both made their way to take breakfast. The Queen sat at the table and under the watchful eye of Athena she joylessly placed food in her mouth and involuntarily began masticating it slowly before swallowing it. It tasted like sand in her mouth, not because it was spoiled or badly cooked, but because she had no desire what so ever for it.

And from there it was to the drilling field. There, more for her daughter’s sakes than anything else, she recruited every fraction of will power and strength she had in her and plied them into her training.

Athena escorted her mother for supper as well, where she supervised her mother’s eating like a relentless hawk, and from there it was to the Shamaness’ hut.

“You seem better this evening, Majesty,” the Shamaness said as she began lighting up the scented herbs, sitting across from the Queen.

“Thank you,” the Queen replied and mindlessly rubbed her neck, just above the collarbone. She then did something she had never done before. She looked into the older woman’s burning eyes, and said, “Please call me Gabrielle, at least whenever we’re here. This… compulsory distance is suffocating me these days.”

The Shamaness smiled and nodded her head approvingly. This was a first step in the right direction, she thought. “Very good, Gabrielle.”

The Queen was given a cup with a murky liquid in it that had an exceptionally potent tang to drink. “It is perfectly safe. You’ll soon feel lightheadedness. Now drink it.”

“For what purpose?” the Queen asked as she began to sip the brew.

“Think of yourself as the gatekeeper of your mind. This potion will loosen your grip around the gate,” the Shamaness explained then added, “It will benefit you more if you don’t fight it.”

It was at that moment that the potion took effect on the Queen. She leaned backwards until her back was resting against the floorboards and the hut’s ceiling spun before her eyes. She felt herself floating as if she was in the middle of the sea. Beads of sweat covered her skin in spite of the fact that it was cold outside. Her last thought before she was under the effect of the potion was that the sensation wasn’t unfamiliar to her, for it felt much like that night when she had gotten tipsy when she had been a body slave in service of the Conqueror.

In her mind’s eye, she was thrown back to the time when she had been purchased by her second owner, Phillipon, before she had entered the Conqueror’s service. He had purchased her as a body slave for his son, Damianos. When first she had heard the term ‘body slave’ being uttered, she hadn’t had a clear notion of what exactly that term meant, but she instinctively understood what that particular ‘position’ might entail.

The events of that first night of her service to Damianos played vividly before her eyes like a scene played on a stage.

She remembered the fairly modest bedchamber of the young dark-haired man, Damianos. She could smell the unique smell of it, jasmine she believed it was. She remembered quickly looking around and studying her new surroundings, what would be her new place of abode. She could clearly recall the exact shade of blue and the shape of the patterns painted over the tiles. She heard Phillipon proudly congratulating his son for being accepted as a warrior into the ranks of the Conqueror’s vast forces. She could feel Phillipon’s hand against her back while he spoke slightly nudging her forward, offering her as a gift to his son, who had turned into a man in his father’s eyes. She could sense how she nervously anticipated what had been, at that point, uncharted territory for her. Her previous position had been as a domestic for the county healer, and nothing else.

When she was left alone with the young lad, she quickly realized she would soon have to perform something she had never had to before. To some extent she felt odd excitement. He stripped her of her clothes, which was easy enough. She hadn’t had much on to begin with. He asked her to lie on the bed and she did. He soon disrobed as well and laid himself on top of her.

From his first touches to her body, she soon realized he didn’t know what he was doing. She was very much a virgin herself to be sure, and still growing up in her father’s farm, where she had had occasion to see livestock animals mate; she had had some idea as to the basic requirements of the act. This particular activity was meant to be pleasurable, otherwise what was the point of doing it, she understood that much. And yet, his touch generated no pleasure in her. He touched her like a curious toddler would, experimenting with a new toy that he had yet to figure out how to operate.

In her trance like state, her mind summoned for her consideration her first night in the Conqueror’s service, as an unfair comparison. Standing in the same chamber with Damianos was nothing like being in the presence of the Lord Conqueror. The Lord Conqueror commanded her awe and the glare of her smoldering mesmerizing eyes made her skin bristle and her knees feeble. The Conqueror touched her confidently and masterfully. Her powerful hands moved over her body like experienced travelers and her fingers like keen trackers. The Lord Conqueror knew exactly what she wanted and how to take it. The Lord Conqueror rained raging rivers of fire all over her flesh that seeped into her soul, and when the Lord Conqueror filled her she feared her heart would burst. These were not the fumbling attempts of a timid, unripened lad, but the absolute domination of the most powerful woman in the world… and she was so sinfully beautiful and statuesque that it almost made a young slave weep.

Still in a daze, her mind speeded forward. Her young owner Damianos didn’t improve over the seasons and in many ways she was thankful for that. When it became evident that the lad found men preferable to women, he discarded her, and where the son had left off, a father picked up and had occasion to use her.

When memories of service to Phillipon returned to haunt her, she was lucidly seeing them passing before her. While her body was being exploited for the sexual gratification of a stranger, she put her mind elsewhere where it was green and sunny and the warm dry winds brushed against the lush grass creating ripples as if against water, far far away from her owner and his domain.

With Damianos, it was different, because he was young and because he was pathetic she could almost forgive him or at the very least not begrudge him his actions. With Phillipon she felt the degradation fully.

She began to sob and was quickly becoming aware of her surroundings. She shot right up to a sitting position. The Shamaness cradled her in her arm and rocked her gently to calm her.

“These were just memories,” she said. “Acknowledge and confront them and they can never hurt you.”

The Queen needed to cry like she could expel the memories she hadn’t conjured in years through the purifying tears.

“You were robbed of your youth in the most humiliating way and deprived of any sense of power and control,” the Shamaness said and stroked the Queen’s hair in a motherly fashion.

“Did I say something!?” the Queen covered her mouth, mortified when she suddenly realized the Shamaness had more than a fair idea as to what she had experienced.

“Some things you said, others I saw,” the Shamaness whispered but deemed it unnecessary to explain any further and she was correct. At that moment it didn’t really matter.

“I have never delved into the events of those days for fear of sinking and disappearing into the abyss.” The Queen sniffed and wiped her tears when she finally calmed.

“You have come a long way from those days,” the Shamaness told her, “but you already know that better than I do. Oftentimes there is no good reason as to why events occur the way they do, but try to perceive it differently. If you hadn’t been sold, you wouldn’t have become the Lord Conqueror’s wife and Queen and you wouldn’t have been in the position to better the lives of countless people.”

The Queen smiled a genuine smile, her first in days. “I could only hope so.”

“Well, I can see your hand all over the Conqueror’s decree to abolish slavery,” the Shamaness said knowingly.

Juxtaposing the building of hospices and outlawing slavery, the latter was the grander gesture of the two for the former required nothing more than for the Conqueror to spend her exchequer; the latter behooved her to be at odds with subjects of the Realm who were rich and powerful enough to own slaves.

Queen Gabrielle was reluctant to admit the great influence she had had over the Conqueror’s decisions, for it might insinuate as to the true nature of their bond, and so she elected to refrain from admitting as much.

However, no such admission was necessary. “There is much more to you, Gabrielle, than Queen of the Realm, wife of the Lord Conqueror and mother to her heir or future Queen of the Amazon nation. You mustn’t lose sight of who you are.”

“Thank you, Smyrna,” the Queen said. She wiped her brow and rose to her feet.

As the Shamaness poured water over the burning herbs, putting an end to the wafting white smoke, she asked, “Would you please do a favor for me?”

“If it is in my power to grant the favor, of course I would.”

“There are five sisters here that have been body slaves in the past.”

The Queen nodded her head in empathy, “I know. The late Princess Terreis told me just before…” her voice trailed off.

“In the years followed by the abolishment of slavery throughout the Realm, these women found their way to us. I’ve succeeded in helping four of them to confront the consequences.”

“Not all five?”

“I suspect Mitylene was severely damaged and keeps withdrawn. She must have suffered unfathomable horrors during her years of service… probably worse than most. She pays the price still. Will you agree to try and help me reach her?”

“I will try and do my very best,” the Queen promised as she reached the door.

“Sleep well, Gabrielle,” the Shamaness said.

“Thank you, and Good night,” replied the Queen.

On her way back to her hut, Queen Gabrielle realized how lonely it had been being the Queen of the Realm, even more so now with everything that had happened with her former lady-in-waiting Satrina and with Princess Lao-Ling’s untimely death. And even with those two women, whom she considered her dear and close friends, she had always kept them at arm’s length and had allowed them to get only that close to her because of her station and her complex bond with her Lord.

Alone in bed and in the dark, Queen Gabrielle touched her fingertips to her lips and whispered, “My Lord,” to herself, enjoying the hot vibrations of those two precious words against her skin.

That very night the Conqueror arrived at the palace in Corinth.
Part 7
“Satrina, have the healer sent to my chambers,” the Conqueror said as she strode into the Imperial chambers. Her wild ride back to Corinth , which she had been anxious to reach, had caused a few of the stitches to tear.

“Right away, Majesty,” Lady Satrina said, turning on her heels and disappearing into the dimly lit corridor.

After a short while she reappeared before the Conqueror, who was carefully taking off her cloak and her armor.

The sight of blood, some fresh and some old, was the first to catch her eyes. “Majesty,” she gasped, then added in a haste, “Where is her Majesty the Queen?” when it suddenly dawned on her that the Conqueror wouldn’t be in need of a healer if the Queen had been present.

“She will remain with the Amazons for a while,” the Conqueror said and slumped into her armchair.

Lady Satrina thought it highly unusual and unprecedented that the Queen would remain elsewhere while the Conqueror was in Corinth . A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts.

“Come in!” the Conqueror exclaimed.

Lady Satrina helped the Conqueror with her garments and cleaned her wounds, while the latter concisely told the healer how she had come by them and the treatment she had received.

Once the Conqueror’s wounds were properly cleaned, stitched and dressed, the healer left to return back to his night’s sleep.

“Forgive me, Majesty, but I didn’t expect you so soon. I shall have the chambermaid change the bed linens at once and…”

But the Conqueror didn’t let her finish, “No!” she exclaimed, than lowered her tone of voice and went on to say, “Leave the sheets as they are. Just have some supper brought up.”

Lady Satrina thought that the Conqueror’s adamant objection to a trifle matter such as changing soiled sheets was bizarre as well and it only added to her mounting curiosity. Nothing about the Conqueror’s unexpected return that night made any sense to her, but she knew better than ask. She simply trusted her own instincts that something grave had happened.

“Have the meal brought up, and tomorrow morning inform Nobleman Timaeus of my return and tell him to meet me in the study after breakfast.”

“Very good, Majesty. Would there be anything else?” Lady Satrina asked.

“In three days’ time, the governors of Thrace , Macedonia and Moesia will arrive at the palace for inquiry. Make arrangements to house them here, only not in the finest quarters. Choose the most common of chambers and make them as less comfortable as you can,” the Conqueror ordered.

“Yes, Majesty.”

“That would be all,” the Conqueror excused her.

“Good night, your Majesty.” Lady Satrina curtsied and left the Conqueror’s presence.

After the supper had been brought to the Imperial chambers, the Conqueror opened the Queen’s closet and took out one of the neatly folded silk nightgowns. She went to their bed and carefully spread the nightgown over the Queen’s side of the bed, and as she was doing so, her gaze caught sight of the Queen’s hairbrush resting atop the nightstand beneath a burning candle. She picked it up and closely inspected it in the light. She was nearly ecstatic when she found five golden hairs stuck in it. She carefully untangled them so as not to tear any of the precious treasure and brought them to her lips. “Gabrielle,” she whispered in somber delight. She put them in an old small jewelry box and slipped it into her inside pocket. She then lay next to the nightgown she had spread and draped her arm over it. She rested her tired head over the Queen’s pillow and took in the lingering scent.

The next morning as the Conqueror was sitting at her desk in her study, Nobleman Timaeus knocked on the door.

“Enter,” the Conqueror called.

The Nobleman limped his way into the study and bowed before the Conqueror. “Your Majesty,” he greeted her, and was wise enough not to inquire as to the Sovereign’s disability.

“Nobleman Timaeus,” she said and gestured an invitation for him to sit down with a wave of her right hand.

“Your Majesty has returned sooner than expected,” he said and did his best to overt his gaze away from the Conqueror’s arm that rested in a sling. “How good it is to see you again. May I welcome her Majesty the Queen as well?” he asked while he grabbed the armrests of his seat with both hands so to support his weight as he heavily seated himself down.

“Her Majesty is staying with the Amazons for the time being,” the Conqueror replied and leaned back against her seat.

There was something unkind, almost hostile in the Conqueror’s tone of voice that made the old Nobleman realize that the Conqueror wasn’t pleased with that situation and so he decided that a change of subject was necessary.

He cleared his throat. “As your Majesty can see, to the right,” he said and pointed to the right side of the Conqueror’s desk, “I have kept the documents that require your Majesty’s signature, and to the left,” he continued, pointing to the left side of the desk this time, “I have kept all the documents I have signed in your Majesty’s name.”

“I shall review them,” she said nonchalantly like it was the last thing in the world she cared about. “The Realm thanks you for your services, Nobleman.”

“Is there any other way I can be of service to your Majesty?” he asked.

The Conqueror wasn’t sure whether the old man was anxious to return back to his home in Athens or not, but she didn’t really care.

“There is,” she stated and watched his thick disheveled grey eyebrows rise in surprise. “I have summoned the governors of Thrace , Macedonia and Moesia to appear before me. They are expected to arrive within three days. It would please me if you attended the inquiry. It won’t hurt to have another pair of eyes and ears.”

When it came down to it, she trusted her own counsel the most and relied on her sagacity almost absolutely. Truth was the inquiry was but an excuse to keep him in Corinth . With her Queen far away, it was his company she sought.

He got a sense that the Conqueror who sat opposite him across the desk that morning didn’t resemble the Conqueror with whom he had shared a drink before she had left to the Amazon lands, but the one from the times before the Conqueror had married the Queen. He could see ire slithering under her skin like worms. “Of course I’m at your Majesty’s service,” he gave the only answer he could.

Meanwhile, at the Amazon village on the training field, Queen Gabrielle approached an Amazon, whom the Shamaness had discreetly pointed out to her at breakfast. The Amazon was practicing alone with a staff on one of the far corners of the field. She was younger than the Queen. By her mannerisms one could tell that she was reserved and unassuming. Her gestures were modest and her big brown eyes that concealed much more than they revealed never tarried on anyone for more than a few fractions of a moment. Unlike most Amazons, her clothes covered most of her body, and in that regard she was conspicuous .

“Majesty,” the Amazon bowed before the Queen, as soon as the latter stood face to face with her.

“What is your name?” the Queen asked, although she had already known it, and looked at the Amazon’s brown, smooth and shortly-cut hair.

“Mitylene,” the Amazon answered as she downcast her eyes.

“That is a lovely name,” the Queen extended a gentle smile.

“Your Majesty is very kind,” Mitylene responded, her eyes still avoiding direct contact with the Queen’s.

That avoidance reminded the Queen of herself. She recalled thinking during her years of servitude that not looking into a person’s eyes would prevent them from paying attention to her or taking more from her than had already been taken, as if by looking into another’s eyes she was endangering or forfeiting her soul. Seeing the way that the Amazon standing in front of her was dressed made her conclude that Mitylene’s body could portray an accurate and detailed description of her horrific history. It occurred to the Queen that she didn’t remember the Amazon ever bathing with them.

“I like the way your hair is cut. It complements your delicate face.”

“Thank you, Majesty. I cut it myself.”

“Well, it is lovely.” Despite the Queen’s efforts to catch Mitylene’s gaze with her own, she was not successful. She knew from experience that it would take some time. “I wonder…Would you do a favor for me and cut mine to look like yours?”

Apparently, the Queen’s request came as a shock to Mitylene, for as soon as she heard it her big eyes widened and connected with the Queen’s. It was then that Queen Gabrielle really noticed how hallow they were, like two big empty holes where a soul should be.

“Of course, Majesty.”

“Do you think it would suit me?” the Queen asked and wove her fingers through her hair. She knew that allowing a stranger to get close to the Queen of the Realm with a blade might establish trust in Mitylene.

” Your Majesty is very beautiful. Everything will suit you,” Mitylene said.

“Thank you. Will you do it now, please?” the Queen asked and even before she had received an answer, she sat on the ground.

Mitylene hesitated for a few moments before she took out her dagger and sharpened it over a whetstone.

Not far away, Princess Athena was standing and watching her mother, and as soon as she saw Mitylene kneeling behind her mother with a dagger in her hand, she grasped the hilt of her sword and readied her arm. If they had been anywhere else but the Amazon Lands, a stranger’s hand holding a blade so closely to the Queen would have been chopped off by an Imperial Guard in a blink of an eye. When she saw the Amazon cautiously cut away her mother’s hair, she released her grip; but just as a precaution, she left her hand lightly touching the hilt.

Gold strands of hair floated downwards, tickling Queen Gabrielle’s skin as Mitylene cut away. Queen Gabrielle pinched one strand and molded it between her fingers. “I have noticed how well you wield a staff. Would it be too much if I asked you to teach me?” she asked.

“Not at all, Majesty,” Mitylene answered with a small voice wondering as to the Queen’s odd interest in her.

“Shall we say a little before supper?” The Queen noticed Mitylene stopped cutting, and so she brushed her fingers through her short hair for measure and to shake away the strands that had been cut away. It felt very differently.

“I will be here, Majesty,” said Mitylene and returned her dagger to its scabbard.

“Thank you for cutting my hair for me and agreeing to teach me,” the Queen said and walked over to Mysia to continue with her training.

That day, as Queen Gabrielle and Princess Athena ate their supper; the latter couldn’t help but stare at her mother’s new haircut.

“Do you think it would please my Lord?” the Queen asked and shook her head to indicate her hair.

“Oh, I think you would please her Majesty even if you wore a sack over your head,” Athena said and made her mother laugh and cry at the same time.

“When my Lord and I were in Chin for Princess Lao-Ling and Lady Satrina’s marriage ceremony,” Queen Gabrielle began to say like she was narrating a yarn, “my Lord took me to purchase fabrics at the greatest silk market there. My Lord picked up the most magnificent and the most expensive fabric from the most renowned merchant in the whole of Chin. My Lord ran her fingers over the silk and then through my hair and said: ‘The finest silk in Chin isn’t as soft as your hair.'”

To Athena, the Queen’s tale spoke more of her longings for her Lord than anything else.

That night, after she had met with the Shamaness and Mitylene, as the Queen lay in her bed thoughts of the Conqueror possessed her and she didn’t fight them but welcomed them. Memories of the last time they had made love consumed her, and how sweet and exciting it had been when the Conqueror had grabbed her by her hair, like reins as she mounted her. She was happy that her hair was long enough to be gripped still and she cried herself to sleep. It rained that night.

***

In the Great Hall in Corinth , servants were polishing the Conqueror’s oak-made throne and dusting the upholstery while others carrying burning torches lit up the iron torches set on the walls and the Corinthian style pillars, one by one.

The Conqueror strode into the Great Hall dressed in black leather trousers and a thick velvet and silk dark blue cloak with golden threads adoring its rim over her shoulders, and her crown on her head. The rhythmic knocks of her heavy boots against the marble floor echoed in the vast space. The servants momentarily stopped their tasks and bowed before her as she made her way to her seat.

Meanwhile, Lady Lila along with her family, her husband Agrippa and their two sons arrived surrounded by soldiers of the Imperial Guard. The family was nervous, for never before had they been escorted into the Great Hall by the Imperial Guard. That dubious pleasure was reserved for prisoners. Inwardly, Lady Lila hoped that she would soon see her sister sitting on her throne so that her distress would come to an end.

As she had been ordered, Lady Satrina had housed Lady Lila and her family in the most modest chambers in the Corinthian palace. The chambers she had picked were the furthest from the Great Hall and required a long walk to get there. The longer the walk the more nerve wracking it would be. That had been the Conqueror’s purpose and design.

As soon as all preparations were over, the servants left the Great Hall and Nobleman Timaeus entered. He took his place standing to the Conqueror’s left. When the Conqueror realized the long stand might be hard on him, she ordered a chair be brought to him.

Upon entering the Great Hall, Lady Lila’s heart nearly stopped when she saw that the throne next to the Conqueror’s was vacant. Her sister was not there to protect her and she suddenly remembered something that she had once heard in passing by a fellow nobleman, that being close to power is never safe.

“Your Majesty,” they all bowed and curtsied as soon as she addressed them.

“I trust you’ve all heard about recent attacks near the Amazonian borders,” the Conqueror said.

“We have, your Majesty,” replied Lady Lila with a small tremor in her voice.

“My spies tell me that you might have a hand in it. What have you to say in your defense?” the Conqueror said. It was a lie intended to examine their reaction to the accusation.

Lady Lila felt the blood rushing away from her face and her mouth becoming suddenly dry. Fear paralyzed her faculties. “Where is my sister?” she blurted out. Her common sense clearly left her as well.

“You don’t ask the questions around here, and you’ll do well to address her Majesty the Queen by her title,” the Conqueror warned.

Lady Lila knew that should she be warned again then she ought to be grateful.

“My apologies, your Majesty. With respect, your Majesty, we had nothing to do with it, nothing at all,” Lady Lila denied vehemently.

“Your actions in the past demonstrated animosity towards her Majesty. Did you think that disturbing the peace in my Realm would be yet another venue to embarrass her Majesty?”

“Majesty, I no longer bear any ill feelings towards her Majesty,” Lady Lila was desperate to appeal to the Conqueror’s reason.

“Is that so?!” the Conqueror questioned in disbelief and rose to her feet. The mere sight of her sister-in-law and her youngest, who had been the ones to tell Princess Athena of Queen Gabrielle’s past as a body slave, made her blood boil. She stepped down from her throne and closed the gap between them.

“I will never shed blood, not even the blood of those women,” Lady Lila hastily repudiated as she felt the Conqueror’s ominous glare burning holes into her. In her state of fright, clear thinking was beyond her and she had little control of what came out of her mouth, and it only worsened as the distance between the Conqueror and herself grew shorter.

“Those women?! And what is so wrong about ‘those women’ I wonder.”

“Nothing, your Majesty. Nothing at all,” she waved her hands sideways hysterically.

The Conqueror elected to change the subject entirely in order to play with Lady Lila’s mind and thus catch her off guard. “I had my secretary go over your records.” The Conqueror paused to observe Lady Lila’s reaction.

She became confused, not being able to follow the Conqueror’s line of questioning. She looked at her husband with scared eyes for help, but he kept his downcast and mutely left her to fend for herself.

“Our records, Majesty?”

“What did I tell you about asking me questions, Madame?!” the Conqueror raised her voice.

Lady Lila recoiled.

“Would you preferred it if I took you to the dungeons and continued the inquiry there?!”

“Pardon me, your gracious Majesty. It will not happen again.” Lady Lila could feel the earth shake beneath her legs.

“My secretary tells me that some funds seem to be missing, funds which were supposed to be paid as taxes to the Realm.” The Conqueror uttered her words slowly as she walked around to stand behind the trembling Lady and her deserting family. She knew denying her subject the sight of her would render her subject incapable of anticipating her actions or study her expressions, thus making her even more helpless, and without the illusion of some sense of control.

“I know nothing about it, I swear on my husband’s head,” Lady Lila answered.

The Conqueror scoffed.

“Your wife doesn’t seem to put too much value on your head, sir,” the Conqueror whispered in his ear but loud enough for Nobleman Timaeus to hear.

Lady Lila’s children felt shame at that moment and it was evident on their faces. The Conqueror was pleased to see it. Retribution, she reckoned, for the shame Germanicus and Lady Lila had made her Queen and her daughter feel.

“Do you know what happens to those who steal from me, Madame?” the Conqueror asked. It was a rhetorical question, for everyone knew that the penalty for stealing from the Realm was the severance of fingers and confiscation of all possessions in favor of the Realm’s exchequer.

“I do, Majesty. I shall have my secretary go over our books with your Majesty’s secretary to inspect any discrepancies. I assure your Majesty that for any funds that are missing, tenfold will be paid,” Lady Lila said as she searched her mind for the cause for any such discrepancies. She would later find that her eldest had been the one who had dipped into the exchequer and had helped himself to the missing funds. “I swear to you, your Majesty, that it is all but an error done with no malice.”

“So you haven’t paid for mercenaries to attack the Amazons, have you?” the Conqueror continued to inquire.

“I did no such thing, your Majesty. If I were to pay mercenaries to kill those women, I would hardly pay them from the taxes the province of Macedonia owes your Majesty. I would pay them with my own funds,” she argued.

The Conqueror, of course, already knew that. “‘Those women’ again,” she pointed out and walked to stand in front of Lady Lila again. “What is it you have against ‘those women’? You can tell me the truth. I don’t care much for them myself.” It wasn’t entirely untrue. However, the only reason the Conqueror said what she did was to plant false confidence in Lady Lila.

Still nervous, Lady Lila might have suspected as much but either way she had little choice, if any. “Their way of life… without men… it is – ” but then she stopped her speech abruptly and covered her mouth with both hands as if to keep her words from coming out of her mouth, but it was too late already and she knew it. If her sister had been present, she wouldn’t have been so frightened and her judgment so crucially impaired.

The Conqueror circled Lady Lila’s family like a shark in bloodied water. She then stopped to stand next to Agrippa, Lady Lila’s poor excuse for a husband. She looked the flaccid man over from head to toe and scoffed, “It would seem it is you, Madame, who lives without a man. Her Majesty the Queen, on the other hand, lives with a Lion who masters the earth. In that regard also, she is your superior.” The Conqueror picked and stabbed where she knew it would hurt. Exploiting others’ weaknesses for her advantage was her trade.

Lady Lila and her wretched family hung their heads in shame, for the truth always has the power to humble if not humiliate.

“You will leave my sight immediately and will leave my home first thing tomorrow morning, but you will be available for further inquiry. All funds that are missing will be paid tenfold at your own expense. Do not let me wait past a fortnight, for you have just spent your last credit your kinship to her Majesty the Queen has extended you. Do you take my meaning, Madame?” the Conqueror spoke determinably.

Lady Lila all but sighed in relief that the ordeal was finally over.

“Yes, your Majesty,” she nodded her head.

“I have sent a battalion to the border between Macedonia and the Amazon lands. As further punishment, you will feed them at your own expense for the duration of their stay.” These were the final words the Conqueror had for her.

“By your will, Majesty,” she said and curtsied before she and her family left the Conqueror’s presence.

The other two governors appeared for questioning before the Conqueror that evening. Both fervently denied any knowledge and partaking in the attacks committed against the Amazons.

Late at night when the interrogations were finally over, the Conqueror invited Nobleman Timaeus for a drink in front of the fire at her study in order to hear his impressions.

As they sat together and discussed the events that had taken place in the Great Hall earlier, Nobleman Timaeus couldn’t help but notice that the Conqueror was imbibing spirits at an accelerated rate and quantity. He had never seen her drink so much, not even at banquets after any of her many brilliant victories, and it unnerved him. There was something very wrong happening, he knew without a doubt.

“Noblemen Simonides and Arkilis seemed sincere in denying their involvement,” he offered his opinion.

“So it would seem,” the Conqueror grumbled and filled her seventh goblet.

“Nobleman Arkilis nearly fainted when your Majesty asked him about his affair with the stable boy he keeps,” said Nobleman Timaeus and rubbed his forehead. “I had no idea…”

“Fear is a great incentive to truth telling. Most of his riches come from his wife and she is yet unaware of his dalliances. I wanted him to be as frightened as Lady Lila was during her interrogation. My questioning method is predicated on the premise that when one is busy fearing, one is too busy coming up with convincing, well-thought-of lies,” the Conqueror said, and enjoyed the comforting, numbing warmth of the liquid as it made its way down her gullet.

Nobleman Timaeus thought it was getting darker in the Conqueror’s study. From the corner of his eye, he could see the Conqueror’s large shadow cast on the wall behind her being augmented like something uncanny. It was as if her very presence in the study swallowed and absorbed the firelight.

“I am glad that her Majesty the Queen wasn’t present to see her sister’s shame,” he said.

“Lady Lila should thank the fates for that one, for had my Queen been present to hear these venomous words I would have fed that silly sister of hers her conniving, serpent-like tongue,” the Conqueror hissed and downed the content of an eighth goblet.

Lord Timaeus fought an urge to cringe in his seat. The Conqueror’s brooding mood, her drinking as if there was no tomorrow, and her threatening words made the hair on the back of his neck stand. He became worried, and out of great loyalty and admiration towards his Master he decided that even if the Conqueror were to dismiss him so that he could return to Athens , he would come up with an excuse to remain in the Corinthian palace to keep an eye on her, so to speak.

A servant entered the Conqueror’s study with an urn filled with spirits in his hand to replace the empty one on the table.

“Tell Lady Satrina that tomorrow morning I will see the Imperial sculptor first thing in the dining hall,” the Conqueror ordered.

“Yes, your Majesty,” the servant said and bowed before he left.

The Conqueror had forced Nobleman Timaeus to stay with her till the wee hours of the night, asking him to tell her about his wife and their children, till she tired herself and stiffly went up to the Imperial Chambers, where she plummeted onto the unchanged sheets next to her Queen’s gown.

The next day, when the Imperial sculptor appeared before her, the Conqueror commissioned a real size statue in the likeness of the Queen to be made with the finest alabaster marble. She assigned an empty well-lit chamber in the Imperial suite, not far from the Imperial bedchamber, for the task.
Part 8
A little over a moon had passed since the Conqueror had left the Amazon lands, and the Queen’s longings for her only grew deeper and stronger. It seemed that absolutely everything reminded Queen Gabrielle of the Conqueror.

When she ate breakfast, she told Princess Athena how whenever in Thira, her Lord would always make her breakfast and would even clean the dishes afterwards, which Athena found too hard to believe and attributed what she figured to be a wild exaggeration to her mother’s longing for the Conqueror. On the practice field, she told Athena, Mitylene and Mysia how her Lord had practiced with Athena when Athena had been but a young child. When they went hunting, Queen Gabrielle told them how one time her Lord had single-handedly killed three wolves that had threatened their lives, and about their hunting trips and her Lord’s methods of capturing her prey. Queen Gabrielle did not miss the flimsiest of opportunity to mention her Lord and she did so whenever she could.

Princess Athena understood that speaking about the Conqueror made her mother feel closer to her, as if the very mentioning of her manifested the Conqueror’s presence somehow and made her physical absence a tad more tolerable.

“Write to her Majesty. I will deliver your message to the Imperial guards at the Thracian border,” Athena suggested.

“I will not have you unnecessarily risk your life just so that I may send a message,” the Queen immediately rejected the idea.

“It’s been over a moon since the last attack. It is quiet around the borders and they are teeming with soldiers of the Imperial Guard. I am an excellent warrior and so I can assure you, there is no risk at all. I will ride on horseback after sundown in full armor. Besides, no one can hit a mark in utter darkness, let alone a moving one.” Princess Athena sounded very convincing and the Queen wanted very much to be convinced.

“You are not just saying so to put my mind at ease, are you?!” the Queen asked apprehensively.

“I give you my solemn oath that I will be safe,” Athena placed her hand over her chest.

And so right after supper, when time was finally her own, the Queen sat in her hut and wrote a letter to her Lord with a trembling hand. She thought long and hard about what she wished to convey to her beloved. It took a while for her first words to find their way onto the parchment, but as she scribbled away, more and more words streamed out of her aching heart and into the letter. When she was done, she kissed the words ‘My beloved Lion’ in her handwriting, folded the sheet that rested atop her table and sealed it with her crest.

She walked over to Athena’s hut and placed the folded parchment in her hand. “If there is even the slightest hint of peril please return immediately,” she said.

“I promise I will, mother,” Athena replied, fastening her heavy bronze armor.

“Swear to me that you’ll return unharmed,” the Queen insisted.

“I do so swear,” Athena smiled in light of her overprotective mother’s niggling.

“As soon as you return be sure to let me know. I will not go to sleep before – ”

“You needn’t stay up in wait for me,” Athena cut through her mother’s speech.

“Do not argue with me!” the Queen sounded very adamant.

Athena nodded her head and went on her way.

Knowing it would be awhile before her daughter’s return, Queen Gabrielle put a woolen cape over her shoulders for warmth, clasped a burning torch in her hand and went out to face the night’s chill. Her legs carried her to the lake where the Amazons bathed, in the hopes of finding Mitylene there. She surmised that the Amazon might seize the opportunity during night time when it was dark, cold and deserted and wash herself in private.

For the past moon or so, Queen Gabrielle had religiously practiced her staff with the younger Amazon on a daily basis. Each day, while they had practiced, the Queen had told Mitylene about her life, about how she had acquired her healing skills, and about life in her village where she had grown up, in order to provoke Mitylene to share her history as well. Mitylene, however, had spoken about nothing that hadn’t been related to staff practicing.

As she neared the lake, she could hear the sounds of trickling water disturbing the silence of the moonless night. Someone was definitely there. As she got closer, as expected, she saw Mitylene’s head bobbing at the surface as her entire body was submerged under the dark water.

Mitylene stilled her motion anxiously. “Who goes there?” she asked timidly.

“It’s me. Please do not be alarmed,” Queen Gabrielle replied, “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

“Majesty,” Mitylene let out as she was torn between her will to veil herself in the water and her duty to rise and bow before the Queen.

Sensing Mitylene’s predicament, the Queen softly said, “You may stay where you are.”

“Thank you, Majesty,” Mitylene answered, her movement still frozen.

“I’m sorry for encroaching on your privacy, but I couldn’t sleep and so I thought I might take a nightly stroll.”

“You needn’t explain yourself, Majesty.” Mitylene began fidgeting.

Queen Gabrielle affixed the burning torch between a few nearby rocks on the ground on the bank of the small lake. “You wouldn’t mind if I joined you, would you?” she asked and before a reply was issued she removed her woolen cape.

“Of course not, Majesty,” Mitylene didn’t conceive of refusing the Queen of the Realm.

Queen Gabrielle deliberately stood near the burning torch and allowed it to illuminate her slim figure as she slowly disrobed and exposed her nakedness to the biting chill of the night’s air. She wanted Mitylene to notice the brand mark that had been singed into her flesh above her shoulder blade by the Conqueror.

Before entering the water, the Queen first dipped her toes, “The water is freezing!” she exclaimed and laughed and from the corner of her eye she saw that Mitylene was staring intently at the Conqueror’s insignia scarring her back.

Slowly, the Queen descended into the water. “How can you stand the cold?” she asked the younger woman.

“I find the numbing coolness against my skin quite soothing,” Mitylene replied and quickly averted her gaze from the Queen’s branding scar, not wishing to be caught staring at it. Due to the poor lighting, she wasn’t completely sure what the scar was exactly, whether some old mark from an accident or something altogether different.

“You may examine it more closely if you wish,” the Queen said without a hint of scrutiny in her voice. She wanted Mitylene to recognize it for what it was.

Though embarrassed for obviously being caught staring, diffidently, Mitylene moved closer to the Queen and took a closer look under the light. She quickly recognized the nature of the mark and the Conqueror’s crest. That brand mark hadn’t been made by accident, she immediately realized, but by a deliberate hand.

When Mitylene was surveying the Queen’s form, the latter was surveying hers. As a trained and experienced healer, Queen Gabrielle could easily discern scars that have been left by a whip, other scars that have been done with a blade, burn scars made by fire and others by white-hot iron rod. As her eyes moved over the younger woman’s torso, she was no longer aware of how freezing the water was, and oblivious to the hot tears that slid down her features. The horrors that Mitylene’s body narrated without words split her heart. At that moment, for the first time in many days, thoughts of her Lord didn’t occupy her mind.

It was then that Mitylene looked directly into the Queen’s eyes for the first time since they had met.

The Queen quickly composed herself. She did not wish to burden Mitylene with her own tears. Those tears born out of pity and empathy were as helpful as medicine for a dead man. “I was resold as a body slave as soon as I got my first blood,” she began to say.

The Queen’s statement did not come as a shock to Mitylene. The fact that she once had been a body slave was well-known.

“One day, two men came to the healer’s house, where I had served as a domestic to my first owner, and I was taken away without so much as an explanation. Soon after I learnt that I had been lucky to be a maiden, otherwise the slavers would have used me before selling me. For some reason, men are willing to pay more for the privilege of deflowering a virgin.” Gabrielle paused. She could withstand the night’s chill no longer and so she got out of the water and wrapped her woolen cape over her body. “To this day I cannot understand, if lust is their only motivation then what difference it makes?!”

“And then what happened, Majesty?” Mitylene asked and seated her dripping self next to the Queen on the dry bank, on the other side of the burning torch. The scars on her back, her arms and her breasts were better seen closer to the flame.

Queen Gabrielle took it as a sign that despite the sensitive and painful subject, Mitylene welcomed it. “I was put on the slavers’ block. A tag with a price on it was tied around my neck as though I was a prized heifer at a fair. One thousand Dinars was my price, I’ll never forget. As the hot stone-made platform burned the soles of my feet, men fondled me, posing as if they were actually considering buying me, but most of them simply enjoyed a free thrill. Then a man came and bought me for his son, and for the next few years I had to service both him and his son.”

Queen Gabrielle took a deep breath. As she continued her life story, she played with her fingers, and couldn’t look into Mitylene’s eyes. The shame of it felt like yesterday. “What was hard on me the most was not their degrading carnal acts on me, or their sweat and filth sullying my body, like you would imagine. It was the fact that neither of them ever spoke to me. None of them cared who I was, like it didn’t matter, like I didn’t matter. My thoughts, my dreams, my wants meant nothing. I was nothing, a chattel, a place to dump lust. I was used with all the attention and care one would give a cheap chair or a table. The father was the worse of the two, the way he smelled like a wet goat, and how he tasted when he put his member in my mouth, like rotten carobs… The way he grunted in my ears… It was revolting.”

As she spoke, the Queen’s eyes were nearly glazed, like she could see her words turning into images before her eyes, or better yet, like she was describing a scene she was witnessing before her, haunted.

“Unlike his son, I could see how much pleasure he took in my humiliation. The more he degraded me, the more aroused he got. I had control over nothing. I wasn’t allowed to relieve myself without him permitting me to. I ate when he said I could eat. I drank when he said I could drink. I learned to dream while wide-awake when used. Little by little, more of me vanished and all that was left was a pretty shell. I was lucky enough he almost never beat me. I never gave him reason to, and I guess he wasn’t inherently violent. One day, I can only guess that he grew tired of me, and it was back to the slavers’ block for me. I was a few moons shy of my eighteenth birthday. Being older than I had been the first time around… and used, the slaver calculated that I was worth seven hundred Dinnars… still quite expensive, I remember thinking to myself.” Her past sense of distorted pride and the importance of her monetary value seemed ridiculous to her now, and she almost giggled.

Queen Gabrielle lifted her head then and momentarily gazed at Mitylene. She half expected to find empathy, but indifference was all she could find. Nevertheless, she understood. The younger woman had it worse than her, and so she must have grown a thicker skin. She had to, if only to survive. “That very day, as I was standing for the second time on the slavers’ block, the Conqueror approached the stock on display. It was on the day of the festive military parade that marked the sixth anniversary of the Conqueror’s reign. I nearly fainted when I felt her eyes roaming all over me. She bought me for herself. How silly it is that your entire sense of self-worth is comprised by how high up your owner is and how much he is willing to pay for you.” The Queen wasn’t quite sure how to proceed, so she halted her speech and waited for Mitylene’s reaction.

The younger Amazon was certainly riveted by the Queen’s tale. She was amazed that the Queen of the Realm would share such sordid details from her past and to a stranger with outstanding candor, but she hid her amazement well.

“May I say, Majesty…” she requested permission to speak her mind.

“Of course you may,” the Queen encouraged her.

“Aside from the mark on your Majesty’s back, there aren’t any other scars as far as I can see. It has been my experience that this is quite rare.”

“So I have come to understand myself. It was simply my luck that I didn’t have many owners, I guess, and none was willing to pass me around or mar the goods.”

It was strange for the Queen to talk with the former body slave about her life of servitude. It suddenly took her back to the time when she had been a slave. She felt it so intensely that she nearly lost the omnipresent sense she had since being free and a Queen. For a moment there she felt like a slave still, like a worthless nobody. The conversation she had shared with the two body slaves during the summit in Corinth soon after the Conqueror had defeated Britannia flashed before her eyes.

“With your permission, Majesty, may I ask…” Mitylene inquired with a small voice.

“You are curious to know what I did to deserve the mark on my back,” the Queen smiled in understanding.

Mitylene simply nodded her head.

“Well…” the Queen began to reply, then stopped and carefully considered what she was going to say. The day that the Conqueror had admitted her great love for her, she explained she had branded her as punishment for spoiling the pleasure of having women other than her. But she couldn’t tell as much to Mitylene . “I have the matter of my Lord’s privacy to take into account, you see,” she continued, but when she saw a hint of disappointment cross Mitylene’s face, the first sign of emotion she had ever shown thus far, Queen Gabrielle went on to say, “Let’s just say that I was punished for what my Lord thought I had taken from her, and leave it at that.”

Mitylene knew she had to tread very cautiously with the many questions she had for the Queen. She wondered, for example, how it was, given the Conqueror’s reputation, that the Queen had but only one scar on her body, or whether the Queen bore any ill-feelings towards the Conqueror for having to serve her or not, and what was it like to serve the Conqueror. But posing such questions might be construed as being disrespectful and intrusive and so she remained silent.

The astute Queen figured as much. She decided not to wait for the questions to come forth but to tell as much as she could within the limitations. “With my Lord it was very different. When you service, you teach yourself not to feel, so that all the horrible things that are being done to you will not affect you. At first I couldn’t understand why, but when she touched me, she made me feel… it wasn’t horrible, and it terrified me. I knew I shouldn’t feel, as I had taught myself with my previous owner. When she took me, I couldn’t run and hide in that imaginary dreamscape I’d spent creating before entering her service. What was worse was that I didn’t seem to possess the will to try and escape.” The Queen couldn’t curb a smile and she shook her head, “I was never out of her reach. I have later come to realize it was because of whom I was and who my Lord was, and I don’t mean my Lord’s supreme station. My Lord was… absolutely magnificent in every regard.” Queen Gabrielle’s last sentence didn’t register above a whisper. She wasn’t sure what Mitylene might think of her.

“You love the Lord Conqueror.” Mitylene’s reply sounded like a declaration.

Queen Gabrielle’s eyes reflected puzzlement, but she repressed it immediately for she knew it would be a wordless confession to something she could not confess to.

But Mitylene gleaned the silent flitting question and said, “Whilst here, your Majesty has been speaking of the Lord Conqueror…” then added, “…a lot.”

It was the first time that Queen Gabrielle had been made aware of it.

And then there was silence again. The night blew a stream of cold wind that rattled through the willows of the brook.

“Love was my power,” Queen Gabrielle said as if it had just accrued to her. “Only a fellow body slave can truly grasp and comprehend the aftermath of that sort of servitude.”

As Mitylene was contemplating the Queen’s words, Mysia approached the lake’s bank.

“Majesty, I’m sorry to disturb you. I couldn’t sleep and thought a nightly stroll by the lake might do me some good. I didn’t realize…”

“Please, do not apologize. You are more than welcome to join us,” the Queen extended her hand in an invitation.

Mitylene nodded her head in agreement.

Mysia sat next to the two already seated women. “I couldn’t help but overhear what your Majesty said about the aftermath of servitude.”

“Oh,” the Queen muttered.

“That was the only thing I heard, Majesty, and I simply wish to say that it deeply touched me, for I too was once a body slave,” Mysia said.

“How brave you are, dear Mysia .” The Queen meant every word she said.

“Our Shamaness, for lack of better word, simply saved my life,” Mysia said and hugged her folded legs.

“She is a wise and compassionate woman, indeed,” the Queen affirmed.

Mitylene rose to her feet. “With your permission, Majesty, I am tired and wish to retire,” she humbly said.

“Please do. Sleep well,” the Queen said, wondering if Mitylene was overburdened by the presence of Mysia or rather by the content of the subject discussed.

Either way, Mitylene covered her body and left the Queen and Mysia alone at the lake. The Queen was beginning to become agitated in anticipation of her daughter’s safe return, and so she rose to her feet as well.

“Majesty?” Mysia questioned.

“It is getting late and I’m cold,” said the Queen and wrapped her own arms around her torso for warmth.

“May I escort your Majesty to her hut?”

“I would be delighted,” answered the Queen.

As both women strolled back to the village, Mysia turned to the Queen and said, “Aside from Mitylene and myself, there are three more sisters here who are former body slaves.”

“I know,” the Queen answered.

“Penthesilea, Oreithyia and Naya. Naya even found love and was bonded with another sister,” Mysia smiled like the very idea of finding love was a reason to be happy.

The Queen mirrored her smile, and in return Mysia ‘s eyes sparkled as they neared the Queen’s hut.

“What about you?” the Queen inquired with mirth. “Is there someone special in your life?”

The warrior woman nearly blushed like a shy lass.

Princess Athena, who had returned from her task and had been waiting for the Queen at the entrance to her hut, observed the Mysia ‘s playful excitement when the Queen asked her about love.

She had been watching the Queen’s Amazon trainer for quite a while now. In her opinion, Mysia had been touching the Queen’s body while training her far more than necessary, such as touching her back for support, or pressing her body to the Queen’s while demonstrating body movements and such.

Being a trained warrior herself, and familiar with the ways of the world, Athena knew she could trust her own judgment, and if she thought that the warrior Amazon was sniffing around her mother, then she probably was. She remembered the Conqueror’s order to her not to meddle in the Queen’s private affairs, just before the Conqueror had left. Athena wondered if that was what the Conqueror had had in mind or had foreseen when she had issued that order.

Nevertheless, at that moment, young Princess Athena knew exactly what she wanted to say to the Amazon: ‘ You and I are warriors. We understand life’s most basic codes. As you must have gathered, her Majesty the Queen is vulnerable and is in need of consolation these days, for her Lord is not with her. But I warn you, should you keep trying to get into her Majesty’s breeches, I swear to you that the Realm will fall on your head like a…’

“Athena,” the Queen sighed in relief as soon as her gaze spotted Athena, who wasn’t aware that she was glaring at Mysia with the look of death in her eyes.

Upon hearing her mother calling her, Athena snapped out of her thoughts. “Majesty,” she said and bowed before the Queen.

“Excuse me,” Queen Gabrielle said to Mysia .

“Of course, Majesty,” Mysia bowed as well, then turned on her heel and strode in the direction of her own hut.

Once inside the hut, Queen Gabrielle hugged Princess Athena with all her might.

“Your message has been delivered and the ride was uneventful,” Athena assured her.

Tears weld up in the Queen’s eyes as she wouldn’t let go of her daughter just yet. “When my Lord reads what I have written, my Lord would surely come back to me, you’ll see,” she sobbed quietly.

“I know, mother,” Athena embraced the shorter woman who had given her life and gently rocked her. “Her Majesty will return to you soon,” she said and inwardly prayed to the Gods that the obstinate Conqueror would relent.

After Athena left the hut, the Queen lay in the bed and sleep, as often these days, was just outside her reach. She pondered about the things she had told Mitylene earlier that night by the lake, and how she had never before shared those horrendous and ghastly experiences with another soul, not even her beloved Lord.

Years ago, when she had beseeched the Conqueror to abolish slavery, she’d intently minced words about what it would meant and how it would felt like to be a body slave. The Conqueror hadn’t pried and hadn’t expressed any desire to further inquire or learn, and the Queen hadn’t volunteered to provide any details or specifics of her own private experiences. It hadn’t been just because she’d assumed that the Conqueror hadn’t wished to know, but also because she hadn’t had the will, nor perchance the courage and sturdiness of mind, to tell.

That night, when Gabrielle entered the land where dreams are being weaved, behind closed eyelids, her Lord came and made tender love to her, and as she did there was no anger, no force, no conflict and no asperity, just sweet whispers laced with deep moans and soft caress followed by moist kisses. It was the first time since her Lord had left that Gabrielle was fortunate enough to conjure her in this realm, and it was blissful, for she would remember it come morning, unlike many others that were lost.
Part 9
“Your Majesty,” a servant bowed before the bored looking Conqueror, who sat on her throne in Corinth .

“What is it?” she asked and suppressed a yawn.

“Delos of Thessaly asks for an audience with your Majesty,” he announced.

The Sovereign threw a questioning glance at Nobleman Timaeus, who was standing to her left. He shrugged and shook his head, signaling that he had no idea what the merchant of weaponry, who was the Realm’s primary supplier, could possibly want .

“Show him in,” the Conqueror ordered with a wave of her hand and shifted her weight in her extravagant seat.

“Delos, my good man,” she addressed him with a warm greeting.

The chubby merchant approached the throne and bowed, “Your Majesty.”

“How is your daughter, Antonia?” she asked.

“Very well, your Majesty, and may I inquire after her Majesty the Queen and her Grace?” he paid kindness with kindness.

“They are very well,” the Conqueror replied. “Now tell me, Delos , what can I do for you?”

“Was your Majesty pleased with the recent shipment of weaponry I provided?” he asked.

The Conqueror tried to decipher where he was going with this unusual question and in this unusual forum. “I haven’t heard any complaints from my commanding officers as of yet,” she replied. “What is this about?”

“If you’ll forgive me, Majesty…” he seemed hesitant to continue.

“Well?” the Conqueror was not in the mood to drag it out of him.

“With respect and all humility, Majesty, I have yet to be paid for it,” he said and small beads of cold sweat materialized on his forehead. He took out a handkerchief and with a juddering hand wiped his brows. “If your Majesty needs an extension…” he was quick to offer.

His last sentence was his major error.

“An extension!?” her voice thundered. “What do you take me for, sir?! I own the world and everything in it. I have no debts and owe nothing to no one!”

Delos recoiled as if the sheer force of her voice shoved him backwards.

Nobleman Timaeus was nervous when he saw that the Conqueror was sitting on the edge of her seat, primed and ready to pounce. He quickly stepped in to intervene. “I’m afraid I am to blame for this misunderstanding.” He claimed responsibility for the oversight, although it wasn’t his to assume. He never conceived he would ever live to see the day when something would slip the sharpest mind he had ever encountered. “A thousand apologies, Majesty, but I seem to have forgotten to draft an order of payment for your Majesty to sign while your Majesty was away, and so your Majesty’s exchequer clerks received no such order and payment wasn’t rendered.”

The Conqueror ordered a quill and a parchment to be brought to her. She drafted an order and sealed it. A servant took the written order from the Conqueror’s hand to be delivered to the Realm’s exchequer.

“You’ll be paid within a day,” she concluded.

“I beseech your Majesty to forgive me,” Delos begged , “and I thank your Majesty with all my heart.”

The Conqueror just waved her hand and dismissed him.

After he left, the Conqueror stood up and turned to Nobleman Timaeus. “Gross incompetence isn’t like you, Nobleman,” she said.

He simply downcast his eyes and held his tongue.

“If I was to go to my study and rummage through my desk, I will find the order ready for me to sign, will I not?” she asked.

“I’m not completely sure, Majesty,” he said and mindlessly touched his nose, an earmark of telling a lie, the Conqueror knew.

She pardoned his deception, and appreciated the great favor he had done for her. He had claimed responsibility for her mistake so that she might remain perfect and infallible in her subjects’ eyes.

Later on that day, while the healer treated the Conqueror’s arm, she revisited the conversation she had shared with Athena about whether or not it had been feasible that the Amazons themselves had a hand in the attacks. It seemed like such a remote possibility. There were only a handful of archers in the Realm’s scores of forces that could have made these shots, and the Amazon’s primary weapon was the labrys, even when they hunted. Such extraordinary skill would have surely identified the perpetrators by now; alas, it hadn’t set off any bells as of yet.

“Your Majesty is healing very quickly,” the healer’s voice pulled her out of her musing. “I took the stitches out and there is no longer any need for this,” he said and waved the cloth that had been used as a sling. “I strongly advise your Majesty to not put too much strain on her arm for another few days,” he said.

Meanwhile, in the Conqueror’s chambers, the Imperial sculptor unveiled his masterpiece to the appreciating eyes of Lady Satrina and Nobleman Timaeus. He wanted their opinion first before presenting his work to the Conqueror.

When the statue of Queen Gabrielle was revealed, both Lady Satrina and Nobleman Timaeus clapped their hands enthusiastically and gasped with amazement and awe. It looked so real and so natural to them that they half expected it to breathe. As their eyes were skimming over the exquisite curves in the fine marble, each of them sang the artist’s praises.

“This is your best work yet,” said the Nobleman.

“That is the most perfect statue I have ever seen,” added the head of the household.

“You’ve done the Conqueror proud, sir,” Nobleman Timaeus tapped the artist on the shoulder.

“Indeed, the Lord Conqueror will be very pleased,” Lady Satrina agreed. “Well done, sir.”

As the artist moved his masterful fingers over his creation, making sure there weren’t any flaws, Lady Satrina sent a servant to inform the Conqueror that the statue that she had commissioned was finished.

While they were waiting for the Conqueror to arrive, circling and admiring the superb craftsmanship, the doors to the chamber flung open as if squally winds had blown through them, and the Conqueror stood on the threshold.

Her scrutinizing eyes moved slowly and intently over the statue, while all present awaited her verdict. Slowly, whilst still regarding her wife’s motionless white likeness, she stepped closer and closer to it. She then leaned down towards it and closely inspected the frozen delicate features, its high-held chin, its gaze fixed forward and the captured and immortalized expression that befitted a queen.

“Tell me, sir, is your eyesight in any way impaired?” the Conqueror finally spoke.

“Your Majesty?” he failed to take her meaning.

“Do not make me repeat myself,” she said louder than before.

“My eyesight is flawless as my profession demands, Majesty,” he replied.

“What about your memory, sir? Is it flawless as well?” she asked.

He began to fidget and wiped his suddenly moist palms against his clothes. “My memory is fairly good, your Majesty,” he answered.

“Are you sure you remember what her Majesty the Queen looks like? Do you even know what she looks like?”

He wasn’t sure what to answer, as he looked once more at his creation. Lady Satrina and Nobleman Timaeus looked at one another, not knowing what to do, nor how the artist had failed exactly.

“It’s all wrong!” the Lord Conqueror shouted, “And my Queen is more beautiful than this… this… atrocious waste of good marble!” She then grabbed a hammer from the nearby table, where the Imperial sculptor kept his tools in perfect array, and launched the iron-made tool forcefully towards the statue’s face and smashed it beyond recognition , nearly severing its head in its entirety clean off its shoulders. Towering over him, she brutally grabbed the artist by his lapel and brought his terrified face closely to hers till their noses nearly touched. “Do it again!” she demanded and stormed out of the chamber.

***

When Queen Gabrielle’s letter finally reached the Corinthian palace, the courier rushed to place it in Lady Satrina’s hand in spite of the late hour with all the speed he would have used delivering a declaration of war to the Conqueror. When the letter arrived, Lady Satrina was already in bed and under the covers. As soon as she recognized the Queen’s seal, she didn’t even bother to change into her formal attire so as not to waste any time. She just grabbed the closest oil lantern with her free hand and scurried upstairs to the Imperial chambers. When she reached the doors to the Imperial bedchamber, she urgently knocked three times and impatiently waited for the Conqueror to respond, nearly jumping up and down on her tiptoes. She couldn’t help but hope that this letter would bring about relief to the Conqueror and subsequently relief to all those who surrounded her.

A few short moments later, the unkempt Conqueror, dressed in a white silk sleeveless top and a pair of dark breeches, appeared at the door. She kept the doors ajar just slightly and blocked the entrance to the bedchamber with her tall figure, not wishing to allow Lady Satina even the smallest peek inside.

“What is it?” she asked as she looked at her steward and former body servant from head to toe, and squinted at the light emanating from the burning oil lantern in Lady Satrina’s hand.

“A letter has arrived for you just now, Majesty. It’s from her Majesty the Queen,” she said and handed her Master the letter.

“You may take your leave,” the Conqueror mumbled as her gaze rested upon the Queen’s familiar seal.

“Good night, Majesty,” Lady Satrina said, but no response came from the Conqueror. The doors nearly closed in her face. She sighed deeply and returned back to her warm bed.

In the Imperial bedchamber, a lachrymose Ruler of the world lit up an oil lamp, which stood atop her desk. She caressed the Queen’s seal, enjoying the sensation of the uneven indentations against her fingertips. Instead of simply breaking the seal, the Conqueror used her dagger and cautiously pilled it from the parchment. Her heart was beating rowdily and painfully in her chest. She unfolded the parchment and exposed her parched eyes to her wife’s soft penmanship.

‘My beloved Lion ,

I miss you. I miss you terribly, my only Lord, and I desperately love you, my true husband. I have contemplated over and over what should be my first words to you, my singular love, my passionate lover. Should I start by telling you about my days here with the Amazons? Or should I begin with trying to appeal to your kindness and graces and explain to you as best I can why I needed to remain here? My heart that has desired you above anything and anyone else always guided my hand into first telling you what was most important, what was most true, and what was most urgent.

I miss you now more than I have ever missed you before, even more than I have missed you when I carried our daughter in my womb and you were far from me, even more than when I was a slave to your magnificent body and you imposed distance between us. On these occasions, somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind, I have learnt to trust the most fundamental fact of your want for me.

How ironic it is that now, when we are open and truthful with one another, my capacity to keep my faith in what I know is difficult to maintain. Not a day goes by that I don’t contemplate our last words to one another, and not an hour passes that I don’t wonder about what prompted you to leave me, what motivated your generous heart to begrudge me my small request that you would stay here with me.

If it had been the matter of the governors’ inquiry, then you would have been back here with me by now, for surely you have already questioned them. If it had been the matter of managing the Realm, then Athena could have been placed in charge as she has been placed in charge before.

It burdens my soul to know that I have drawn your above measure ire. What torments me even more is that I do not understand how I have offended against you.

Athena is a great comfort for me these days, and like my own shadow, she sticks to me. I know you, my Lord, well enough to know that you have given her an order.

I pray that you would be able to set aside your anger and find it within your heart to be pleased with me for my accomplishments here. I pray that you could be proud of me, your devoted wife. I am advancing beautifully in the art of combat and I think you might be interested to learn that my favorite weapon is the staff, and I seem to excel in it. Oh, how I would love to spar with you, my Lord. It would further connect me to you via yet another venue. It would enable me to better take part in one of the most cardinal arenas in your world.

There are so many things that I desire to share with you, my Lord, like the rituals for the cleansing of the soul I have been undergoing with the Shamaness, whom I have grown to admire and trust, and to have the benefit of your wisdom and your unique brand of solace only you could provide me with.

I am confident that I’m on the right path for me. I know not what my goal is, or for what purpose I have embarked on this quest or what is gained and what is yet to be gained, but I’m certain that this journey, I shall be better for it, and we shall be better for it.

I envy the healer for having the privilege of attending to you, I envy your clothes for touching you constantly, and I envy all those around you, for they are fortunate enough to bathe in your presence.

I beg of you, my beloved, come and be with me. I pray you not to deprive me of your presence any longer.
Your loving wife and adoring Queen,

Gabrielle
The Conqueror would spend the next four days hidden in the Imperial bedchamber reading and rereading her wife’s letter till she knew every syllable and every punctuation mark in it.

After four days had gone by and the Conqueror wasn’t seen outside the Imperial chambers, Nobleman Timaeus and Lady Satrina convened in a neglected, unused storage chamber in order to speak in private.

“Thank you for agreeing to meet with me here, dear Lady. I know you have the Lord Conqueror’s best interest at heart, as do I, and so I can trust you with this matter,” Nobleman Timaeus said.

“You beat me to it, Nobleman, for when you approached me with this matter, I was on my way to approach you for the same reason,” Lady Satrina replied. “Something must be done.”

“I agree. This can go on no longer.” He nodded his head and rubbed his forehead that was wrinkled by concern.

“The Lord Conqueror hasn’t stepped out of her chambers in four days now,” she said.

“Before the Lord Conqueror confined herself to her chambers, she had spent most of her evening with me. I tell you, I have never seen her Majesty engage in libation with such abandon,” he said. The poor old Nobleman seemed very tired.

“I suspected as much,” added the Lady.

“The Conqueror doesn’t become completely drunk, mind you, but she’s not sober either.”

Lady Satria clasped her waist. “I know. I’ve noticed that since the Conqueror has retuned from the Amazons without the Queen, I’ve been ordering five times the amount of spirits the household usually requires, which makes me wonder whether she drinks it or bathes in it.”

Nobleman Timaeus simply stood and shook his head sideways and clicked his tongue.

“And that is not all. With accordance to the Lord Conqueror’s orders, a single chambermaid hasn’t set foot in the Imperial bedchamber for over a moon. It must reek by now.” She paused and then went on to say like she just remembered, “And I tell you something else, for the past four days, plates with some cooked meals were being left in the outer chamber for her Majesty. When collected at night, they looked like they had been picked by a bird,” Lady Satrina complained.

“Something grave has happened over there, I tell you,” Nobleman Timaeus speculated.

“It must have something to do with the Queen. I’d wager my life on it,” agreed Lady Satrina.

“Aye,” muttered Nobleman Timaeus, heavily.

“I cannot stress enough how distressed and worried I am,” the Lady sighed.

“As am I. It’s like our admired Sovereign has lost her center… and she is angry again,” the Nobleman said.

“And sad, I think,” the Lady added.

“If this continues for not much longer, others will notice before long,” he muttered.

“And after that the scavengers will follow,” she commented. She had heard the Conqueror say something to that effect often enough over the years.

They both used the next few moments to come up with a solution.

“We should send word to her Majesty the Queen,” Lady Satrina jumped as soon as the idea had presented itself.

“We absolutely mustn’t,” the Nobleman dismissed immediately. “We don’t know what happened between the Conqueror and the Queen . Things might be precarious. If there is one thing the Conqueror taught me, it is never step onto a battlefield without knowing the terrain or where the traps were laid, which is another reason why we shouldn’t cause the Queen concern.”

Lady Satrina began to feel frustration being added to her stress. “The Lord Conqueror needs someone to talk to, a friend like,” she suggested.

“The Conqueror has no friends, dear Lady. In the Conqueror’s world, a friend is a dead enemy. The Conqueror has advisors, governors, nobility, enemies, soldiers, commanders, servants, but not friends. People in the Conqueror’s world are roughly divided into three major groups: those she tolerates, those she doesn’t tolerate and the Royal family,” he said remorsefully.

“Well, aren’t you her friend?” Lady Satrina argued.

“Not that kind of a friend,” he was quick to reply.

Lady Satrina took his meaning.

“Moreover, consider this… if the Lord Conqueror is in such a state, then what must the Queen…?” the Nobleman said grimly.

“You are very perceptive, if you don’t mind me saying. That is quite rare amongst your kind,” she smiled. His statement showed her that he understood that there was a strong bond between the Conqueror and the Queen. They both were close enough and perceptive enough to know what the world did not.

“My kind?!” he sounded almost offended, “You mean amongst noblemen?”

“Amongst men, and I meant it as a compliment,” she responded kindly. “And as for her Majesty the Queen, she is a lot stronger than she seems, and her Grace is with her. Furthermore, she has the ability to make friends with whomever she chooses. Befriending others isn’t one of the Lord Conqueror’s many skills, as you said.”

The old Nobleman shifted his weight from one leg to the other. “I believe you’re correct, dear Lady.” He then exorcised his mind to come up with a solution, and after a few long moments he said, “There is only one person in this world that can speak fairly freely with the Conqueror and survive the ordeal.”

Lady Satrina nearly kicked herself for not realizing it sooner, “I shall send for Lady Cyrene first thing in the morning.”

“And may the Gods show us mercy if the Lord Conqueror would ever to find out it was us who had sent for her mother.”
Part 10
Another fortnight had gone by. In the middle of the night, as she was tying her horse after returning from the Thracian border, Princess Athena wondered how she would be able to face her mother empty handed. She would prefer confronting an enemy on the battlefield rather than face her mother. She wasn’t sure she would be able to endure the look of sorrow and profound disappointment across her mother’s face, but there wouldn’t be any way to avoid it. It was inevitable. What could she possibly tell her mother to comfort her?

“Athena!” she heard her mother’s familiar voice from behind her.

The young Princess tarried before she turned, as if she wanted to grant her mother a few more moments of grace before finding out the truth simply by looking at her face. She took a deep breath and replaced an expression of concern with one of awkward jaunt. Pretending is very tiring, she thought.

“I’m so relieved to see you back safe. Now hand it over,” Queen Gabrielle said as chipper as a child on his birthday.

“I haven’t been given any messages to deliver,” the words finally fell out of Athena’s mouth, almost slurred. It took all her strength to brace herself in anticipation to see a wave of inconceivable pain wash over the loving Queen.

“Please, Athena, don’t play with me and let me have the letter my Lord wrote me,” the Queen said.

Athena thought her mother’s last sentence sounded like she herself didn’t believe her own words.

Athena couldn’t bring herself to speak again. Hurting her mother with words exhausted her and she felt like the words she had already said left her drained. All she could do was shake her head.

It was like looking at a delicate rose being crushed under a crass boot. When her mother burst into crying, Athena thought she would have given anything to spare her mother the brutal, relentless pain. She encompassed her mother’s shivering frame and held her tightly in her arms. At that moment, for the first time in her young life, she felt wrath- nearing hatred toward the Conqueror, and she welcomed it. Rage was easier, more natural for her than compassion, and demanded less of her. A daunting thought ran through her mind, then. Being sired by the Conqueror and having the same blood course through her, was she too capable of such infinite, inhuman, undiscriminating and indifferent cruelty?

She wouldn’t indulge her own ire. Her mother needed solace.

“There, there mother,” she said and gently tapped upon her mother’s back. ” I trust a letter will arrive within a day or two,” she lied and she knew it.

Other than sobs the Queen was incapable of issuing any other utterance.

“I’m sure there must have been some unexpected delay. Perhaps her Majesty is still contemplating her words to you,” Athena continued to lie and she had a decent sensation that her mother didn’t believe her for the crying didn’t subside.

After some time had elapsed, the Queen cried all the tears that she was able. Princess Athena wiped off her mother’s wet, blushed and woeful features, before heading back to the Amazon village. That night, not having the heart to leave the Queen alone in her misery, Athena slept in her mother’s hut.

With the new day about to begin, Queen Gabrielle garnered her meager strength and got out of bed. She thanked Athena for staying with her the previous night. At breakfast, she sat amongst the Amazons and listened to their chatter. They conversed with her about their everyday life, trifle matters really, but Queen Gabrielle found it a blissful distraction from her plight and drew strength from their offered rapport and unconditional amity.

It was an exceptionally cold morning, and when all the daily labors were finished, the Shamaness invited her sisters to the steam hut for warmth and cleansing. She lit up a blazing fire in the hearth inside the spacious hut, which didn’t have a chimney at the top of it, and place rocks over it. When the fire subsided, the Shamaness poured water over the hot rocks and smoky steams permeated the wooden hut. A few Amazons, Queen Melosa, Molpadia, Mysia , Princess Athena and Queen Gabrielle entered the steam hut after spending the better part of the day training and toiling and sat on the few benches along its walls.

“This is bliss,” said one of the Amazons.

“A perfect substitute for those of us who haven’t been lucky or wise enough to secure a mate before winter,” another agreed.

“I don’t understand what you mean,” said Naya.

“Of course you don’t. Since your joining ceremony you’ve had a mate to keep your bed warm. You’ve forgotten all about sleeping alone on cold days in a cold bed,” Mysia teased, and took advantage of the smoky steams to feast her eyes on the Queen’s sleek form discreetly , but Princess Athena who sat by her noticed. Princess Athena saw things as they were. The thought of seducing Queen Gabrielle had crossed Mysia ‘s mind; however, along with it crossed another thought. Queen Gabrielle was the Conqueror’s wife so if she were to pursue her desire, the only question would be whether some eerie mishap would befall her once word of it got to the Conqueror or whether she would be bluntly executed before an audience for treason.

“Well, a talented lover is very hard to come by,” said one of the Amazons and elicited a few smiled and knowing nods.

“My former lover was superb. Her only shortcoming was that she was generous with her talent and shared it all around,” someone else added and made the others snicker.

“My late consort was a wonderful lover,” Queen Melosa contributed to the steamy conversation.

“I believe I speak for everyone when I say that we’ve heard, my Queen,” said Naya and they all began to laugh.

Princess Athena was dumbstruck yet again to see how different things in the Amazon were as opposed to the Realm. No soul in the Conqueror’s court would even dream of speaking in such manner to her.

“Her Majesty seems awfully quiet,” teased the youngest of the bunch who didn’t know better. “How is the Lord Conqueror as a lover?” she asked, in the spirit of things, and earned herself a jab in the ribs by a fellow Amazon who sat by her.

Queen Gabrielle downcast her gaze and if it weren’t for the obscuring white humid steams, one could detect a gentle blush about her. Nevertheless, curiosity has always been a vital part of human nature, including taking a healthy interest in one’s neighbors. All fixated their eyes intently on Queen Gabrielle for an answer, including Princess Athena, who hoped she wouldn’t learn more than she cared to.

However, an answer came from a different direction, out of an unexpected set of lips.

“The best lover I’ve ever had,” was Molpadia’s answer.

All sprightly prattles halted abruptly and all gazes were shot at her in astonishment. They all could neither believe nor grasp Molpadia’s thoughtlessness and rudeness.

The only thing that kept Athena from darting off the bench and casting a thorough beating to the insolent Molpadia was the Conqueror’s warning to her not to interfere in her mother’s private affairs, and so as her blood seethed in rage till it out-heated the steams, she waited for her mother to do so.

All eyes returned to Queen Gabrielle. It would be fair to say that most present in the steaming hut, not unlike Princess Athena, anticipated the Queen of the Realm to react severely. After all, who would dare raise an objection or an arm against the Queen in Molpadia’s defense? Yet all they could see was a shade of red on Queen Gabrielle’s lowered features that not even the white thick steams could conceal.

Queen Gabrielle remained seated in her shame, and her daughter failed to understand her mother’s lack of retaliation.

The Shamaness was quick to change the subject and spoke about the Amazon Nation’s ancient rituals so to somewhat cool the atmospheres in the steam hut, and in order to relieve the Queen of embarrassment.

As if to add insult to injury, as they were about to exit the steam hut, Molpadia turned to Queen Melosa and asked: “With your permission, my Queen, I wish to travel to Corinth , and offer the Lord Conqueror my assistance.”

That request caused similar reactions from all parties as her previous words had caused.

“I trust that the Lord Conqueror has all the assistance required at her disposal in Corinth . Your presence is needed here,” Queen Melosa replied.

After supper, and after everything that had happened earlier at the steam hut, the Shamaness invited Queen Gabrielle to her hut. As both women sat opposite one another, the Shamaness turned to the Queen and said: “We have been meeting here almost daily for quite a while, Gabrielle, and in all that time, you have trusted me with some of your most private matters, and still you have yet to disclose anything about the most considerable part of your life.”

“My Lord,” Gabrielle muttered.

“Indeed,” the Shamaness affirmed.

“You must understand, I am to act with prudence and judgment with my Lord’s secrets,” the Queen maintained her reluctance to speak.

“I gave you my word that nothing you tell me would ever reach outside these walls and I have been true to my word to you,” the Shamaness pressed on.

“And I gave my word to my Lord that I will not reveal matters that concern her,” the Queen insisted.

“All matters?”

Queen Gabrielle didn’t reply.

“Allow me to suggest another approach: try and speak about matters which are not private,” the Shamaness said. “Tell something, no matter how small, that would not breech the promise you’ve made.”

Queen Gabrielle thought for a while but nothing came to mind.

“Close your eyes and let your mind race without guidance, without deliberate thought. No matter how long it takes, till you find something you are free to speak about,” the Shamaness instructed.

Queen Gabrielle complied with the Shamaness’ instruction and then an episode presented itself and she began to speak. “It was soon after my Lord and I were married. I was living in a palace that had halls bigger than the entire village I grew up in. Virtually within a heartbeat I turned from body slave to wife and Queen of the Great Lord Conqueror. As to be expected, there was some resentment amongst my Lord’s household servants and domestic slaves.

“When I asked for flowers to be brought into the Imperial Chambers, the servant in charge of the Royal gardens refused me. He said that my Lord didn’t care for flowers in her Chambers. When I asked the cook to make a few alterations to the meals being served, she refused me and said that my Lord liked her meals the way they were being served. It was the same with the chambermaids when I expressed my wish regarding the linens and such.

“One night my Lord noticed my frustration and ask me what was troubling me. At first I was too embarrassed to say for I thought to myself that my Lord had more important matters to occupy her mind rather than trifle matters such as flowers, meals or linens. But when my Lord pressed me to speak, I told her everything that had happened with her servants. Despite the late hour, and the fact that most of the household servants were asleep, she had her household steward Karpa assemble the entire household staff in the Great Hall.

“I shall never forget my Lord’s words to them that night. As she rested her hand on the small of my back, she said to them: ‘I thought all of you knew my wife. Apparently it is not so and so I shall rectify it at once by making proper introductions. This is her Majesty the Queen of the Realm, your Sovereign and my wife. She is the Mistress of this house. If she makes changes in this house’s routine that is not to my liking, I shall will myself to tolerate it. What I shan’t tolerate is your insubordination towards her.’ My Lord ordered the servants who had dismissed my requests to step forward, and then ordered them to leave the palace first thing at daybreak. She then addressed the rest of the staff and said, ‘I trust that it is now clear to the rest of you that you are all dispensable to me. Her Majesty the Queen is not.’

“On our way back to the Imperial Chambers, I couldn’t help but think about the poor servants who had lost their positions. I told my Lord that the last thing I wanted was for those people to lose their home and wages. My Lord assured me that the next morning Karpa would speak to her and beg forgiveness on their behalf and that she would pardon their slight against me and would reinstate them.”

The Shamaness smiled a mysterious smile, “Of all the years that you have been with the Conqueror and of all the things you have experienced with her, think, why did you choose to convey this particular incident to me,” the older woman said.

Queen Gabrielle considered the Shamaness’ question then replied, “My Lord demands others respect me.”

“There is much more to it than that.” The Shamaness walked the Queen to the door. “Tonight, before you sleep, search deeper within your soul.”

***

Lady Satrina, Nobleman Timaeus and the Imperial sculptor all stood taut and vigilant as they watched the Lord Conqueror slowly approaching the new statue that the Imperial sculptor had created. When the Conqueror leaned down to closely examine the statue’s facial appearance, Lady Satrina began to bite her nails and the artist took two steps backward.

This likeness of the Queen differed from the first model by one thing. The countenance of this statue portrayed the Queen with a tilt of the head down and to the right, accompanied by a slight lowering of the right shoulder and the gaze pointing downwards, also slightly to the right.

The Conqueror gently slid the back of her fingers against the smooth ivory planes of the statue’s features. “I am pleased, sir,” she finally said with a touch of humbleness in her voice, with her back still turned to them and facing the statue.

“Thank you, your Majesty,” the Imperial sculptor replied with pride and inwardly, sighed in relief.

It seemed as though the Conqueror wasn’t able to overt her gaze away from the frozen Queen. “I shall direct my clerks to pay you three times the agreed upon amount of your fee.”

Lady Satrina and Nobleman Timaeus thought they heard a tremor in the Conqueror’s voice.

“Your Majesty is very generous. Thank you,” he said as he began to pack his tools and left.

“You may take your leave as well,” the Conqueror ordered Lady Satrina and Nobleman Timaeus.

“Majesy,” the each said and bowed before her before leaving her presence.

After the heavy doors to the Imperial chambers closed behind them, and when they placed enough distance between them and the Imperial chambers, Nobleman Timaeus turned to Lady Satrina and expressed his wonder, “Have you seen what I have seen, dear Lady?”

“The statue’s face… it had the same expression as her Majesty the Queen has when she curtsies before the Lord Conqueror,” Lady Satrina replied as they went down the stairs together.

“For a moment I thought I was imagining things,” Nobleman Timaeus voice strained as he limped down the stairs.

“What a clever man the Imperial sculptor is,” Lady Satrina stated.

“Both versions were magnificent, but I liked the first one better,” admitted the Nobleman.

“As did I, Nobleman,” Lady Satrina enthused.

The following day, when Lady Satrina returned to the chamber where the statue had stood the day before, she discovered it was gone. She knew there could be only one person in the Realm who would dare move it. The Conqueror had moved it from the chamber into the Imperial bedchamber.

***

“Have Lady Cyrene’s traveling chest placed in her usual chambers and have the cook warm up a plate for her,” Lady Satrina instructed one of the servants as Lady Cyrene arrived at the palace. “How good it is to see you, Lady Cyrene, and in such good health,” the steward greeted the Conqueror’s mother.

“You haven’t changed a bit, dear Satrina,” Cyrene opened her maternal arms and held the younger woman tightly against her full figure.

“I trust you had a pleasant journey,” Lady Satrina inquired as servants took Lady Cyrene’s luggage and proceeded to her assigned chambers.

“The weather could have been more merciful,” Lady Cyrene laughed.

Lady Satrina entwined her arm with Lady Cyrene’s as they strolled together through the corridors. “You have been missed,” Lady Satrina said. She could barely admit to herself how tremendously relieved she was as soon as her eyes had fallen on the sight of Lady Cyrene at the palace’s doors.

Ever since the day the Queen had given birth to Princess Athena, a genuine rapport had developed between the two women. Lady Satrina’s loyalty towards the Royal couple had endeared her to Lady Cyrene, and Lady Cyrene’s maternal disposition endeared her to Lady Satrina.

“As have you,” Lady Cyrene returned in kind, “We mustn’t allow so much time to pass in-between meetings . ”

“I only wish we could have met in happier times,” Lady Satrina’s voice saddened.

“Has there been any improvement?” Lady Cyrene asked quietly.

Lady Satrina looked around cautiously, making sure no one was eavesdropping, and whispered in Lady Cyrene’s ear, “Two moons have passed since the Conqueror’s return to Corinth and it grieves me to say that it may have even gotten worse . ”

Lady Cyrene took both Lady Satrina’s hands in hers, “Please let her Majesty know that I have arrived.”

“Thank you,” Lady Satrina said and made her way to the Imperial chambers.

She knocked on the doors to the Imperial bedchamber. Past moons had taught her that the Conqueror wouldn’t invite her to enter but rather trouble herself to the doors, and just as she thought, a few moments later the heavy doors were opened and the Conqueror exited the Imperial bedchamber, which hadn’t seen a chambermaid in over two moons.

“What is it, Satrina?” the Sovereign asked.

“Lady Cyrene has arrived at the palace a short while ago, Majesty” replied Lady Satrina as she dipped a curtsey.

“Did she, now?” the Conqueror asked suspiciously.

“Indeed, your Majesty. I have taken the liberty of showing Lady Cyrene to her usual chambers. I trust it meets with your Majesty’s approval?”

“It does. After Lady Cyrene is comfortably settled and dined, I shall receive her in my study.”

“Yes, Majesty. Would there be anything else?”

“No. You may take your leave.”

Some time later, as instructed, Lady Cyrene was escorted by a servant to the Conqueror’s study. He knocked on the door and awaited an invitation.

“Come in,” the Conqueror called, and the doors were opened.

“Your Majesty,” the servant bowed before her, “Lady Cyrene is here to see you.”

“Show the Lady in,” she said, got up from behind her desk and moved to stand in front of it facing the chamber doors.

“Majesty,” Lady Cyrene said and curtsied before the Conqueror as the servant closed the wooden doors behind her.

“How good and I must say surprising it is to see you here, mother,” the Conqueror said and clasped her hands behind her back.

“I have missed you and your dear wife, but most of all I have missed my granddaughter. I’ve been meaning to pay a visit to you all for quite some time now,” replied the elderly woman.

The Conqueror looked intently at her mother. “I’m afraid that you are in for a bit of disappointment. Her Majesty the Queen and her Grace aren’t currently in Corinth .”

“Oh?!” muttered Lady Cyrene and did her absolute best to feign surprise. “May I ask where they are?”

“They are staying with the Amazons at the present time.” The Ruler inspected her mother’s reaction. “But I’m confident that you’re already aware of it,” she then added, not without some amount of exhortation in her tone of voice.

“I might have heard something to that effect,” Lady Cyrene had to confess. The Conqueror was not a fool and lying to her, mother or not, was ill-advised.

“May I ask, Majesty, why her Majesty the Queen is there yet you remain here? It is a tad unusual, is it not?!”

The Conqueror walked around her desk and seated herself. “Her Majesty is her own keeper.”

“Is she?!” Lady Cyrene questioned and seated herself as well even though she wasn’t invited to.

“What do you mean by that?” the Conqueror demanded to know, leaned forward and interlaced her fingers over the surface of her desk.

“I’m sure I meant nothing by it, Majesty,” the older woman replied, not yet wishing to enter into a conflict with the Conqueror.

“So, is it your intention to tell me the true reason behind this visit of yours or are you in the mood to play games with me?” The Conqueror reached for a flask containing her favorite brand of spirits and poured herself a goblet full.

Lady Cyrene wouldn’t allow herself to be intimidated by her formidable daughter. “I have heard some disturbing rumors, Majesty,” she said and moved to the edge of her seat.

“What sort of rumors?” the Conqueror asked and soothed her throat with the intoxicant.

Lady Cyrene drew a deep breath. “That your Majesty is rarely seen outside her chambers.”

“Is that so? What else does rumor have it?”

Lady Cyrene’s gaze rested absentmindedly over the flask holding spirits and proceeded to say, more softly this time like the concerned mother that she was, “You brood too much, you drink too much… you are too much… and the people around you are getting nervous and restless.”

“Are they?!” the Conqueror grumbled, “And just who are they ? Surely ‘they’ have names, don’t ‘they’?”

“Majesty, there was no one in particular, just rumors. You are the most renowned person in the world. There is precious little you can keep secret.”

When she saw how concerned her mother was, something inside the Conqueror softened by a grain or two. “The spirits help me sleep at night. It drowns the noises in my head, and allows me some peace.”

As more spirits was poured in portions that alarmed the seasoned innkeeper, the Conqueror gave her an abbreviated version of events that had taken place on Amazon territory.

“What was it about her Majesty the Queen’s decision to stay there that angered you so, daughter?”

“She chose them over me!” the Conqueror raised her voice and slammed her fist so hard on top of the desk’s surface that it made the goblet skip in the air and its contents spill over the rim.

“Is that what she did?” Lady Cyrene asked.

“Haven’t you been listening to what I have been telling you?!” the Conqueror asked as if she couldn’t fathom what there was to misunderstand or misinterpret. “She is my Queen! My wife! She ought to obey me.”

The Conqueror could feel the same rage that had flooded her during her last words to her Queen rushing up inside her once more.

“She is the woman you love, you ought to respect her,” Lady Cyrene countered, ignoring the grave danger her own words posed to her person.

“You will do well never to forget to whom you speak in my presence, old woman! Being my mother does not exempt you in any way or form from being punished for uttering such devious and malicious lies about me.” The Conqueror’s cobalt eyes were frosty and fearsome.

For Lady Cyrene, that conversation brought back memories from years before, when she had visited with the Conqueror when the Queen had been her body slave. It had been then after the trail, when she had witnessed the Conqueror bestowing a gentle gesture upon a slave, that she had learnt the truth. She knew perfectly well that her words would bring about her daughter’s wrath upon her. She did not delude herself into believing to the contrary.

She stood up and approached the Conqueror. “I am an old woman,” she said, “and I haven’t much living in me anyway, Majesty.” Lady Cyrene placed her hand over the Conqueror’s forearm and gently said, “You love her.”

“You have lost your senses in your old age,” the Conqueror sneered and demonstratively took her arm away from under her mother’s hand.

But Lady Cyrene would not rest her tongue till she had said her peace, “You love your wife. You have always loved her… ever since she was your servant. You weren’t fooling me then and you are not fooling me now.”

“Never say those words again or so help me…” the Conqueror hurtled to her feet, knocking her seat to the ground with an awful thud.

When she looked into the Conqueror’s eyes, Lady Cyrene saw for the first time how her daughter looked just before she took a life, but that expression across the Conqueror’s sharp countenance didn’t deter her. “The love that the two of you share is so rare. I have lived longer than you but never found a love like yours. My only regret in life is never knowing this kind of great love and you just squander it away. Tell me, daughter, haven’t you wasted enough time already?!”

“Do not bother with unpacking. You will leave Corinth this instant!” the Conqueror breathed down on her mother.

Lady Cyrene turned to leave, but before she curtsied, she had to say her final words. “Majesty, if things will continue as they are, the Realm will disintegrate. You have a responsibility to your subjects. Should you continue to conduct yourself in this manner for a little longer; the wolves will soon be at your door.”

“Do not tell me how to rule. I have ruled this great Realm for a quarter of a century and have done so exceedingly well without the need of an innkeeper’s advice. You will not set foot in Corinth again till further notice.”

“By your will, Majesty,” Lady Cyrene said.

“One last thing,” the Conqueror strode towards her mother with both hands clasped together behind her back, “I have no need for someone who thinks he might have something over me to make an attempt on my Throne. You will not spread your lies. Do not test me.”

“You’ve just made me be ashamed of you again. I hoped I would never feel this way again,” Lady Cyrene voice was laden with bitterness. She curtsied before the Conqueror and murmured, “Your Majesty.”
Part 11
As ordered, Lady Cyrene left Corinth that very night. However, the next morning when Lady Satrina reported to the Imperial Chambers, she found the Conqueror standing in her regal attire and with her shoulders stalwart and square. Given recent conduct, seeing the Conqueror prepared and ready so early in the morning gave the steward pause. Once again there was a sharp shift and she hoped it’d be for the better. She reckoned that Lady Cyrene’s visit, however brief, had done the trick.

“Majesty,” she curtsied before the Conqueror.

“Lady Satrina,” the Conqueror tipped her head just slightly in acknowledgement, “Have the chambermaids restore order and do some cleaning in the Imperial bedchamber,” the Conqueror commanded.

“Yes, Majesty,” Lady Satrina sounded surprised.

“Let the cook know that I shall take breakfast in the dining hall. Inform Nobleman Timaeus that he is to join me.”

“Right away, Majesty. Would there be anything else?”

“The statue in the Imperial bedchamber is not to be touched, is that understood?”

“I will notify the chambermaids, Majesty.”

“One last thing, have flowers brought to the Imperial chambers.”

“Yes, Majesty,” Lady Satrina curtsied again as the Conqueror exited the Imperial chambers and made her way to the Imperial stables for a morning ride.

As soon as the Conqueror was out of the Imperial chambers, Lady Satrina’s curiosity got the better of her. She entered the Imperial bedchamber just for a quick look. As she suspected, it reeked and the air was stale. The Queen’s dresses and undergarments were scattered all over the chamber, and all her jewelry was arrayed in a peculiar manner atop her dresser. If Lady Satrina didn’t know any better, she could have sworn that the Queen had been living in the Imperial bedchamber for the past couple of moons. The sight that greeted her that inclement morning in the Imperial bedchamber disturbed her, profoundly so, for it gave the word ‘obsession’ a whole new meaning.

She exited the Imperial bedchamber and sent a servant to fetch a crew of chambermaids and to relay the Conqueror’s orders to the cook and then sent another servant to inform Nobleman Timaeus about the Conqueror’s wish to meet with him in the dining hall. When she was once again alone in the Imperial bedchamber, she quickly placed all the Queen’s belongings back to their proper place. What needed to be washed, linens, the Conqueror’s garments and most importantly the Queen’s clothes, she placed in one heap at the corner of the chamber in no particular order. She had done so as a preemptive measure against any rumors that might circulate should the chambermaids be allowed to witness what she herself had witnessed that morning in the Royal couple’s bedchamber.

After her morning ride, the Conqueror strode into the dining hall and found Nobleman Timaeus already waiting for her there. He was about to get up and bow before her, but she signaled him to remain seated with a gesture of her hand.

“Thank you, Majesty,” he said and wiped his mouth.

“I have deprived Athens of its governor for too long. You may return home,” she informed him.

***

“Another letter to the evil Master of our fates?!” Athena inquired with her usual facetiousness.

Queen Gabrielle laid down her seal, got off her seat and walked around the plain table. “Princess Xena Athena!” she exclaimed and Athena knew that when her mother used her full name and title she had hell to pay , “Kindly refrain from disrespecting my Lord, your Sire.”

Athena couldn’t comprehend how her mother so vehemently discouraged any disrespect toward the Conqueror yet all but curled away to lick her wounds when another woman made shameless advances towards the Conqueror right in front of her.

“Please pardon me, mother. I didn’t mean to cause you any discomfort,” she said and took the folded sealed parchment from her mother’s hand.

Queen Gabrielle tightened the thick woolen cape around Athena’s body, “Keep warm,” she said, “It is the coldest night yet.”

“I will,” Athena promised.

“And remember what my Lord always says about complacency,” the Queen continued.

“A warrior’s worst enemy,” Athena replied, “As soon as I’m back I shall come to you,” she assured.

“Thank you.” Queen Gabrielle rose to stand on her toes and placed a kiss on Athena’s cheek.

Princess Athena delivered her mother’s letter to the Imperial Guard posted at the Thracian border. When the commander of the force informed her there wasn’t any word from Corinth , Princess Athena’s heart soured at the thought that once again she’d have to cause disappointment to her mother. As she rode back to the Amazon village, she hoped that her mother hadn’t held any high expectations. Her resentment towards the Conqueror that had festered inside her ever since the Conqueror had left increased to the highest levels yet.

When she returned to the Amazon village, as promised she went straight to her mother’s hut with a heavy heart. When she told her mother that the Conqueror remained entrenched in her silence, it was like watching a blunt blade plunge into her heart. That night, Athena arranged for a cot to be placed in her mother’s hut and from that night on, the young Princess would spend the nights with the Queen so to dispel her loneliness and ease her pain.

***

A few days later, close to dusk, the Conqueror sat at her desk in the Imperial bedchamber and her eyes ran with great thirst over her wife’s letter to her.

“My beloved Lord,

As I trust you know, there haven’t been any more attacks since the one that took the life of Princess Terreis and injured you. Matters seem serene and it is almost easy to forget times not long ago when it hasn’t been tranquil around here. I venture to say that the massive presence of your Imperial Guard around the Amazonian borders contributes greatly to the peace and sense of security around these parts and I am grateful to you for that.

It is so hard to retain concentration in my rigorous and demanding training when you, my beloved, dominate my every thought. Nevertheless, I tell myself constantly that my efforts are dedicated to you and I am renewed with strength I didn’t know I possessed. You deserve a strong Queen at your side. It is my desire that all your subjects will look upon you and see how proud you are for choosing a confident and capable woman as your mate.

Those entrusted with ushering me into the ways of the Amazons and the elevated role I’m destined to fulfill are very much impressed with me, and it is my belief that not without a touch of surprise.

What I am most proud of my Lord is the delicate work I’ve undertaken with one of the Amazons by the name of Mitylene. She wasn’t born into the Amazon nation. Like me, she used to be a body servant, and when my Lord in her infinite benevolence decreed all slaves be released from their owners, she found her way to the Amazons, who adopted her as their sister. It pains me so to see her scars, not only those which have been left on her body but those which have been left on her soul for they are by far worse. I wish her soul could be healed as mine has by your love for me.

It might amuse you to learn that I have seen a few of the younger Amazons here feast their eyes on her Grace, and true to form she feasts her eyes on them, as well. There is no doubt in my mind that had it not been for her painstaking task of protecting me, she would have surely garnered many conquests under her belt.

Words cannot express how dreadfully much I miss you. I have known hunger in my life, but it pales in comparison to this consuming craving I feel towards you now, my wild Lion. It is not just my heart and soul that hanker for you, beloved, but my body as well.

In my mind’s eye I see you as you are on the eve of battle, dresses in full armor, with your long, sharp sword sheathed against your strong thigh, with your royal Corinthian helmet. I see you with your body wired and I can hear your powerful blood humming under your hot skin. I see your dangerous eyes beholding me like a coveted prize to have and to conquer. You are my very own divine God of War to worship, and I do, my Lord, with all that I have and with all that I am.

I imagine all your bodily tools, your mouth and tongue, your hands and fingers, your grand member, like weapons of love and desire invading my body all at once, piercing my flesh and bringing about it starving ecstasy. I imagine that you fill me so completely that my soul has barely any place in my body. I feel you ripping and ravishing my soul, drowning me in you, both quenching and aggravating my yearnings at the same time, defeating me yet I feel victorious.

As always I allow myself to be immersed into you, unguarded, trusting completely – surrendering before you as you pillage me and bring me to heights I have never thought possible.

Since you went away, my living flesh feels like a piece has been torn from it. At times my body aches as if dried teasels are carding it and I bleed lust all over through the tears for you.

But what I miss most of all, is the feel of your strong arms around me and the weight of your body upon mine. I pine to feel your naked skin sliding against mine, and your breathing muscles pressing into my flesh.

I long for my ravenous beast to come between my thighs.

Please, my Lord, return to me. I implore you to come and be one with me. I swear to you I shall strew flowers in your path if you do, just come.

Your loving wife and adoring Queen,
Gabrielle
Soon after the Conqueror had finished reading her wife’s letter, a servant served her with supper in the Imperial chambers. After arranging the table for dining, she ordered him to send for Lady Satrina.

A few moments later, Lady Satrina appeared before the Conqueror, who wore an all too familiar expression on her features.

“You asked to see me, Majesty,” she said and curtsied. The look about the Conqueror’s countenance unnerved her. There was no mistake about its implication.

The Conqueror, who was reclining over a heap of pillows next to the low table on which her supper had been served, slowly put her knife down and regarded her former body slave intently.

“Get me a woman,” was the Conqueror’s command, and there was no denying her meaning.

Nevertheless, and although she took her Master’s meaning well, Lady Satrina refused to comply with the Conqueror’s demand. Of course, she could not out right disobey the order, but she most certainly could raise obstacles in the Conqueror’s way to obtaining her wishes.

“A woman, Majesty?! Which woman?” Lady Satrina asked with a lukewarm expression across her face, like she had no idea what the Conqueror wanted.

“Do not act all foolish with me, Satrina,” the Conqueror warned and rose to her feet.

Mindlessly, Lady Satrina took a small step backwards. “I’m sure I do not understand…”

“Then I shall simplify it for you. I’m in the mood for some professional seduction,” the Conqueror clarified what needn’t any clarification.

Lady Satrina gave up. It was all she could do not to exacerbate the Conqueror’s irritation with her anymore than she had obviously done. “Any specific requirements, Majesty?”

The Conqueror casually strolled back and forth, occasionally placing her forefinger over her chin as if she was contemplating what she desired. “Beautiful and petite,” she said and then paused briefly before she continued, “with golden hair and green eyes.”

Satrina couldn’t tell what possessed her to say her next words to the fearsome Ruler, “About the Queen’s age?” She would later come to realize that it was out of great care and loyalty she bore the Queen.

The Conqueror gave her the look of death that momentarily robbed the steward of her senses. Lady Satrina scurried away to cater to the Conqueror’s needs. As she made her way down the corridor, she resented the Conqueror for entrusting her with the ignominious task of procuring whores for her. After all, she wasn’t just the household steward, but a former lady-in-waiting for the Queen and a devoted friend to her. By ordering her to fetch a prostitute, the Conqueror breathed a secret into existence between her and the Queen, for she would never hurt the Queen by divulging the humiliating truth that the Conqueror had entertained whores in their Imperial bed, while the Queen had been away.

Listening to Lady Satrina’s monotonic footsteps furthering away down the corridor, the Conqueror contemplated her order and nearly lost her supper. The very idea of touching a foreign body, of inhaling a foreign scent, of hearing foreign sounds, of sharing intimacy with someone who was not just a stranger to her, but not her beloved wife, was repulsive to her. She lusted after her Queen and after her Queen only. She was surprised to discover that other women not only failed to arouse her, but that her indifference towards them turned into pungent disgust over the years.

As Lady Satrina was about to reach the corner before the long flight of stairs, she heard the Conqueror’s voice coming from behind her, “Forget it!”

Lady Satrina turned on her heels and saw the Conqueror standing in the middle of the corridor with two burning torches set in the stony walls to each side of her, and despite the fact that normally it would attribute greater fearsomeness to her, at that moment her stance seemed somewhat weakened.

With small steps, the steward covered the ground between them. “With your permission, Majesty,” she spoke with a soft voice, “I know what it’s like to lose or miss a spouse.”

The Conqueror glared at her, arms folded over her chest, unwavering. “I don’t know what you think you know…” she asserted then desisted.

“With respect, Majesty, I know that I have hand delivered you messages from her Majesty the Queen yet I have been given none to return,” Lady Satrina claimed.

The Conqueror let out a deep sigh. She unfolded her arms and allowed them to drop to the sides of her body. She invited Lady Satrina to join her by the fireplace.

As the Ruler of the world and her household steward sat by the crackling fire, Lady Satrina measured her words carefully. She added another log to the fire, not out of necessity to feed the fire, but to allow herself time needed to organize her thoughts.

“Over the many years that have passed, my sentiments toward your Majesty and her Majesty the Queen have altered,” she said and swallowed to moisten her throat. “I bear great admiration towards your Majesty, and a sisterly love towards her Majesty the Queen,” she swallowed again and regarded the Conqueror for any response, then continued, “That is to say, I deeply care for your Majesties and wish for nothing but happiness, longevity and good constitution for the both of you.”

The Conqueror pensively gazed upon the fire. “I know,” she let out.

“Out of profound respect I bear towards your Majesties, I shan’t attempt to meddle in affairs which do not concern me and which I haven’t received permission to meddle in.”

The Conqueror nodded her head in approval.

“When Lao-Ling was taken from me… There were times I would wish that I had been poisoned as well and would be spared the suffering of her loss.” Thinking about those dark days brought the kindhearted woman to the brink of a stupor of sorrow. “Alas, the fates weren’t kind to me and I was left to go on living without her. I dare say that if it hadn’t been for your Majesties’ permission to return to Corinth and if it hadn’t been for her Majesty the Queen’s generously rendered comfort, I wouldn’t have survived those painful times.”

The Conqueror sat still in her armchair, deep in her own thoughts, trying to decipher Lady Satrina’s message to her. “I remember,” she finally said.

Lady Satrina knew the Royal couple well, better than most, perhaps even better than all. Throughout their joint lives together, she had played a close and integral part that was inherently and intricately woven into the delicate fabric of them. Intuitively, she surmised that the Conqueror had been at fault for their current discord. Knowing the Queen’s tender heart, she knew with absolute certainty that she would forgive the Conqueror anything, even the betrayal of the Conqueror’s body with that of another woman if it should happen; however, she also knew that the Queen’s heart wouldn’t be completely mended after such betrayal. As much as she wanted to say to the Conqueror that the Queen would pardon her any trespasses she had committed against the Queen whilst at the Amazon’s lands, Lady Satrina was well aware of the fact that it would more than imply that the Conqueror had done something wrong or had made an error. That was something inconceivable and impossible, not to mention dangerous to say to the Conqueror, and so she elected to say:

“Your Majesty’s Queen is alive and well. Any differences, disputes or divisions can be bridged. I beseech you, gracious Majesty, with all my heart that you’d find it within you to forgive the Queen her offense against you, whatever it is.” When she spoke, her eyes were down and fixated on the embroidery around the hem of her dress but there was no denying how earnest she sounded.

“Look at me,” the Conqueror ordered.

Lady Satrina complied.

“Have you any idea how hazardous the spot you’ve placed yourself in?” the Conqueror asked and leaned forward over the armrest to narrow the void between herself and her steward.

“I do, your Majesty,” Lady Satrina replied and nearly cowered in her seat. The Conqueror’s gaze was too cumbersome for her to hold.

“Why do it, then?” the Conqueror demanded to know.

“I owe her Majesty the Queen as much. It is my way of repaying her at least one of my many debts to her.”

After a few long moments had passed, the Conqueror finally removed her gaze from Lady Satrina and leaned back into her armchair. “Thank you, Lady Satrina. That would be all.”

Lady Satrina got up from the Klismos chair she sat on. Her legs were weak from the effort of being scared and so she took a moment to support her weight against its curved backrest. As she made her way out the chamber, she dwelled on the Conqueror’s last words to her. In all her years of service to the Conqueror, as her body slave, as her chambermaid, as her household steward, the Conqueror had never thanked her for anything.

The Conqueror moved to sit at her desk. She took a piece of parchment and dipped a quill in the inkwell. She wrote a letter to her mother that read as follows:

“Mother,

During your last visit with me, you grossly interfered in matters which are none of your business and thus provoked me to no small extent. In spite of your offense, and although I was just to be angry with you, my rage might have been too severe.

Previous restrictions against your visiting to Corinth are hereby null and void .

The Lord Conqueror of the Realm”
Part 12
The days grew colder, shorter and darker as autumn turned into winter. Queen Gabrielle spent her days training with the labrys with Myisa and assisting the Shamaness with healing and learning the Amazons’ traditions. As her education and preparation progressed, Queen Melosa took Queen Gabrielle under her wing and taught her to rule with accordance to Amazon law and customs.

One night, Queen Gabrielle coerced herself to go out to the lake and its freezing water to find Mitylene and engage her in conversation as had been her habit for the past three moons.

When she arrived at their usual spot, Queen Gabrielle was welcomed by small flames dancing in a small bonfire, which had been built by Mitylene.

“I’ve notice how your Majesty struggles with the chill,” Mitylene explained.

The Queen smiled at her and seated herself on the cold hard ground as closely as possible to the fire. “Thank you for your generous consideration,” she said and mindlessly collected a few pebbles in her hand, which were lying around in abundance.

“I am ready to speak now,” Mitylene said, nearly announcing.

The Queen took the meaning of the dramatic utterance and placed her hand over Mitylene’s hand, which rested unmoving on the younger Amazon’s knee, for comfort and encouragement.

“When I was a little girl, about six summers old, my entire family was murdered,” she said.

“I am so sorry,” the Queen said softly.

“It happened a long time ago. Two men came into our home and took me. Because of my age, I was sold as a domestic at first… Law of the Realm, you see… They say the Lord Conqueror punishes those who pluck a fruit before it is ripe very severely.”

“Indeed. My Lord’s brand of justice against that particular offense is harsh,” Queen Gabrielle confirmed.

“Growing up without a mother, I was horrified when I got my first blood. Had I known then what I know now, I’d have known that bleeding from there would have been the least of my plights.”

She told Queen Gabrielle in great detail the atrocities that had been committed against her over the years in slavery. How some of her owners had beaten her; how some shared her with their friends and guests; how once, for three days and nights, she had to service a group of no less than twenty men, and how even when she had passed out due to exhaustion they had kept on using her. She remembered one owner in particular, who had enjoyed singing her flesh, and how he had enjoyed seeing her body jerk in agony when he had done so. Him, she had dreaded the most. With him she had learnt to master her pain, to stifle her shrieks, and still her body no matter how great the suffering. As she spoke, her voice never trembled and her eyes remained as dry as a desert. No emotion crossed her face. She never told how she felt. She spoke of her experiences in a perfunctory manner, like they hadn’t concerned her, like she was speaking about some trivial and benign matters.

To Queen Gabrielle, Mitylene’s narration of her past sounded chilling, more chilling than the winter night’s bite, not just because of what had been told but the way it had been told. She suddenly felt more fortunate than ever before.

“What happened to you is too horrible to bear,” the Queen said and squeezed Mitylene’s hand with hers. A cluster of low grey clouds sailed through the night sky and blocked the pale rays of the full moon. “You are so brave and so strong. Not many could have survived what you have. You ought to be so proud of yourself for pulling yourself out of this dark abyss.”

“As if I had a choice,” Mitylene muttered.

“There are always choices,” Queen Gabrielle replied. “You are strong enough to will yourself to feel again without fear. I know you are. I cannot think of a better place in the world to do it than here with your sisters. It starts with a drop of trust, nothing more.”

“May I ask Majesty…” Mitylene began to say.

“Go ahead,” permitted the Queen.

“How is it that you were capable of developing feelings of love towards your owner?” Mitylene asked. “Was it because of the Lord Conqueror’s skills in bed?”

Queen Gabrielle couldn’t contain a giggle. She then realized that it wasn’t just embarrassment she was feeling but exasperation that apparently too many women had first-hand knowledge of said skills.

As if she could read the Queen’s mind, Mitylene went on to say, “Molpadia won’t keep quiet about it,” which only served to further peeve the Queen.

Within keeping her station and true to her nature, the Queen maintained regality. “I think it had more to do with who I am and who my Lord is,” she answered as truthfully as possible without giving too much away.

“And who is the Lord Conqueror?” Mitylene asked.

The Queen examined Mitylene’s profile but couldn’t learn anything from her observation.”My Lord is the one who was strong enough to win my heart,” she answered eventually, “As I’m confident the one who wins your heart will be.”

A few long moments passed and the moon was beginning to set.

“It is getting late,” Mitylene pointed out with a blank expression about her, like she hadn’t heard a word of what the Queen said.

Both women made their way back to the Amazon village in silence.

The next morning when the Queen opened the doors to her hut about to make her way to take breakfast, she found Mysia waiting for her at the foot of the hut’s stairs holding freshly picked flowers.

“For you Majesty,” the Amazon warrior gallantly offered.

“They are so lovely, thank you,” the Queen’s face brightened with a smile as she took the offered bouquet.

At that moment, Princess Athena came out from her mother’s hut as well. She had caught a glimpse of the exchange and had heard everything from the other side of the door.

As soon as her gaze caught the sight of the Realm’s heir to the throne, Mysia cleared her throat and said to the Queen, “I thought they might cheer you up, Majesty.”

“They have. I simply adore flowers,” the Queen responded in delight. “You know, one of the first things my Lord ever gave me was a rose.”

It might have been the mentioning of the Conqueror that made Mysia retreat even further. “Will I see you on the training field after the morning meal?” she asked.

“Of course,” Queen Gabrielle smiled again, and brought the petals closer to her nostrils.

As Mysia walked away, Princess Athena skipped down the few single steps and stood next to her mother, keeping the furthering away Amazon warrior in her sights.

“Well, she certainly took a shine to you,” Athena commented, half amused and half irked.

Queen Gabrielle chuckled in dismissal, “What are you talking about?”

“By the Gods, mother, how can you not see it?! Whenever in your presence she dances around you, nearly pissing herself with excitement like a little pup,” Athena argued.

“You, dear daughter, are imagining things that aren’t there,” concluded the Queen, who genuinely believed Mysia’s actions were innocent. “That was nothing more than an act of kindness.”

“Well, it is definitely an act of something, I’ll grant you that,” Athena mumbled under her breath.

***

Another fortnight had gone by. In the early evening, three loud knocks disturbed the peace in the Conqueror’s study.

With her nose still buried in the documents she had spent the better part of the day reading, the Conqueror absentmindedly called, “Come in!”

“Majesty,” Lady Satrina curtsied.

“What is it?” the Conqueror inquired, while her focus and her gaze both fixated on the parchment she was holding.

“Her Grace is here to see you,” announced the steward.

The Conqueror’s concentration violently shifted from the document and to Lady Satrina.

“Her Grace, you said?” she asked, wanting to make sure she heard her steward correctly.

“Yes, Majesty,” Lady Satrina replied and nodded her head in the positive.

“Show her Grace in immediately,” the Conqueror ordered, putting down the document and standing up.

Princess Athena strode into the Conqueror’s study. “Your Majesty,” she bowed when she reached the center of the chamber.

The Conqueror moved from behind her desk and rooted her feet in front of her daughter. “That would be all, Satrina,” the Ruler stated.

When they heard the doors being shut, the Conqueror was the first to speak. “What are you doing here? You left your mother alone? Unprotected?” Her voice was urgency laced with a brewing fury and worry.

“Little you care,” Princess Athena replied with a scoff and lifted her chin up in defiance.

The Conqueror grabbed Athena by the lapels of her shirt and shook her frantically, nearly tearing the fabric. “How could you?” she yelled.

Princess Athena calmly removed the Conqueror’s clutch from her, and almost lazily straightened the creases left on her garment, like she didn’t give credence or simply didn’t care about the Conqueror’s demonstrated alarm. She never recoiled and maintained a lukewarm expression about her face accompanied by a raise of one eyebrow.

When she examined her daughter’s expression, to the Conqueror it was like looking into a mirror image of her younger self.

Athena’s forest green stare beheld the Conqueror’s glare. “Her Majesty the Queen is currently guarded by three Imperial guards. Queen Melosa granted her permission at the bequest of her Majesty so that I may be free to visit with you, Majesty.”

The Conqueror seemed better appeased. She clasped her hands behind her back and squared her shoulders. “Imperial guards and not Amazon warriors?” she finally asked.

“Her Majesty thought, as did I, that your Majesty would prefer it if your trusted soldiers protected her Majesty,” Athena replied.

The fact that the Realm’s elite soldiers guarded her wife alleviated the Conqueror’s distress and she was able to relax. “Has there been another attack?” she inquired dispassionately.

“No there hasn’t been any, Majesty,” the heir replied.

“Then why are you here?”

The young future Ruler straightened her stature to the fullest extent of its height. She purposefully made the Conqueror wait for her reply. “Her Majesty needed an assurance that your Majesty is well,” she finally replied flatly, and thought that the Conqueror didn’t deserve such an honest and kind answer.

“Why didn’t she come herself?” the Conqueror asked dryly and folded her arms over her chest.

Princess Athena wouldn’t answer the Conqueror. She emulated her Sire’s gesture. She waited for the Conqueror to ask after the Queen’s well-being, but the Conqueror’s lips remained pursed.

“When did you arrive?” the Conqueror asked when the silence between them evolved from unpleasant and awkward into obdurate.

“A short while ago,” the Princess answered. “I came straight away to see you, Majesty.”

“You must be tired and hungry then, perhaps it is best if –”

But Athena cut through the Conqueror’s speech, “It is not necessary.”

“You sound angry,” the Conqueror commented.

Princess Athena neither denied nor confirmed. On her way back from the Amazon lands to Corinth, she had thought long and hard as she had driven her horse to its limits as to what she would say to the Conqueror upon facing her. She had contemplated what ought to be said and what could be said and hadn’t been able to decide between the two.

“You are all she thinks about,” she elected to say eventually. There was no point in procrastinating any longer, “She misses you and talks about you constantly, Majesty. I swear, if I hear the words ‘my Lord’ one more time…”

Princess Athena searched as hard as she could to see any warmth behind the frosty wall that surrounded the Conqueror but to no avail, and not because she wasn’t astute enough to detect it, but because there was none to find.

Athena unfolded her arms, slackened her shoulders and took a step forward towards her Sire. “I know I have seen war only once when we faced the Horde, but I have seen enough pain to last me a lifetime. I have seen pain on the faces of soldier who had lost their brothers in arms on the battlefield. I have seen pain on the faces of wives mourning their dead husbands, mothers mourning their dead sons. I know what pain looks like. I have stared pain in the eye and I know it, or so I thought, for the pain I have been seeing on my mother’s face ever since the day you left her was far worse than any I had seen before.” Athena delivered her words passionately.

The Conqueror remained unmoved, so much so that Athena almost believed that the Conqueror wasn’t even breathing.

When there was no hope for a response seeing how the Conqueror was fortified and stymieing any shred of emotion from volleying forth, Athena went on to say, “All she wanted was to stay with the Amazons a while longer to learn from them. Is that such a horrible and unforgivable crime?”

“Is that what she sent you here to say?” the Conqueror asked.

Athena began to feel the intoxicating and addictive warmth of rage forming in the pit of her stomach. “I shan’t disgrace my mother by rendering an answer to such a vile question.”

The Conqueror allowed the provocation slide without retribution.

“She never meant to offend against you,” Athena attempted once more.

“Do not defend your mother to me!!”

Finally, Athena thought, some emotion out of the cold stone.

“You are killing her!” she yelled back zealously. “You are killing my mother!” As she spoke she closed what small gap remained between the Conqueror and herself till their faces nearly touched. “I see her die a little every day. It is your entire fault and I will never forgive you for that and for forcing me to stay there with her and witness her as she withers away.” The blue ice she saw in her Sire’s eyes enraged her. “You’d have given her the Realm in a heartbeat but wouldn’t stay with her on Amazon lands? Why? Why couldn’t you just relent? Why was it so hard for you to give her what she wanted just this once? Why must your will be superior always?”

“BECAUSE IT IS!” the Conqueror shouted back. It was as if the frost that held her body broke. “You don’t know everything that happens between your mother and me. You don’t know all my heart’s secrets!”

“What heart?!” Athena spat. She was too livid to care or even realize that never before had she dared to speak to the Conqueror in such a manner.

The Conqueror raised her arm in the air, priming it to deliver a backhand to her daughter’s face for her insolence.

Yet Athena stood her grounds. She didn’t flinch. She didn’t move a muscle. She faced her Sire with her chin up and glaring unwavering eyes. The only other time that the Conqueror had raised her hand to her had been when Athena had confronted her mother about her past as a body slave to the Conqueror. Back then, deep in her soul Athena had known she well merited the Conqueror’s corporal punishment, and perhaps that had been the reason why she had taken the beating the way she had had. Not this time, though. This time truth and justice was on her side, she thought.

The Conqueror was almost in awe at Athena’s firm unyielding and brave stance. Not convoking fear at the sight of her impending strike was a novelty. The Conqueror recognized that Athena’s words this time weren’t the product of an impetuous and recalcitrant youth.

“I warned you against meddling in her private affairs,” the Conqueror lowered her hand without discharging the intended blow.

“Well, this is not her private affair. Once you left me there to deal with the aftermath of your doing it became our private affair.”

Silence descended once more between them. Princess Athena reached for her inside pocket and retrieved a letter carrying her mother’s seal.

“Here is another letter she wrote you,” she said, not yet relinquishing it into the Conqueror’s custody.”I never read any of her letters to you and she never told me what’s in them, but knowing her, I wager I can guess. She probably asks that you forgive her. She must write how much she misses you and how much she loves you.” Athena caressed the sealed parchment reverently with her fingertips and looked upon it fondly. She then looked up from the letter to meet the Conqueror’s gaze. “Because when it comes to you, it is like she is blinded to everything else, even herself.” Bitterness was clear in her voice, but it was short lived because it quickly reverted back to anger.

“I’ll tell you what is not in here,” she said and brandished the letter in front of the Conqueror’s eyes. “During her moons there she has learnt so much. She cares for them. She heals their sick and wounded and learns their methods of healing. She has been studying how to command an army. She is precocious. She has grown stronger and is now stronger than ever before. She has gained their respect and approbation. They all adore her as if she was born there, as if she’s blood of their blood, and they do so, not because of her title and not out of reverence to the crown, which you placed on her head, but solely because of who she is. She has achieved all that in spite of her suffering, which I find all the more admirable. I can solemnly attest that I have never been more proud of her and proud to be of her.” Athena demonstratively placed the letter in the Conqueror hand. “But that’s not what you want to hear, is it?”

The Conqueror’s body tensed at once upon hearing her daughter’s last sentence to her. She placed the letter in her pocket and said nothing.

Athena turned on her heels and walked over to the Conqueror’s desk. She pulled out a clean sheet of parchment out of one of its drawers and returned to face her Sire.

“Here!” she said authoritatively and crudely pressed the parchment against the Conqueror’s chest. “Write to her!” she demanded.

The Conqueror puffed her chest, but her arms remained idle and unmoving at the sides of her body.

“I say, write to her right now, damn you!” Athena reiterated.

Like an ice sculpture, the Conqueror stayed still. Princess Athena understood that nothing more could be done. She removed her palm, which was pressing the empty parchment to her Sire’s chest, and watched it as it fell unceremoniously to the ground at the Conqueror’s rooted feet.

Princess Athena suddenly remembered something that the Conqueror had once told her when she had attended the Roman Military Academy, ‘A true ruler is neither husband nor father; he considers his throne and nothing else.’ She finally understood the full and true meaning of it. Before she left the Conqueror’s presence, she said, “When I inherit your throne… I might not be as great a Ruler as you are, Majesty, but at least I would pride myself for not being a fantastical paragon of monstrosity such as you.” Her voice never quivered as she spoke her convictions.

The Conqueror scoffed at the prospect and retorted her daughter’s impertinence with skepticism, “Well, you have my blood in you.”

Athena smirked with derision at the Conqueror’s attempt at reprisal and proudly responded, “I also have hers!”

Princess Athena strode down the corridor and down the flight of stairs, all the while wondering what she would tell her mother when she returned to the Amazon village, when on the landing she chanced Lady Satrina just aimlessly standing there.

“Your Grace,” Lady Satrina bowed.

“Lady Satrina,” Princess Athena replied with a nod of her head.

“I have had your chambers ready for you,” the steward said.

“Thank you,” Princess Athena said about to go on her way, “I shall only remain here until morning, then it’s back to the Amazon lands.”

“Your Grace, with your permission, may I speak freely,” Lady Satrina whispered and threw a quick glance at the direction of the Imperial chambers.

“You may,” the young Princess whispered as well.

“I couldn’t help but overhear some of the shouting. I pray you to tell her Majesty the Queen that the Lord Conqueror suffers as well,” the steward said.

Princess Athena became vexed. “I shan’t lie to her Majesty,” she protested.

“I swear to you on the dear memory of princess Lao-ling, I speak the truth,” proclaimed the steward.

Princess Athena touched the corridor’s walls and tapped on them. “These walls mourn her Majesty’s absence better than she does. What I saw in there…” she claimed as she gestured with her head in the direction of the Imperial chambers.

“Was different from what I had occasion to witness.” Lady Satrina spoke with some urgency.

Princess Athena drew a deep breath to calm herself. “Your loyalty to the Conqueror is both astounding and infuriating,” the Royal hissed between clenched teeth.

Lady Satrina shook her head in resignation.”I am not motivated by the loyalty I bear the Lord Conqueror, but by the great devotion I bear her Majesty the Queen,” she explained. “Please tell her what I’ve told you, for I know her Majesty will receive great comfort from it.”

Princess Athena contemplated her response for a few moments, then nodded her head in agreement, “Then I shall.”
Part 13
The day Princess Athena was expected to return to the Amazon lands, nine days after she had left, Queen Gabrielle was anxious and couldn’t keep still. She asked everyone she encountered that morning whether they had seen her daughter, so much so that it bordered on harassment. Nevertheless, her Amazon sisters received the Queen’s somewhat erratic behavior with kindness and understanding.

Closer to noon, the Realm’s future Ruler returned and went straight to the drilling field to first meet with her mother. Amidst the dwindling fog, the restless Queen caught sight of Princess Athena walking towards her. She stepped off the drilling field and scuttled towards her, with the Imperial guards that had been stalking her every movement for the past days following her.

“Majesty,” Princess Athena bowed before the Queen.

“Your Grace,” greeted the Queen, shining brightly with happiness and relief. She then turned to the Imperial guards. “The Realm thanks you for your services. Report back to your commanding officer at the Thracian border for further duties.”

“By your will, Majesty,” they bowed before her and left the premises.

Princess Athena offered her arm to her mother, which the Queen gladly took, and they walked together with arms intertwined to the Queen’s hut for a private conversation.

As soon as they were behind the hut’s closed door, they embraced. Even though she was keen to hear everything that had happened in Corinth, it took the Queen awhile before she was able to release her beloved daughter from her hold.

“Would you like to eat something, first? I could have some…”

But Princess Athena would have none of that. “I shall eat later. I know how eager you must be to hear about my visit with the Conqueror,” she said and seated herself atop a chair.

The Queen poured some fresh water into a cup, handed it to her daughter, then seated herself on the bed, facing Athena.

“I trust it would please you to know that the Conqueror seemed to have healed completely from her injuries,” Athena said and emptied the cup.

The Queen placed her palm over her heart and let out a sigh of relief. “That is good news.”

“I gave her your letter.”

“Thank you,” the Queen smiled and with a gaze laden with anticipation she asked, “Did my Lord give you a letter for me?”

Athena shook her head in the negative. Her features showed great sorrow, as if it had been her fault.

The Queen swallowed and briefly lowered her eyes lugubriously as she took the insult.

“My visit to her was unexpected, and I left at daybreak for I was anxious to return to you. Perhaps there wasn’t enough time…” The last thing Athena wanted was to defend the Conqueror. In her mind, the Conqueror wasn’t worthy of such consideration. However, her mother was worthy and that was the best excuse she could invent.

The Queen scoffed indignantly. “Please,” she whispered morosely, wordlessly asking her generous daughter to stop making up lies so to better her mood. “My Lord won’t write to me,” she stated what both knew to be the truth.

“I’m sorry,” Athena offered after some time had passed in silence. She wasn’t sure whether she was apologizing to her mother for the lies she had been telling her thus far out of kindness and to spare her mother’s grief or to let her mother know that she empathized with her for the pain that the Conqueror had been causing her.

“No matter, I shall keep writing to my Lord. After all, my Lord cannot ignore me forever – ” the Queen finally said with renewed hope.

Princess Athena wasn’t as sure.

“Now tell me everything that happened,” the Queen requested eagerly and did her best to present a strong front to her daughter.

Princess Athena cleared her throat. “We had some words,” she said and wouldn’t meet her mother’s gaze.

“What kind of words?” the Queen pressed.

“Harsh ones,” Athena replied, “Please don’t make me repeat what was said, for I don’t wish to upset you. Suffice it to say that I profoundly resent her treatment of you and I have voiced my… reservations to her Majesty in less than a respectable manner.”

Queen Gabrielle moved to sit on the edge of the bed and placed her hand over Athena’s knee. “Sweetheart,” she spoke softly, “words cannot express how much I appreciate all that you have done for me. I am grateful to you for the love you bear me and for caring for me as much as you do. However, I ask that you pay my Lord nothing but your utmost respect always.”

“I cannot in good conscience regret or apologize for something I know in my heart was right,” Athena argued.

“But it wasn’t right. We may not always understand my Lord’s mind or actions. Nevertheless, it has no bearing on the matter, for regardless of what transpired between my Lord and me, you must be deferential towards my Lord. Even when there is a conflict between you, especially when you believe in your heart that you are right and my Lord is mistaking, you must voice your opinion without fear, but you must do so reverently. You owe my Lord, your Sire, your respect, as do I. She is our Sovereign Lord, and head of this family,” the Queen said staunchly.

Athena rested her elbows over her knees and rested her chin atop her knuckles. She considered her mother’s words to her, and though she was angry with her Sire still, she found some reason and veracity in her mother’s argument.

“I understand, mother,” the flaxen-haired princess said and rose to her feet.

“I am proud of the person you’ve grown up to be,” the Queen smiled, then lifted herself upwards to stand on her tiptoes and placed a loving kiss on her daughter’s cheek.

“Oh, and most importantly,” Athena said before heading out to fill her belly with a hearty meal.

“What is it?” asked the Queen.

“Lady Satrina requested me to tell you that the Conqueror suffers as well,” Athena said and searched her mother’s countenance for a sign of surprise, but was soon disappointed.

“I already know that,” the Queen chuckled and it was Princess Athena who ended up being surprised.

Only then did it dawn on her how profound and intricate the bond between her parents was, and just how much of it she didn’t understand and how little she really knew about it.

***

Five moons had passed since the Queen of the Realm first came to the Amazon lands. Winter was at its zenith. The skies were sullen and darker. Some of the trees lost their leafy attire. The cold reached to the bone and sent chills throughout the body.

Princess Athena awoke to find her mother taking her morning tea. She got off the cot in her mother’s hut, washed her face in the basin and joined her mother for some hot, fragrant tea.

“You look tired,” the Queen said over the rim of her cup.

“Well… You had one of those dreams again last night, which kept me awake of the better part of it,” Athena mumbled, not entirely woken up yet or else she would have come up with a better answer instead of the blatant truth.

“Those dreams?” questioned the Queen.

“You know… those dreams,” Athena emphasized with a knowing raise of an eyebrow till the realization broke over her mother’s blushed face.

Mortified, the Queen nearly choked on her tea and commenced a series of violent coughs. Athena darted off her seat and assisted her mother by gently rapping against her back. She was now fully awake.

“I had no control over it. It’s just that I – ”

“You miss your Lord… I know,” Athena finished her mother’s sentence. “I’m sorry, mother. I’m a light sleeper,” she soon apologized.

“It’s widely believed that my Lord sleeps with one eye opened. In this aspect you take after my Lord,” the Queen commented.

“Yes, I’ve gathered as much,” Athena smirked. “I best cover my ears with a pillow when I sleep from now on,” she said and took a mental note.

That day Queen Gabrielle spent in the company of Queen Melosa, practicing battle maneuvering in the vast forests with the entire Amazon warriors at Queen Gabrielle’s command. It was the most complex military exercise yet and the largest in scale.

When it ended right after dusk, Queen Melosa congratulated Queen Gabrielle for her brilliant performance. “Your prowess, Majesty, is remarkable to say the least. You have become a true Amazon warrior and even truer and greater Amazon sister and future Queen.”

The Amazon warriors around the two Queens cheered enthusiastically in Queen Gabrielle’s honor, as did Princess Athena, who took part in the military exercise.

After supper, as had become her custom, she went to the Shamaness’ hut. On that particular night, her longing for her lover and Lord was profuselypotent, for earlier that day she had celebrated one of her greatest triumphs, an achievement which she knew her Lord was in a position to judge and value, but she hadn’t been there to see it. She had successfully commanded an army of warriors and she pined for her Lord’s approval and appreciation.

She knocked on the Shamaness’ door and was invited to come in.

“I was expecting you, Gabrielle,” the Shamaness greeted her with a hearty smile. “I knew that tonight of all nights you’d need an attentive ear. Please, have a seat,” the older woman gestured with her hand, and Queen Gabrielle took her seat on the ground, opposite the Shamaness.

“Why tonight of all nights?” the Queen asked as she folded her legs.

“You already know the answer,” the Shamaness replied thoughtfully.

“True, but I wanted to hear your answer,” responded the Queen.

“Today you commanded an army and the chief commander of the vastest army ever assembled on this earth wasn’t there to partake in your glory.”

The Queen wasn’t sure what she should say, but that night the Shamaness decided she wouldn’t enable the woman, whom she had grown to adore, to hide behind silence.

“The Lord Conqueror left you here without granting you her support in any of your endeavors here,” she insisted.

The Queen twirled the green diamond ring around her finger. “My Lord has an Empire to rule, and hasn’t the time to dwell here.”

“I assume that the Lord Conqueror has left her throne in Corinth for longer periods of time in the past, like when she conquered the Kingdom of Chin,” the Shamaness held.

“My Lord was absent for many moons,” Queen Gabrielle had to admit.

“Besides, the Lord Conqueror hasn’t come here to visit with you, not once.”

That argument was unassailable.

The Queen gazed pensively at the play of light reflecting from her cherished ring. “It was so difficult…” she finally let out almost lethargically.

“What was?” asked the Shamaness.

“To maintain focus while I commanded the army today. Throughout my stay here my mind has been so preoccupied. I do not know how my Lord maintains her focus on a real battlefield for moons upon moons, while I was barely able to maintain mine during a single day of exercise.”

“Why do you think the Lord Conqueror didn’t remain here with you?”

“It angered my Lord that I wished to stay here.”

“Why do you think the Conqueror was angry with you for wanting to stay here with us?”

It was the question, the conundrum that baffled the Queen ever since the Conqueror had left her, and she nearly thought a hole in the ground trying to come up with an answer, but all her effort yielded nothing. “I cannot imagine… My Lord has always been so extraordinarily generous towards me. I’ve never wanted for anything. When I asked for the hospices and academies to be built, my Lord spared no expense.”

“It was just a little spending and the Conqueror is the richest in the world.”

“And yet, some rich people are misers. My Lord is far from it.”

“A better example for her generosity towards you might be that when you asked that slavery be abolished and outlawed, the Lord Conqueror made it so at the expense of her convoluted relationship with the Realm’s nobility and people of wealth.”

The Queen steeled herself and offered no confirmation, but her resolve began to crack and fracture. She was exhausted and aching. She hardly had any more fight within her and her resistance reached its lowest point.

“Has the Conqueror ever refused you?” the Shamaness tried another venue. Queen Gabrielle’s persistence in keeping her Lord’s secrets was commendable.

“The only thing my Lord truly ever refused me was more children,” Gabrielle admitted.

“What was the Conqueror’s reason?”

The Queen was reluctant to answer. Stating the true reason would more than imply the Conqueror’s love for her. She was in a bind, wishing to speak freely on the one hand and wishing to hold her peace on the other hand.

Eventually she surrendered a vague enough answer, inwardly wishing that the Shamaness would understand. She was like a scrupled criminal who leaves a clue, hoping to get caught. “My Lord is quite protective of me.”

“Of course the Conqueror is protective of you, so much I have seen when she threw herself on top of you when we were attacked and took three arrows that for sure would have killed you,” the Shamaness claimed.

“You mustn’t read too much into it,” Queen Gabrielle was quick to disparage, “It was nothing more than my Lord’s warrior instincts.”

“You don’t honestly think that the Conqueror would place herself in harm’s way for any one of her troops or commanders, do you?”

When Queen Gabrielle retreated into silence again, the Shamaness doubled her efforts persistently, like a dog on a scent, “Refusing you more children was the Conqueror’s way of protecting you… Your life was in danger before…”

“I nearly died giving birth to her Grace.”

The Shamaness smiled. “The Conqueror loves you.”

“Don’t say it. I beg you,” the Queen managed a defeated whisper.

“Why not? It is the truth. The Conqueror loves you enough to give your life precedence over securing her succession and over her own life.”

“I gave my Lord my word that I would never speak of her love for me.” Tears began to part with her tired eyes and roll down her face. She suddenly remembered Princess Lao-Ma’s advice to her before she and her Lord had gotten married ‘You must demand your future subjects’ respect’

“I have known of the Conqueror’s great love for you from the moment I saw her placing herself between you and the arrows. I just waited till you were ready to talk about it. Your promise to your Lord was never broken.” The Shamaness offered a cup of water to the Queen to calm her down.

Queen Gabrielle drank the water. She felt oddly relieved. “No one else seemed to notice.”

“Most people see what they want to see and don’t see what they cannot fathom. Mysia is infatuated with you. The only thing that prevents her from blatantly wooing you is fear of the Conqueror. She doesn’t see the great love you bear the Conqueror, and I venture to say you don’t see her clumsy yet subtle attempts to engross your attention and your favor. Almost all who know the Conqueror cannot even conceive that she is capable of love. That is why I was the only one that saw the Conqueror’s protecting you for what it was, an act of love.”

“No one can know. You must swear to me, if you bear any regard for me,” the Queen nearly pleaded.

“Of course I won’t. You have my word, dear and noble Gabrielle,” the Shamabess assured her.

The Queen sniffled and fresh tears welled up in her eyes. “No one knows my Lord as I do. When people look at my Lord, they see darkness, ruthlessness, heartlessness, lust and debauchery. They see a cold, vindictive, awe-striking, brilliant bloodthirsty beast. That perception my Lord has rightfully earned and it’s what enables her to rule. My Lord was driven by lust for power, but under her rule, people have law and order, access to health and education, and most importantly, peace.”

The Shamaness just sat and listened to the confessions of the Queen of the world, uninterrupted.

“But when I look at my Lord I see how gentle she is and how tender… and playful…” the Queen chuckled whilst silent tears kept trickling down her shimmering eyes. “Can you imagine the Destroyer of Nations being playful?! Sometimes, when she doesn’t wish me to leave our bed my Lord hides my shoes.” The Queen wiped her tears on her sleeve. “I see fidelity. In all our years together, even when I was her body slave, she never so much as looked at another, let alone wandered elsewhere. I feel her warmth and her care, and her loving, generous heart… And when she laughs… I fall deeper into love with her.”

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Your keeping her love for you hidden from the world”

“My Lord demanded nothing. She asked and I agreed. Others mustn’t see what I see in her, or they’ll think her soft and weak,” the Queen argued vehemently.

“With deepest respect, Gabrielle, that’s where you’re wrong. I would have slept better at night had I not been aware of the Conqueror’s great love for you.”

Queen Gabrielle wore a baffled look on her wet face.

The Shamaness went on to say, “You’ve made the Lord Conqueror even more dangerous a creature than she has ever been. Do you understand how much more dangerous your love has made her?! So far she has been driven by lust alone. All it took to stop the Conqueror was surrender to her will. Now she is driven by an even more dangerous, more powerful emotion – love. If the world were to stand between the two of you, the Conqueror would destroy it and there’d be no stopping her. You have no idea, no concept of – ”

“My Lord governs her actions and is the epitome of self-control,” Queen Gabrielle declared and rose to stand on her feet.

The Shamaness stood up as well and placed her hand over the Queen’s shoulder. “Please pardon me, Gabrielle. But consider this… the Conqueror never loses control?”

Queen Gabrielle wondered just how under control her Lord had been when she had killed the governor of Crete for touching her. He had met with an exceptionally gruesome death.

“I didn’t mean to upset you. The wise will see the love the Conqueror bears you, the fool will not. However, the wise wouldn’t rise against the Conqueror knowing that she is love rather than lust, and the fool wouldn’t pose any true threat to the Conqueror anyway.”

The Shamaness gave the Queen a lot to think about. She was overwhelmed and distraught.

“You are wrong regarding my Lord and I will prove it,” the Queen replied, confident about each and every word she spoke.

“You have nothing to prove to me, Queen Gabrielle, and I am sorry for any grief I might have caused you.”

A few candles burnt completely and melted away as the cold night progressed and inside the Shamaness’ hut it became darker. Queen Gabrielle reached the wooden door and rested her hand over the door handle, and just before she was about to bade the Shamaness goodnight, the Sahamness said to her, “Majesty, allow me to leave you with this final thought. The one thing the Conqueror ever refused you was conceiving more children. The Conqueror was motivated by fear of losing you. What do you think motivates her now?”

When she opened her door to her own hut, Queen Gabrielle decided she would leave for Corinth in two days.

When the Queen finally rested her head against the pillow after the long day she had had, she was too tired to think. She quickly succumbed to deep sleep as soon as she pulled the furs to cover her body.

Just before daybreak, when it was still dark outside, urgent knocks on the Queen’s hut, loud enough to raise the dead, startled the Queen and Princess Athena into fully sober wakefulness.

The Queen and the Princess looked at each other in surprise.

“Come in!” the Queen called as they got out of their beds.

“Majesty,” Mysia, accompanied by the Shamaness bowed before them, “Queen Melosa was murdered in her bed during the night.”
Part 14
It was close to dawn. The sky was about to don its dark blue robes. The Conqueror was sleeping in her armchair before the hearth, in which the fire in the last whispering embers was about to be extinguished, but her repose was nothing but restful. Abruptly, her eyes snapped wide open in a startle and she drew a sharp intake of breath. A horrifying, foreboding sensation gripped her heart and broke a sheen layer of cold sweat over her body, which was still warm from slumber.

Her predatory senses instantly honed and attuned to her surroundings. Her ears could hear a fire burning in the furthest torch in the corridor over two sets of heavy closed doors, along with the night watch guardsman standing beneath it biting his nails, and a swan dipping its head in the lily pond outside. Her eyes adjusted quickly to the darkness and her muscles tightened, primed for an attack.

Sober and focused, she quickly realized she was alone in the Imperial bedchamber. There was no eminent danger, and yet this agonizing feeling of dread hadn’t abated.

“The Amazons,” she whispered to the empty darkness. Had she not been so overwrought in bile and sorrow over her Queen, her mind would have been clear and incisive enough to realize what had been obvious all along.

Not being able to placate the raging acute fear that was swarming inside her, she brusquely tossed the covers off her body and lifted herself off the armchair in which she had been sleeping for the past couple of moons, for it felt less lonely to her than sleeping in the Imperial bed when the Queen wasn’t lying there with her.

The distinct sensation that either peril had befallen her wife and Queen or was about to wouldn’t liberate her but kept on pounding fiercely and constantly in her gut.

“Guard!” her voice thundered through the quiet corridor and nearly made the guardsman standing outside part with his spirit.

He rushed over to his Master.

The Conqueror didn’t afford him a moment to bow before her. “Have the chief commander of the Imperial Guard report to me in the stables at once and be quick about it,” she ordered him and he ran as fast as his legs could carry him to do his Sovereign’s bidding.

The Conqueror disrobed of her night garments. She wore black leather trousers and a silk white shirt. She draped a heavy thick dark crimson robe, with fur lining the inside and fur lapels that framed her corded neck. She put on her leather boots with the golden studs and strode down to the armory. On her way, she accosted a servant, who upon seeing her bowed immediately. “Inform Lady Satrina of my impending departure to the Amazon lands.”

“Yes, Majesty,” he bowed and dashed to the steward’s chamber.

Upon reaching the armory, the Conqueror made her presence known by pushing the doors open till they hit the wall as they flung open with an awesome thud.

Her groom jumped to his feet as if bitten by a snake and rubbed his eyes, still stupefied from sleep.

“Prepare me for battle,” she ordered and took off her robe.

He fastened her gilded armor engraved with a lion’s head and with muscle cuirasses against her torso. Next came the gauntlets, her sword, and her royal Corinthian style helm. Once he finished, she donned her robe again and left for the Imperial stables.

The chief commander greeted her there as ordered.

“Is the Imperial Guard ready to move out?” she asked as she mounted her stallion.

“Yes, Majesty,” he replied.

“The closest legion to the Amazon lands is the eleventh, is it not?” she asked him while he climbed upon his horse.

“Yes, Majesty, it is stationed less than a day’s ride away. The ninetieth is stationed not too far…”

But the Conqueror didn’t let him finish. “I don’t need an axe to kill a fly,” she asserted.

At that moment, Lady Satrina entered the Imperial stables holding a satchel with provisions in her hand. She wasn’t sure what had happened, but seeing the commotion in such an early hour, and her Sovereign Lord in full battle regalia, she knew it wasn’t simply the Conqueror at long last setting off to meet with her wife.

“Have an order sent to the eleventh legion’s chief commander to move the forces and spread them all around Amazon lands. I want my order to reach him within a day at the most. Is that understood?” the Conqueror ordered and took the reins in her hands.

“With respect, Majesty, I don’t think it can be done is such a brief period of time.”

The Conqueror glowered at him. “Use the network of spies along the route and our best horsemen, have archers shoot my order attached to an arrow from one military post to the next, just have it done or I’ll have you removed from command and make you clean up horse dumping for the rest of your life.”

“By your will, Majesty. It will be done.”

“We shall reach the Thracian border within three days. We ride night and day. Any soldier of the Imperial Guard who falls behind will be punished severely.”

“By your will, Majesty,” he said and left her presence to obey her orders.

“Lady Satrina,” the Conqueror addressed her loyal steward and looked down upon her as she adjusted herself in her saddle.

“Majesty,” she curtsied, “Please, save her,” she barely managed to say as a decent crying clogged her throat. She handed the Conqueror the satchel and pleaded once more, “And be safe.”

The Conqueror nodded her head in gratitude, kicked her stallion’s ribs and joined her waiting soldiers.

***

Meanwhile, on Amazon lands, Queen Gabrielle composed herself soon after she had received the grim news about the calamity that had befallen the Amazon nation.

“Have Mysia pick four warriors of her choosing to guard Queen Melosa’s hut and then have her report back to me here. No one is to get inside Queen Melosa’s hut. Also, have the Amazon council gather in the main hut. Now leave us,” Queen Gabrielle tersely rendered her first orders as the soon to be Queen of the Amazons.

“Right away, Majesty,” they bowed and vacated the Queen’s hut.

Flinging from her bed as soon as they were left alone, Queen Gabrielle hastily washed her face in the basin and said to her daughter: “Athena, word of Queen Melosa’s murder must reach my Lord.”

“Of course,” Athena concurred. “What will you have me do?” she asked and washed her face in the basin as well as soon as her mother turned away from it and began to dress.

“You are the best rider and there is no time to lose,” the Queen said.

“I cannot leave you here. Didn’t you hear? Queen Melosa was murdered in her bed. This crime wasn’t committed at the outskirts of the Amazon lands but within the village.”

“I understand. I have considered that one of the sisters might have committed this heinous crime.”

“We are not staying here,” Athena was determined. “I’m putting you on a horse and taking you back to Corinth ,” she said and buckled her trousers.

“I’m staying right where I am.” Queen Gabrielle sounded equally determined.

“You are not even their Queen yet.” Athena was out of her mind worrying for the safety of her beloved mother.

“I’m their leader now and closest thing to a Queen they have. I shall be made Queen in three days’ time according to Amazon law. A leader cannot leave his people, especially not in a time of crisis. It is not the Amazon’s way and it is certainly not mine,” the Queen responded and enveloped her body with her woolen cape.

“You are Queen of the Realm first and foremost,” Princess Athena persisted and fastened her armor over her shoulders and at her waist.

“Princess Xena Athena, you are to do as I command as your sovereign.”

Athena had never heard such authority bursting out of her mother’s mouth before and it gave her pause.

Eventually, the young Princess receded. “Yes, Majesty,” she said, and inwardly, along with insurmountable concern for her mother’s safety, she was also proud of her.

“Ride to the Imperial guards at the Thracian border. Have three of them report to me for protection detail, and then ride to Corinth and inform my Lord as to what has happened here.” Being the highest authority on Amazon lands, Queen Gabrielle knew she had the right to allow soldiers of the Realm on Amazon soil.

Nevertheless, she had no intention of using the Imperial guards’ protection and knew she would dismiss them as soon as they reported to her. Having Imperial guards protect her instead of Amazon warriors would demonstrate her lack of trust in them and as their future Queen she couldn’t afford to do it. The only reason for instructing Princess Athena to send the Imperial guards to protect her was because she knew her daughter wouldn’t leave Amazon lands otherwise.

“If anything happens to you, her Majesty will kill me, I know she will,” Athena said half jesting and half seriously.

“Do not be foolish. My Lord loves you more than her own life,” the Queen gave her daughter half a smile.

“I sincerely doubt that after my last visit to her,” Athena mumbled, hoping to alleviate both their tension.

“Now come here, Athena, and give your mother a kiss,” the Queen smiled and opened her arms.

Athena wrapped her arms tightly around her mother. “Be safe,” she whispered and struggled to hold back tears.

“I will. Promise me the same.”

“I swear on my life,” Athena snickered.

“Your Sire was right. You are an ill-mannered brat . ”

They finally released one another and just as Princess Athena opened the door and was about to vacate the Queen’s hut, Mysia was standing at the threshold, with her fist in the air about to knock on the door. Princess Athena looked her over from head to toe and left without saying a word to her.

“Until the Imperial guards arrive here, you are not to leave my side,” she said to Mysia .

It seemed that Queen Gabrielle’s authoritative tone of voice had the same effect on Mysia that it had had on Princess Athena.

“Yes, Majesty,” she simply said and both Queen and warrior made their way to Queen Melosa’s hut.

Queen Gabrielle found Queen Melosa’s hut guarded by four warrior Amazons as she had ordered. To her gladden she saw the Shamaness waiting outside and near the hut.

“Shamaness,” the Queen whispered with sorrow.

“Majesty,” the Shamaness greeted back and across her face ran fear and sadness. “What is the meaning of this madness?”

“I wish I knew.” Queen Gabrielle consolidated her mind and rigorously kept her wits about her. She would mourn the loss of Queen Melosa when time allowed, not before. “Who discovered Queen Melosa’s body?” she asked.

“I did,” said Antiope and stepped forward. The Amazon appeared to be in shock.

“And what were you doing at such early hour at Queen Melosa’s hut?” Queen Gabrielle questioned.

“Queen Melosa and I used to go out on rides almost every morning. It is her favorite time of the day.” Antiope’s voice was strained, “It was…” she soon corrected. “I knocked on the door and when no answer came, I began to worry. I tried to open the door but it was latched from the inside…” Antiope composed herself and evened her breath before she continued. “I kicked the door down,” she took another deep breath, “and I found her lying in bed covered in blood.”

“Have you seen anyone or anything suspicious around?” Queen Gabrielle inquired.

“No, Majesty. There was no one around,” Antiope replied.

“Did you touch or moved anything inside?”

“No, Majesty.”

“Thank you, Antiope,” the Queen said, “That will be all.”

The Shamaness and Queen Gabrielle climbed up the wooden steps and stood on the small porch. They examined the broken door that was only just hanging on its hinges. Then the two women entered the hut.

She noticed the window was opened.

“That’s how whoever did this stealthy found his way inside,” Queen Gabrielle said to the Shamaness and pointed at the window.

Both women, seasoned healers, approached Queen Melosa’s bed and closely examined her lifeless body.

“Her killer must have removed the covers off her before stabbing her,” the Shamaness observed.

The Queen inserted her finger into Queen Melosa’s mouth and poked under the tongue, ” Her body has some warmth in it still. She must have been murdered soon after midnight.”

The Shamaness took a piece of cloth, dipping it in water. Queen Gabrielle carefully removed Queen Melosa’s night garments and the Shamaness wiped away some of the blood till the wound was revealed.

“A single stab wound to the heart,” the Shamaness pointed out.

“Indeed. There are no defensive marks on her arms or anywhere else. She was stabbed in her sleep. The perpetrator was handy with a dagger and took it with him,” the Queen remarked.

“That dagger can be anywhere by now… Our poor beloved queen… such a cowardly, undignified ending.” The Shamaness moved her fingertips over her Queen and sister’s cheek.

“She was so kind and loyal to her people. She taught me so much,” the Queen fought her tears.

“I will take care of her now, Majesty. Your council awaits you in the main hut,” the Shamaness said.

When the Queen came out of Queen Melosa’s hut, she could see the dramatic change in the Amazon village. Amazons looked at one another with suspicion in their eyes. Fear began to rule them, and irrational accusations and finger pointing were only a matter of time. There were whisperings in corners. Some closed themselves behind bolted doors and bolted windows. No one felt safe anymore. Uncertainty regarding future leadership added to the restlessness.

Accompanied by Mysia , the Queen made her way to the main hut. When she entered, they all bowed before her and greeted her by her title.

When the Queen reached her seat, she stood before the Amazon council and addressed them. “Sisters, I shall be made your Queen in three days’ time. I ask of you, sisters, to look upon me as you looked upon Queen Melosa. I should very much like that you no longer bow before me nor address me as the Queen of the Realm.”

“Then we shall no longer do so, my Queen,” the eldest member of the council said.

Queen Gabrielle seated herself and they sat as well.

“Our sisters are starting to suspect one another,” said one of the council members.

“For good reason. Queen Melosa was murdered in her own bed at the center of our village. Who else could it have been?” said another.

“A mercenary sent by one of our neighboring provinces… or all,” answered someone else.

“They couldn’t have gotten into our lands, not with the Realm’s soldiers swarming around our borders.”

“A soldier or two every dozens of feet don’t make our borders impenetrable. It had to be the governors.”

“If it had been one of the governors, my Lord would have surely brought them to justice by now. Placing blame at this point is futile, ” said the Queen. “It is vital that we first keep and maintain order and security.”

“I agree,” concurred the eldest of the council members, “That ought to be our first priority.”

“What do you suggest, my Queen?”

“I have sent her Grace to Corinth to inform my Lord of this latest travesty.”

“The throne in Corinth does not care about the Amazon nation,” said Antiope. “Five moons have passed and nothing has been done as of yet.”

“Antiope,” the Queen spoke firmly and decisively, “I assure you everything that can be done is being done. The Amazon lands are a province of the Realm as any other province, and my Lord will not tolerate an act of murder committed against a leader of a province under my Lord’s rule.”

“What other course of action besides informing the Lord Conqueror should we consider?”

“I think in the meantime, no one should venture out of the village perimeters. When necessary, they must do so in groups only of no less than five sisters and only before dusk. We shall have warriors guard the village at all times,” said the Queen. “During nighttime, bolting all doors and windows is mandatory and burning bonfires will be built at each guard post.” The Queen looked around the hut. “Have you any further suggestion?”

The council members nodded their heads in agreement and approval. None had anything to add.

“The council will support you in any way possible, my Queen,” the elder sincerely offered.

“Thank you,” smiled the Queen. She had just passed her first trial. “Then if there is nothing else, we are adjourned. I shall address our sisters at the ceremony.”

When she left the main hut, the Imperial guards where already waiting for her. Knowing that having them protecting her instead of her sisters would blemish her show of trust in the Amazons, she relieved them of their duty and sent them back to their commanding officers at the Thracian border. She entrusted Mysia with the duty of protecting her, along with two other Amazon warriors Mysia trusted. She also felt more confident in her ability to protect herself if need be in light of all the combat training she had received for the past moons.

***

A day and a half later, on route to the Amazon lands, the Conqueror and five Imperial guards that rode alongside heard the hoof beats of a wild gallop ahead.

“Rider approaches!” exclaimed the Imperial guard to the Conqueror’s right that held her banner with her colors, black and red, in his hand.

“Halt and make way for the Lord Conqueror!” shouted the one to the Conqueror’s left.

As the sounds of the hooves drumming upon the moist ground grew louder and closer, the advancing rider in the opposite direction could be seen.

The Conqueror, who thought she recognized the rhythm of the peerless racer, raised her hand in the air signaling the Imperial Guard that rode with her to cease.

“Guard, hold your horses!” the Imperial guard to the Conqueror’s right voiced his Master’s silent order, and the order was repeated by others all the way to the last of the Conqueror’s soldiers that rode with her, until the Imperial Guard stopped moving forward.

Astride her stallion, the Conqueror spurred on and galloped with great speed to intercept the rider up ahead. As the distance between them grew shorter, the Conqueror and Princess Athena recognized one another.

When the gap between them was closed, they each dismounted their mounts.

“Majesty,” Princess Athena brusquely bowed.

“Is the Queen safe?” was the first and urgent inquiry out of the Conqueror’s mouth.

“The Queen is safe,” the young Royal replied and saw the immense relief upon the Conqueror’s countenance. “Queen Melosa was murdered in her bed two nights ago.”

“Where is the Queen? Is she riding behind you? Is she escorted by Imperial guards?” the Conqueror shot her questions.

Princess Athena swallowed hard and braced herself for the Conqueror’s response.

“She elected to stay with the Amazons on their lands, and ordered me to send word to you, Majesty.” Athena saw the dark beast rise in her Sire, so in order to appease her Sire she quickly added, “She is currently guarded by three Imperial guards, so you needn’t worry.”

“Needn’t worry?!” the Conqueror’s voice was hoarse with the effort of restraining her wrath, “She is their Queen now! Did you honestly think she would show them such lack of trust and disloyalty?! She probably dismissed them as soon as they reported to her. Where is your head?!” She hissed through gritting teeth and her hands turned into tight fists.

Princess Athena held her head down in shame. She understood why her mother had acted the way she had, but she was angry at herself for not recognizing her mother’s deception.

“There’s no time for self-pity, now. Her Majesty gave you an order and you had to obey. Her ruse was designed to make it easier on you to obey. Let us move out,” the Conqueror said, yet she was angry still.

The Conqueror turned to face her soldiers, who stood in wait about thirty feet away from them, and beckoned them to resume their ride.

She mounted her horse and just before stabbing it with her heels, she turned to Athena once more. “Murdered in her bed in her own domain…” she voiced her stricture without a shred of compassion , “That’s what happens when one rules without putting fear in one’s subjects’ hearts, when one governs without exacting hard discipline. Pray your mother is alive.”

***

Mysia and Molpadia approached Queen Gabrielle as she was about to take her supper.

“My Queen,” said Mysia , “Our scouts just informed me that scores of soldiers of the Realm are surrounding all our borders.”

Queen Gabrielle was surprised. She knew that there was no possible way that Athena had already reached Corinth to tell her Lord that Queen Melosa had been murdered. She was perplexed by the news.

“The council awaits you, my Queen,” said Molpadia, who after Queen Melosa’s death became Queen Gabrielle’s second in command.

This time, when Queen Gabrielle entered the main hut, all present remained seated.

“My Queen,” one of the council members engrossed the Queen’s attention, “We are completely surrounded by the Realm’s forces. Some of us perceive it as an act of aggression. Our sisters are scared.”

“Is this true?” the Queen asked and looked around at the council member. “Do some of you think it is an act of aggression?”

No one said a word. Their fear matched that of their sisters outside the main hut who were waiting anxiously for the council meeting to end and to learn what was to be their fate. The Amazons were sick with terror by the smell of cold death that emanated both from the dark threat lurking at their borders and the unknown threat from within.

“I can assure you that it is not,” the Queen said.

“Has there been any word from Corinth ?” another one of the council members asked.

“Not as of yet,” answered the Queen.

“Then how can we be sure?”

“My Lord will not start a war against the Amazon nation,” the Queen responded, all the while aware of their examining gazes.

“With all due respect, we cannot just stand idly by and leave our people unprotected. It is my opinion, therefore, that we should prepare for battle.”

“Better yet, land the first strike instead of waiting here to die,” another suggested.

“Indeed, for all we know the Realm might be behind the recent misfortunate events that rendered us without Queen Melosa, her regent and princess Terreis to lead us, and hence weaker and divided amongst ourselves,” proclaimed a third.

“Queen Melosa wouldn’t have stood for this sort of traitorous rhetoric and neither will I,” Queen Gabrielle stated. “My Lord has shown you nothing but benevolence, fairness and honor. As sure as I stand here before you, I have no doubt in my mind that my Lord’s mobilizing her forces around our borders is an act of protection. We shall wait until word is received from Corinth .”

The Amazon council all regarded her in silence; all accepted her authority and all capitulate to her rule.

****

It was close to dusk, three days after Queen Melosa’s body had been found slain by an unknown and callous hand. As the Conqueror arrived at the Thracian border, it began to snow.

“Your Majesty,” the chief commander of the eleventh legion bowed before her, then turned to Princess Athena and bowed before her as well. “Your Grace,” he muttered.

“Are the men ready, commander?” she asked.

“They are, Majesty,” he replied.

At that point, the chief commander at the Imperial Guard joined them.

“Did you give the order for your men to disperse along the lines, commander?” the Conqueror asked him.

“I did, Majesty,” he replied and stood at attention.

“I wish to commend you for your efficiency and arduous effort in arriving here in good time, commanders,” she said.

“Thank you, your Majesty,” both commanders responded in unison.

“I shall enter the Amazon lands alone,” the Conqueror informed them. “When I give a signal, you are to lead the charge into Amazon lands,” she said and took a bow and a quiver containing arrows from one of the archers who stood nearby. She then put the bow and the quiver over her shoulder and across her armored torso. “If I shoot a single burning arrow in the air, it means that the Realm still has a Queen and you are to charge in and kill every living thing around her. If I shoot two burning arrows in the air, it means the Realm has lost its Queen and you are to kill them all and not to leave a living soul. Otherwise you will not set foot on Amazon soil. Are my orders clear?”

“Yes, Majesty,” they both said in unison.

“Your will be done, of course, Majesty, but may I ask…” the chief commander of the eleventh legion waited permission.

“You may,” she granted.

“If her Majesty is the Amazon’s Queen, why not move our forces into the Amazon lands now. Surely her Majesty would give her consent after the fact.”

“I will not undermine her Majesty the Queen’s authority in the eyes of her people,” the Conqueror answered and mounted her stallion, then addressed Princess Athena. “Your Grace will remain here.”

“By your will, Majesty,” Princess Athena said.

***

Fresh, feathery, unsoiled snow fell peacefully down from the twilight skies and blanketed everything with its conciliating, white chill. The light flakes soundlessly grasped onto the branches of the bare trees, giving them back a regal beauty of smooth white. They glided in the air, allowing nothing but a lazy winter breeze to play between them.

Queen Gabrielle stood on the large high podium at the grand center of the Amazon village. Dozens of high torches wedged into the ground stood burning. She wore her Amazon garments of brown hides and furs, un-tanned rust leather long skirt and a matching sleeveless blouse with a fur cloak over her shoulders.

As the ceremony was nearing its end, the Shamaness was about to pass on to Queen Gabrielle the Queen’s labrys, which had previously belonged to the recently deceased Queen Melosa.

At that moment, through the languidly descending pearly frozen flakes, from a distance, moving behind the audience of many Amazons who stood witness to the coronation of their new Queen facing the high podium, Queen Gabrielle caught the sight of a tall stalwart figure seeming like the God of war, walking in a sea of white. In Queen Gabrielle’s eyes all stopped; Time stopped; movement stopped; the earth stopped, even the gentle descent of the snowflakes ceased and they appeared suspended in the still air.

My Lord has returned her heart pounded painfully inside her.
Part 15
As the wafting snowflakes clung to her lapels and her billowing long robe, the Conqueror advanced with wide moderate strides towards the crowd of Amazons as her eyes beheld her wife and Queen unwaveringly, each footstep carrying her closer to the object of her love. She was thankful that during her ride to the Amazon lands her mind had been too preoccupied with thoughts about her Queen than to premeditate her conduct once she would have faced her wife and Queen again. She saw the Shamaness with the Amazon Queen’s symbol of power in her hand about to bestow power upon her Queen. In the dark recesses of her mind she found it odd that her Queen was about to be given power that didn’t come or originate from her. Princess Athena’s words to her in Corinth about the Amazons adoring her Queen not out of reverence to the crown, which she had placed on the Queen’s head, but solely because of who she was, gnawed at her and that sight on the high podium scourged her.

Mesmerized by the vision she had yearned for, for the past long agonizing moons, the Queen lowered her head in all humility and curtsied deeply until her knee nearly touched the snow covered floorboards beneath her in honor of her returning majestic Lord.

The vast crowd of Amazons who stood between them turned around as one in order to see before whom their Queen was kneeling. As they saw the Lord Conqueror, they all bowed before her as well.

Queen Gabrielle straightened back up to her full stature and fixated her pining gaze upon her Lord.

All present exchanged looks back and forth between the Conqueror and the Queen in perfect silence, almost holding their collective breath in anticipation, including the Shamaness, who stood on the high platform next to the Queen, with the Queen’s Labrys still in her hand.

The Conqueror bowed before the Queen, “My Lady,” her alto voice thundered over the Amazons’ heads and reached the Queen and lilted in her ears.

Oh, how she missed her Lord’s voice and how she longed to hear more of it. Her legs almost trembled and all she hoped for was for her coronation to be over and the festive celebrations to commence so that she could stealth away and be alone with the love of her life.

The Shamaness passed on the Queen’s Labrys to Queen Gabrielle, and the latter raised her Labrys high in the air and exclaimed, “To a strong and united Amazon nation!”

The Amazons cried out loud and rejoiced. The coronation of a new queen was a spot of light in a long dark tunnel. The ceremonial drums began their beating accompanied by the singing of flutes and the Amazons began to dance their traditional dances.

Queen Gabrielle climbed down the steps of the high platform, and as she reached the ground her Amazon sisters gathered around her and offered her their admiration and joyfulness and congratulations. All wanted a piece of the golden Queen.

Queen Gabrielle moved between them, giving each of them her attention, all the while aware of her Lord’s presence. During the short cessations in between greeters, her eyes sought out her Lord, who stood rooted to her place regarding her constantly.

When there were no more subjects between them, the Conqueror and the Queen stood facing each other. There was commotion all around them, loud music and women dancing and laughing and chattering and drinking and eating, but between them there was stilled silence.

The Conqueror studied her wife’s features and observed the shorter, new fashion haircut to the golden hair she cherished so much.

“Let us go to my hut so we can talk,” Queen Gabrielle was the first to speak.

“No,” the Conqueror replied and there was something gentle in her voice. “Your people need you now. You must allow them to admire and honor you.”

Queen Gabrielle curbed an urge to lower her head in disappointment. “Where is Athena?” she inquired.

“She is at the Thracian borders with the Imperial Guard and soldiers of the eleventh legion. She is safe. I noticed that you are guarded by three Amazon warriors, one of them is the one who trained you,” the Conqueror pointed out.

The Queen was surprised that her Lord could recognize her guards amongst a sea of Amazons .

Reading the Queen’s expression, the Conqueror explained, “They are the only ones standing close enough to you at all times, and unlike all others around you, they don’t look at you, but elsewhere, at the crowd. Do you trust them?”

“I do,” the Queen replied earnestly. Her heart kept on pounding in her chest and a part of her still couldn’t believe she was speaking to the Conqueror.

“Then I shall wait for you in your lodging and afford you time to enjoy the festivities,” the Conqueror said. She didn’t wish for her presence to take the Amazons’ attention and adulation away from her Queen. She knew that the Amazons would behave differently in her presence and she wanted her Queen to enjoy their genuine and authentic gestures. However, the Queen suspected that the Conqueror was reluctant to remain and celebrate with her because she didn’t approve any of it.

And with that, with the last remnants of daylight about to become extinct, the Conqueror bowed her head before the Queen, and the Queen curtsied before the Conqueror and the latter made her way to the Queen’s hut.

Inside the Queen’s spacious hut, the Conqueror started a fire in the hearth. She took off her robe and hung it by the door. She then turned around and surveyed the Queen’s hut. Her gaze fell almost immediately on the cot positioned not far from the Queen’s bed and she wondered who it was that had been sleeping in the Queen’s hut for the past moons. It couldn’t have been a lover, for a lover wouldn’t have slept in a cot but in bed with the Queen. She believed, therefore, that the reason for the cot’s presence was perfectly innocent. Her Queen’s fidelity was never doubted. She removed the bow and quiver, then her helm and armor, and sat by the fire waiting and listening to the sounds of the celebrations outside.

Close to midnight, the sounds subsided and the door to the Queen’s hut was opened. The Queen walked inside, took off her cloak and hung it by the Conqueror’s robe and laid down her Labrys, while the Conqueror rose to her feet.

They each walked to stand across one another at the far opposite corners of the hut. A period of quiet ensued, in which the Conqueror ran her eyes over the Queen. In the soft glow of the firelight, as she leaned to the side against the wall with her arms folded over her chest, the Conqueror saw the changes to the Queen’s figure. She noticed the changes in muscle tone, the distinctly defined biceps and the stronger curved shoulders.

“You look… different,” the Conqueror finally broke the silence, “And you’ve cut your hair.”

The Queen immediately cast her gaze downwards. When she had dreamed of the day that they would be reunited, she’d never imagined them being so distant, like strangers almost and with walls standing high between them.

“Do I still please you?” she asked with a soft quiet voice and almost dreaded the Conqueror’s response.

The Conqueror unfolded her arms and straightened her lengthy form to its full stature, no longer leaning against the wall. “You are just perfect,” she replied, her voice burdened with something unreadable.

“I thought you considered me to be perfect before,” said the Queen and lifted her gaze back up to hold the Conqueror’s.

“You were,” the Conqueror said then paused before she went on to say, “Now you are perfect in a different fashion.”

They stood in silence and beheld one another for a few long moments, their bodies, hearts and souls consumed with reticent, bridled and unfathomable exhilaration and anxiousness.

The bond between them wouldn’t allow them to stay apart any longer. Instantaneously, Lord and Lady sprang towards one another and closed the gap between them in unsurpassed speed. When their bodies collided, it was like a collision between two titans, between the sun and the moon, between two worlds.

Their lips locked in a powerful kiss at once. Their tongues darted out of their own devouring mouths and entered the mouth of the other. The need for connection of bare skin against bare skin was too immediate, too excruciating, too demanding. Their hands couldn’t suffer any delays posed by thwarting buttons and laces and buckles. They began pulling at the intolerable fabrics that stood in the way of their desire.

Queen Gabrielle’s blouse was torn and the Conqueror’s large hot hands cupped her breasts. No matter how much contact they shared, nothing seemed to be enough. As their bodies pressed together, as their mouths fed off each other, as their hands frantically roamed over shoulders, over necks, over backs, over buttocks, their hunger was too insatiable to satisfy. It was like trying to put out fire with fire.

Craving to be filled, the Queen fumbled in urgency with her Lord’s leather belt buckle. She pulled her Lord’s leather trousers down just enough to take out her long thick shaft. To give better access, the Queen, standing on her tiptoes, lifted up her leg and moored her thigh against her Lord’s hip.

The Conqueror ran her palms down from the Queen’s breasts and swiftly lifted up her long skirt. One hand grabbed a firm soft, bare buttock while the other held her member to be guided into her Queen’s pulsating, wet depth.

It was then that all the anguish of unbearable pain and longing rushed to the surface. Her Lord’s touch in light of her persistent silence for the past five moons scathed her and tore up the Queen’s soul to the point where her tears could be held back no longer. In mute defeat, the boiling drops streamed down her cheeks. Her body, she thought, would never forgive her soul for this.

Gabrielle placed her palms against the Conqueror’s chest and began to push her away. “No,” she whispered.

But the Conqueror gave no indication of having heard her.

“Stop,” the Queen asked louder than before and increased her resistance.

But the Conqueror’s raw desire deafened her to Gabrielle’s pleas. Her hands kept at their task. In her haze, she felt her Queen struggling against her, trying to fend her off and push her away. It was then that she realized just how physically stronger her Queen had grown.

The obstacle had to be removed. The stygian Lord imposed her superior strength. She caught the Queen’s shoving hands by their wrists and secured them behind the Queen’s back with a single hand.

“Please, don’t,” Gabrielle pleaded when with her hands held in the Conqueror’s vice grip, she found herself utterly defenseless.

With her free hand, the Conqueror pried open the Queen’s silky thighs, and relished how in spite of the fact that they were now stronger, they maintained their softness still. However, she did notice that the collar wasn’t there. The scent of the Queen’s arousal reached her nostrils. The hand that was arresting the Queen’s wrists tightened its grip and pushed the Queen’s wiggling body against hers. She moved her crotch forward so to plunge herself into the Queen.

“Please, don’t. You’re hurting me,” the Queen cried when she sensed the Conqueror’s shaft nearing her.

The Conqueror thought it would only take a few inches closer and a few quick thrusts into the warm succulent womanhood of her Queen to achieve what had been deprived of her for long moons. Release was within her grasp. She had half a mind to admonish the Queen that she’d been her Lord and that that had simply been her right.

“You like it,” the Conqueror growled.

“Please…” the Queen asked.

“No!” the Conqueror finally stopped just when she was about to take the Queen. “Not like this. Never like this!” She scolded herself, utterly aghast.

She released her Queen immediately, then retreated and turned around to stuff her shaft back in her trousers and to allow the Queen privacy to cover herself. When she slowly turned back to face the Queen, she saw her tying the laces of her nightgown.

The Queen saw something on the Conqueror’s face, which she had never seen before, profound shame and horror.

“I could have…” the Conqueror began to say, mortified.

“No, you couldn’t have. I knew you would stop yourself and you did,” the Queen answered.

And then silence and distance stood between them again.

“You have never denied me,” the Conqueror chose to say eventually.

It all became too much for the Queen bear. “I haven’t heard a single word from you for five moons. I wrote to you as often as possible, begging you, imploring you… I bled my soul onto those parchments.”

The Conqueror stood somewhat aloof.

“You broke my heart,” the Queen whimpered and her voice carried upon it every shred of pain she had suffered ever since her Lord had left her.

The Conqueror had no words to offer. Her heart was aching as she was now forced to bear witness to her Queen’s sorrow and grief and suffer her own as well.

It was quiet again in the Queen’s hut, and the Queen’s tears dried.

“It is late,” the Queen stated matter-of-factly, “You look tired,” she added more softly.

“I haven’t slept much – since I left Corinth ,” the Conqueror revealed.

“Let us go to sleep, then,” the Queen said and took her Lord’s night garments, which her Lord had left there when she had returned back to Corinth , out of the closet. She placed them atop the table for her Lord to take, and slipped into bed.

After the Conqueror had changed into her night garments, she stood in the middle of the hut with her gaze moving back and forth from the Queen’s bed to the cot.

Her Lord’s conflict wasn’t lost on the Queen. She wanted nothing more than to extend her Lord a warm welcome to her bed, but that night, she wanted to be asked and so she avoided presenting her Lord with either an invitation or a relief.

The Conqueror’s unrivaled pride didn’t stand a prayer that night, for she had longed for her Queen’s warmth for far too long. “Am I still welcome in your bed?” she asked gently and not without a grain of dithering.

The Queen pulled up the fur covers and looked intently into her Lord eyes. “You are.”

The Conqueror blew out the candles, leaving only the illumination of the burning hearth. She laid her fatigued body down next to her Queen, and rested her heavy, weary head upon the pillow, thinking how wonderful it was to inhale her Queen’s sweet and familiar scent again.

They each were immersed in deep thoughts, and though exhausted, sleep evaded them. They listened to the familiar, comforting breathing of the other.

“I didn’t expect you’d arrive here,” the Queen spoke quietly and after a long pause she added, “So soon.”

“Three nights ago, before dawn, I woke up with a distinct onerous feeling of dread which is hard for me to explain to you. I woke up knowing it had been Amazons who’d been behind it. It was like solving a puzzle in my dream, and I sensed in my blood that you were in grave danger. It was then that I left Corinth .”

“It was the night Queen Melosa was murdered in her sleep. Could it be that you felt my distress all the way from Corinth ?”

The Conqueror lips formed a sad smile at her Queen’s remark. It was as if they were desperately clinging to any shred of closeness that still existed between them and it grieved them to learn they had to resort to cherish so little.

More time had elapsed before the Queen spoke again. “What is happening here? I cannot understand it.”

“Our lives are in grave danger on Amazon soil.”

“How do you mean?”

The Conqueror moved to lie onto her side and rested her weight on her elbow. “These killings… they’re not about politics and they are not about the Amazons. This is about us. We are the targets.”

“I don’t understand. So far only Amazons were murdered. When we were attacked, no one knew we were coming here.”

“Some of the Amazons knew, or could have guessed. Queen Melosa first approached us in Corinth because eight Amazons, including Queen Melosa’s consort, were murdered only near the Amazon’s borders, making it look like someone wanted to instigate war. That made it a political matter that merited the Realm’s involvement. That was a sure way to get me there, to get us there. Those arrows shot the day we arrived in the Amazon lands weren’t meant for Princess Terreis.”

“I stood closest to her and you closest to me.” The Queen sounded haunted as the events of that day flooded her. She was too anxious to remain lying prone on her back, so she turned to face the Conqueror and mirrored the Conqueror’s position.

“With the bad weather and poor visibility, the perpetrators missed. Consider this, the arrows never ceased, not until I was hit, and with the great distance and the heavy rain hindering their sight, they probably surmised I was dead when they saw me lying on top of you.”

“By the Gods,” the Queen gasped.

“The Amazon Lands are where I am most vulnerable. That is why the perpetrators chose it,” the Conqueror concluded.

“Because no soldier of the Realm is allowed on Amazon Lands, rendering you exposed and unprotected.” Queen Gabrielle’s mind was reeling with the gruesome revelation.

“I left the day after we had arrived, leaving them no time to devise a new plan,” the Conqueror construed. “They needed another way to lure me back here, so that they could make another attempt on my life, and what better way is there than killing an Amazon Queen, a leader of a province of the Realm .”

The Queen covered her mouth with her hand and her eyes widened in horror. “Why kill Queen Melosa and not me or Athena? That way their victory over the Realm would have been complete. Was it because she never left my side, do you reckon?” she asked, then added thoughtfully, “And when she wasn’t here I was protected by either Mysia or the Imperial guards.” Her eyes wandered to the cot. “It was Athena who has slept here with me,” she explained with a small voice and averted her gaze back to her Lord.

The Conqueror suspected as much.

“That might be one of the reasons but not the main one. If either you or our daughter had been killed, I would have brought my army and slaughtered every living thing residing here and obliterated this village entirely till there would have been no stone upon stone left. With the detachment of Imperial Guard already there, they wouldn’t have escaped the carnage. The world knows I butchered a Nobleman for putting his hands on you. What do you reckon all would think I’d do to those who killed my Queen? The perpetrators knew it as well.”

A chill ran down the Queen’s spine. Was the Shamaness right? If the world stood between them would her Lord destroy it?

“Why didn’t they try shooting arrows at you again when you returned? There was still daylight and the snow was sparse,” the Queen asked.

“Because, like you, they didn’t expect me back so soon. With the time it would have taken Athena to reach Corinth and the time it would have taken me to get here, they must have believed I wouldn’t be back here for at least seven days,” the Conqueror replied.

“Being so wickedly calculated… such pure evil…” the Queen whispered.

The Conqueror couldn’t help but wonder whether her Queen had ever thought that way about her.

“Let us consider what we know. By the patterns of the shooting, there had to be at least three of them. Queen Melosa assured us that no one could have known that we would be returning with them when we were first attacked, but that is hardly conclusive. When I leave Corinth , especially with you and our daughter, people take notice and know. On the other hand…”

“They knew the inside of the Amazon village well enough to navigate in it by night and knew which of the huts was Queen Melosa’s hut,” the Queen finished her Lord’s thought.

“Indeed,” the Conqueror muttered.

“Three of my sisters…” the Queen sighed, staggered.

“Can you guess who they might be?” the Conqueror asked.

“I cannot imagine. Who here hates you or me so much?” the Queen said, shaking her head. The events of the past days were beginning to take their toll on her.

“Do you trust me?” the Conqueror asked.

“I do,” the Queen replied.

“Tomorrow at first light have the entire Amazon Nation assembled at the center of the village. We shall address them together. Do not eat or drink anything here that you haven’t handpicked yourself.”

“Poison?”

“Hmmm…” the Conqueror answered and nodded her head. She then got out of bed and went to make sure that the window and door were properly latched. She then pushed the table to barricade the door and next she dragged the closet to block the window as well. When she was done, she returned to bed and lay next to the Queen again.

“It’s a good thing that at least one of us is a light sleeper,” the Conqueror remarked as she pulled the covers over them.

They both began to laugh and for a moment it felt like nothing stood between them and their discord vanished. They both knew they had much to converse about, but it would have to wait till the threat was lifted.

“Will you hold me in your arms?” the Queen whispered.

The Conqueror opened her arms, allowing the Queen to cuddle against her and when their bodies were pressed together, the Conqueror wrapped her arms around her wife and encompassed her in a tight embrace.

Basking in her Lord’s protective warmth, the Queen fell asleep.

Before drifting off to sleep, it occurred to the Conqueror that her wife and Queen hadn’t spoken the words ‘My Lord’ to her, not once.
Part 16
At the dead of night, the Conqueror awoke from her disturbed light slumber. Even in the realm of dreams, the matter of her Queen’s safety wouldn’t leave her alone, and so she waited till sunup and just observed her wife as she slept, thinking how precious she was to her and how beautiful and peaceful she looked and how much she had longed to have her close to her again as they once were before the Amazons.

When the Queen had told her that she had broken her heart, her own heart churned and ached, and when she’d felt her wife pushing her away, she was overcome with dread. What if the walls between couldn’t be brought down? What if her wife’s heart couldn’t be mended? What if their union couldn’t be reverted back to the way it was before? Now that her wife was Queen of the Amazons, what would the future hold in store for them? Just how much had her wife changed over these past moons? What price would she have to pay and what price would she be willing to pay?

When she saw the winter sunlight creeping under the crack beneath the door, she stroked her Queen’s hair that she loved so much and admired how magnificently it framed her Queen’s perfect features.

The Queen stirred in her arms and slowly revealed glittering green orbs.

“I was afraid to wake up to find out I had dreamt your return,” the Queen said and molded a strand of the Conqueror’s long, smooth, raven-black hair.

“I’m here now,” the Conqueror said softly.

“I’ll prepare us some hot tea and then I shall have Mysia gather all at the center of the village as you asked,” she said even though there was nothing she wanted more than to remain in bed, engulfed by her Lord’s arms and warmth, if only a little longer.

Halfheartedly, she got out of bed and placed the kettle over the fire and wrapped her fur cloak over her form. Accompanied by her highly alert Lord, she exited the hut and met with the ashen morning sky and snow covered ground. She approached Mysia , who stood guard not far from her lodging, and ordered all Amazons be assembled at the village center.

Back inside the hut, Lord and Lady took their tea in silence. Silence didn’t release them from its scathing talons when they each dressed into their regal attire with their backs turned to the other. When they turned back to face one another fully clothed, the Queen saw a God of War and the Conqueror saw a fierce Amazon Queen.

They walked together side by side to the village center, where their subjects awaited them.

“I was thinking about what you said last night, regarding who it might be,” the Queen broke the silence and adjusted the Queen’s Labrys tucked in her belt. She hadn’t gotten used to wearing a deadly weapon yet. “Could it be Antiope?”

“It is true that she had demonstrated her indignation towards the Realm and she’s certainly not the only one, but on the other hand, she had shown loyalty to Queen Melosa,” the Conqueror replied and rested her hand over the pommel of her sword.

“Whoever is behind it has operated in secrecy thus far. They wouldn’t have openly voiced any grievances towards us, and wouldn’t have attracted any attention to themselves,” the Queen added and beheld her Lord’s profile.

“A very wise observation,” the Conqueror complimented, very impressed.

“What are you going to say to them?” the Queen asked as they walked towards the high podium, their subjects bowing before them as they passed them by.

The Conqueror’s senses were attuned and honed, and her attention masterfully divided. Her eyes never left the crowd as she walked by, searching for suspicious movements, malicious expressions and malevolent eyes.

The Conqueror delayed her reply. Only when they finished climbing up the case of stairs and reached the plain surface of the high podium, did she turn to her Queen and answer in a chillingly calm manner, “I shall put the fear of death in them.”

It was too late for the Queen to respond. Mysia approached them on the podium and encroached on their privacy.

“Majesty,” she bowed before the Conqueror then turned to greet the Queen, “My Queen.”

The fact that Mysia didn’t follow the Realm’s protocol for addressing a monarch wasn’t lost on the Conqueror.

“Is everyone present?” the Queen asked.

“Yes, my Queen,” Mysia replied.

“No exception?” the Queen persisted.

“None, my Queen. I counted their heads myself,” Mysia replied.

“You did well, Mysia . Thank you,” the Queen smiled.

Mysia moved to stand behind the Royal couple.

In front of their subjects, the Conqueror removed her bow that hung over her shoulder and across her torso and held it in her right hand. She sent her left hand backwards to draw two arrows out of the quiver that rested against her back. She walked over to one of the podium’s corners, where a high torch implanted into the floorboards stood burning, and lit up the arrowheads with fire.

The Amazon stood and regarded the Conqueror’s curious actions in bewilderment and uneasiness, and awaited her words.

“Amazons, subjects of the Realm!” the Conqueror’s sonorous voice bellowed all the way to the last Amazon standing at the back of the crowd, “There are murderers in your midst!”

A loud uproar rose from the wary, uncertain crowd.

“Silence!” the Conqueror’s voice roared and order was renewed.

The Sovereign didn’t have to wait long for the crowd to simmer down. “My Imperial Guard and my eleventh legion are surrounding your borders.” The Conqueror loaded the burning arrows onto her bow and stretched the string, “Before I entered Amazon lands, I ordered my army to swarm in here and slaughter you all should they see two burning arrows shot into the sky. Your entire Nation would be annihilated before noon, and history would remember you always as despicable traitors capable of stooping to murdering your own.”

Tension and fear thrived in the audience. Restless fidgeting movement looked like ripples in a sea of people. The chilling threat that volleyed out of the Conqueror’s mouth was far worse that the winter’s draft.

“With respect, Majesty, we have an agreement by which no soldier of the Realm will ever set foot on Amazon lands,” shouted the eldest council member from the crowed.

“That agreement is contingent upon one thing and one thing only, that you remain loyal subjects to the Realm. Her Majesty the Queen and I were attacked by someone standing here amongst you this very moment. You have proven to be disloyal to us, committing high treason punishable by death. It is my intention to put an end to this sorry insurrection. May no one mistake my meaning for being here,” the Conqueror rendered her minatory reply.

The Amazons looked at their Queen for salvation, but the Queen placed her faith in her Lord.

“I will spare you if the treacherous murderers reveal their identity and raise their arms high in the air, now!” the Conqueror said and as soon as her words left her mouth, from her elevated vantage point, her eyes scoured and rifled through the mass of women.

Heads turned sharply in all directions, seeking out raised arms, and frightened and accusing eyes cast glances all around.

The Conqueror stretched the string of the bow further and took aim at the general direction upwards toward the sky, but her inspecting stare never left the crowd.

When she saw what she was looking for, the Conqueror signaled her Queen, Mysia and three other warrior Amazons whom Mysia had trusted, to join her.

The Conqueror strode slowly, passing by row after row of Amazons, with all fearful gazes reverted to her, till she stopped at the row that was one before last.

She stood before three Amazons, leaned in and embedded her glaring eyes into their avoiding, horrified ones.

“State your names, Amazons,” the Conqueror ordered and gasping sounds and utterances of shock could be heard across the vast audience.

Facing the three Amazons, the Queen couldn’t believe her eyes.

“Penthesilea, Majesty,” answered the first.

“Oreithyia, Majesty,” answered the second.

“Mitylene, Majesty,” replied the third.

The Queen was so astounded that for a moment she thought her Lord had made an error. She wasn’t sure what made her Lord approach Mitylene in the first place.

The Conqueror immediately recognized the last name uttered. “I’ve seen these dead eyes and vacant expressions many times in my life,” she muttered.

“I ought to imagine you have, Majesty, more times than you can count,” Mitylene replied with disdain. At that point she realized she had been caught. She knew she would suffer death for her actions, and she also believed that if she denied her crimes, then the Conqueror would shoot the arrows and her army would slaughter the entire Amazon Nation, including her, so there was no point to it.

Mitylene then turned to the Queen and said, “I wasn’t entirely sure that you wouldn’t recognize us.”

Queen Gabrielle couldn’t believe her own ears. She rummaged through her memory but to no avail.

The Conqueror didn’t anticipate Mitylene words to the Queen, but kept her frown secure about her features and didn’t even grant her Queen a glance.

Mitylene turned her attention back to the Conqueror. “You made me a body slave,” she accused the Sovereign of the world, and the crowd of Amazons gaped at the charge.

The Conqueror’s mind raced in search for a recollection, but despite her best efforts, she couldn’t place the woman who accused her.

“I don’t remember ever owning you or satisfying my needs with you,” the Conqueror responded with a stern tone of voice.

“You never owned me or used me yourself, though I doubt that even if you had, you’d remember… there have been so many,” Mitylene spat. Perhaps, in part, she was hoping to enrage the Conqueror to such degree that the Conqueror would draw out her sword and kill her where she stood, thus sparing her a slower, more painful death.

The Conqueror controlled her rage. She wouldn’t grant a dead woman the satisfaction of her wrath.

Gaining no response from the Conqueror, Mitylene continued, “I didn’t say I was your body slave, but your actions, Majesty, forced me into slavery. Do you know the names Phillipon and Damianos?” she asked.

It was at the mentioning of these names that Queen Gabrielle knew who these three Amazons really were. She covered her mouth in horror and could hardly stand on her legs. Her heart cringed in pain, and she became as pale as the snow beneath her feet.

Seeing the expression on Queen Gabrielle’s face was a small victory for Mitylene, Penthesilea and Oreithyia.

The Conqueror’s face, however, never twitched a muscle.

“Damianos was our brother and Phillipon was our father. My real name is Thiba.” She then gestured towards the two women standing to each side of her and said, “My younger sisters’ real name are – ”

But it was the Queen who whispered, haunted, “Asteria and Palla.”

“We were young children when my father purchased you, too young for you to recognize us after so many years as grown women,” Thiba said. “You see, not only did you defile our mother’s bed, but the Lord Conqueror murdered my father and brother because of you. My brother Damianos was a soldier of the Realm and a gifted archer who taught me his trade. I later taught my sisters that trade, when they were old enough to hold a bow. The night before the Conqueror’s campaign in Persia , by the Conqueror’s order my brother was reassigned to infantry first line. He died in that battle. Soon after that my father Phillipon was murdered in the street, stabbed over forty times not a few feet away from our home. The Conqueror made it look like he had been murdered during the commission of a robbery, but we all know he died by her hand. My mother, grief stricken by losing a son and a husband, took her own life. Destitute, my sisters and I were sold into slavery.”

Thiba averted her scorning, teary gaze from the crowd to the Queen. “The Lord Conqueror couldn’t stand the thought that there were two other men living and breathing who had carnal knowledge of her body slave. Her possessiveness of you destroyed an entire family, regardless of the fact that they had done nothing that she herself hadn’t done.”

There was a deafening silence. Queen Gabrielle was beside herself with grief. She clearly remembered that morning soon after their return back from Persia and after that night when she had confessed to her Lord that she had cared for her and the first kiss they had shared. She recalled peeping through the keyhole and eavesdropping on the conversation that had taken place on the other side of the door between her Lord and one of her generals, regarding the deaths of her previous owners.

But Thiba disregarded the now sober and sobbing Queen. “And I had to listen to you denigrating our father and brother in great detail, when all the while you ended up marrying your last owner who had done to you worse than they’d ever done. I guess one has to rule the world in order to win the privilege of marrying a whore such as you. Is that what they did wrong? They weren’t rulers of the world?” Thiba addressed the Conqueror again and spitefully claimed, “You, Lord Conqueror, are to be held accountable for the Amazon blood that we shed. You are evil incarnate!”

Queen Gabrielle’s heart broke a second time that day.

Hearing the insulting and scathing words spewing out of Thiba’s mouth and seeing her Queen agonizing over those venomous words unleashed the Conqueror’s wrath. “Are you done?” the Conqueror’s voice roared and delivered a strike that sent Thiba flying a few feet away and crushing to the ground. Her strike wasn’t for Thiba’s slight against her but for the slight against her Queen.

The blood that oozed from Thiba’s mouth and nose stained the white snow on the ground, and her pain was as immense as if a ram had hit her face.

The Conqueror walked over to where she had landed, towering over Thiba she made her blood curdle. “You vicious bitch!” the Conqueror shouted at her, “People die in wars. Your brother was no exception, regardless of my orders. My military decisions are not subject to scrutiny, certainly not yours. As for your father, my hands never spilled his blood. He was a degenerate gambler and owed substantial sums to many. His creditors were the ones who murdered him for what he owed them, not I. They made an example out of him. I merely allowed rumors prosper suggesting it had been I who killed him because it served my purposes that no one should touch what is mine. Losing her provider and fearing slavery for her husband’s great debts, your mother chose death. You have no one but her to blame for abandoning you to the ill-fate of slavery, rather than do her duty and sell herself instead of you. And even if what you claimed had been the truth, we are each responsible for our own actions. You and your sisters chose to murder nine innocent women, who had shown nothing but kindness and compassion towards you, who welcomed you into their home as their sisters, to serve your own purpose of avenging yourselves against us. I have rivers of blood on my hands, but even I never reached such egregious levels of betrayal, callousness and evil. You have no one to blame but yourselves for your actions.” As soon as she finished her speech, the Conqueror loosened the string of her bow, unloaded the burning arrows and dropped them onto the snow.

The three sisters were too damaged and too incapable by their lives’ experiences to believe a word the Conqueror had spoken.

The Queen wiped away her tears and composed herself. Her Lord’s words provided her with some comfort and alleviated some of her own guilt.

She walked over to stand by her Lord. Thiba was still on the ground at her feet.

“Stand up!” the Queen ordered Thiba, and her younger sisters hurried to assist her back to her feet.

“Do you all admit to killing our sisters?” the Queen firmly asked.

“We do so admit.” Proudly , Thiba answered not just for herself but for her sisters as well, who nodded their heads without a grain of regret.

The Queen turned to the Amazon warriors. “Arrest them. They are to be imprisoned behind bars under lock and key until I render my sentence,” she instructed them.

The Conqueror leaned down and whispered briefly in the Queen’s ear.

Queen Gabrielle addressed Mysia and instructed her to ride to the Thracian border and tell Princess Athena to have all of the Realm’s forces retreat from the borders, save for one detachment of the Imperial Guard by orders of the Conqueror, and then ride to the Amazon village.

The Amazon warriors obeyed their Queen, and seized Thiba and her sisters, while Mysia made her way to the Thracian border.

Queen Gabrielle addressed her sisters and subjects, “The grave threat upon us has been lifted. Our nation and our lands are safe again. We owe a great debt of gratitude and we give our humble thanks to our gracious Sovereign Lord of the Realm. I wish to thank you all, my sisters, for your trust and support which you’ve kindly granted me. I know these past moons have been heartbreaking for the great loses, so sorrowful and strenuous. The time for grieving and healing can begin, and I vow before you that justice will be done. To a strong and united Amazon Nation!”

There was silence in the crowd. The Queen’s words still echoed under the grey sky. It seemed as though her sisters and subjects had yet to determine their reaction. What played before them required more time to digest perhaps, but then little by little they began to shout her name in cheer, till it swept them all and their voices became one giant roar of admiration.

Queen Gabrielle smiled and she curbed her tears at the sight of their gushing show of genuine respect towards her. She waved at them with affection and appreciation.

After some time had elapsed and the cheering was winding down, the Conqueror offered her arm to her Queen, and they turned to leave the village center. The Amazons bowed before the Conqueror and murmured, “Your Majesty.”

As they sauntered together, the Queen clung tighter to the Conqueror’s arm. “We have much to discuss between us.”

“I agree,” affirmed the Conqueror and kept her eyes ahead.

“I know of a place where we can speak privately,” she said and led the Conqueror to the lake, which was now nearly frozen solid and no longer used for communal bathing.

“How extraordinary it was that you could single them out as the guilty parties. How could you tell?”

“When I said that I would spare the tribe if the murderers raised their arms in the air, they were the only ones whose eyes didn’t seek out to see which of their sisters raised their arms, but buried their noses in the ground and avoided eye contact. I have a propensity for recognizing a guilty mind.”

“That you do,” the Queen smiled and finally felt immensely relieved that the dark cloud that had been hovering over them had finally evaporated.

The Conqueror felt the slight tremor in her Queen’s body. “Are you warm enough?” she asked with concern, about to take off her robe.

“I am. It was nothing more than tension leaving my body,” the Queen replied and inwardly relished the Conqueror’s gesture of gallantry.

“You mentioned Mitylene in one of your letters to me,” the Conqueror pointed out as she treaded carefully around the subject of the Queen’s letters she hadn’t responded to.

“I have,” the Queen replied.

“From the things she just said I gather you were very candid with her about your past,” the Conqueror pointed out.

“I thought if I could be forthcoming with her and share that part of my past with her, then she might find strength and courage in that to face her own past and begin to heal,” the Queen spoke compassionately and remorsefully and her feet stepped over the snow covered pebbles by the icy lake, where it all had happened.

“It appears to me that the two of you have developed quite an affinity between you for the past moons.” The Conqueror halted her steps and turned to face her Queen.

“I wished to be her friend and I thought we were which is why learning of her betrayal was that much more painful to me, and made me feel a fool.” The Queen played with her hair in embarrassment.

“You mustn’t admonish yourself for having a kind and trusting heart;” the Conqueror said and put some distance between the Queen and herself. “You told her more than you ever told me, it seems.” Judging by the Conqueror’s tone of voice, it almost sounded like an accusation.

“I spared you the details because I was convinced that you didn’t wish to know them and that it would incur anger in you,” the Queen replied.

The Conqueror didn’t respond. She was ambiguous about the Queen’s answer, both because she knew that the Queen’s reservations had been rooted in truth and because she rued it.

“When you heard that your previous owners were dead, how did it make you feel?” the Conqueror inquired and the Queen could sense the Conqueror’s inquisitive eyes boring into her, vigilant of the tiniest alteration in her expression.

The Queen drew in a hefty breath. “I must confess that today wasn’t the first time I heard of their deaths,” she spoke quietly and looked down at her fingers playing with her ring with some uneasiness .

“Oh?” the Conqueror’s eyebrows rose in surprise, but her watchful eyes never left the Queen.

“That morning, soon after we had returned from Persia , I overheard a conversation between you and one of your generals…” the Queen confessed.

The Conqueror knew exactly to which conversation the Queen was referring. “I see,” she muttered with the assumption that the Queen had believed that she had had a hand in their deaths all these years. “So, for years you thought I had orchestrated their deaths, did you not?”

The Queen felt guilty and she knew that the Conqueror could read it clear across her face. “Frankly, I wasn’t sure what to think,” she offered honesty.

The Conqueror’s inner dilemma whether she should hold it against her Queen or not was still pending. “Do you believe what I said to Thiba regarding this matter?” she eventually asked.

“I do.” The Queen was almost offended that the Conqueror would ask the question. “I know you. You wouldn’t lie about it,” she answered, “And it eased my mind to learn that I wasn’t the cause of their deaths. I don’t ever wish to be the cause of anyone’s death.”

“Then you should be glad to know that you wouldn’t be the cause of Thiba’ and her sisters’ deaths, either. They will be disemboweled, burned and beheaded on the charge of high treason in Corinth ,” the Conqueror stated.

The Queen shot her disbelieving eyes at the Conqueror. She evened her breath and stated just as firmly as the Conqueror had stated, “I should be the one to decide their punishment. They killed nine Amazons including an Amazon queen and a princess. Amazons deserve Amazon justice.”

“Amazon justice…,” the Conqueror nearly scoffed but there was something bitter not just mordant in her timbre, “And just what is your view of justice?” the Conqueror became even more confrontational.

“It is my wish that they should remain imprisoned behind bars for the rest of their lives,” the Queen replied.

“They raised arms against us. They plotted and executed a plan to kill us. There is only one punishment for such a crime according to the law of the Realm – death.” The Conqueror was getting too close to the edge of her limits.

“According to Amazon law, their punishment is at my discretion,” argued the Queen.

“Amazon law is valid so long as it does not conflict with mine. I thought that much was clear to you.”

The Queen tried to appeal to the Conqueror’s mercy. “They have suffered more than you can imagine. If you could see the scars… the testimony of savage brutality… to have them executed now after such miserable living…”

“It has no bearing on the matter. My law has primacy.”

“Then as Queen of the Realm it is my wish that their lives would be spared,” the Queen challenged.

The Conqueror shook her head sideways.

“So my will means nothing, then? The word of the Realm’s sovereign Queen is void of any real substance?”

The Conqueror stared at the Queen with piercing fierce eyes, clenched her jaw tightly and said nothing.

“This matter of Thiba’s and her sisters’ penalty will not be resolved until our great matter is resolved,” the Queen concluded.
Part 17
Facing each other on the bank of a nearly frozen lake stood the Conqueror and the Queen, along with another wall between them and glistening snow beneath them that failed in cooling the growingly heated argument.

“So there it is in a nutshell,” the Queen professed in frustration.

“You disobeyed me!” the Conqueror chided and in her effort to rein in her temper, her breathing intensified and against the chilling air, rhythmic gushes of vapors burst through her nostrils.

These vapors indicated to the Queen just how irate the Conqueror truly felt. “In all humility, I did no such thing. Your words to me before your departure were ‘by all means, stay here.’”

The Conqueror turned her back to the Queen, who in her mind was splitting hairs, in order to achieve a better frame of mind, but she was too livid. She turned to stand toe to toe with the Queen and waved a reproachful finger at her. “What ever happened to your oath to me? ‘Where you go I go’ you said! ‘To the gates of the kingdom of Hades,’ you promised – but not to gates of mine?!” You were willing to part with me in order to frolic about with your precious Amazons. What have they given you that I haven’t?”

The Queen wasn’t sure how to reply the Conqueror’s charge. She did break her promise, or so she supposed. Facing the Conqueror’s rage was unendurable to her, but she had been carrying ill-feeling grievances of her own, which she had never enunciated. If this great matter could ever be resolved, she knew she could keep silent no longer.

“Do you remember when we had the… delicate difficulty with Lady Satrina?” she finally asked.

That question that seemed to stem out of nowhere left the Conqueror perplexed and stumped. It took her a few moments before she gave in and asked, “What does it have to do with any of this?”

“Just hear me, and it will soon become apparent,” the Queen replied resolutely.

The Conqueror folded her arms over her chest in a somewhat confrontational manner, but that wouldn’t make the Queen recede. “When first I told you that Lady Satrina had told me about the love she had borne you, you seemed nonchalant and unmoved, but as soon as I told you about the love she had borne me… well, that provoked anger in you and she had to be banished from Court,” the Queen said.

“For the life of me, you make no sense to me,” the Conqueror stated and held on to her stubbornness.

The Queen wore a somewhat pensive look, “When I was your slave, I never envied the noble ladies with their superb jewelry, or their daughters in their fine clothes I saw when they visited in your palace. But when I came here, I, Queen of the Realm, envied the Amazons. I envied them without understanding or recognizing this feeling in me for what it really was, envy. I saw how free these women were and how free their Queen was. The Realm’s noble ladies do not enjoy such freedom, for they live in golden cages, their station and their wealth notwithstanding.”

“Caging you in gold, is that what you think I’m doing to you?” the Conqueror’s voice rose to a roar. She couldn’t believe the words that came out of the Queen’s mouth and stabbed at her heart. Ingratitude wasn’t like her Queen.

Meeting with the Conqueror’s notorious wrath and intemperate words, the Queen imagined herself teetering on the edge of a dark precipice. “That is not what I meant,” she tried to explain, but the Conqueror was too enraged and too impervious to listen.

“Aside from more children, which the love I bear you wouldn’t allow me to grant you, have I not given you everything you ever wished for? Haven’t you been free to do as you please? You remained here despite the fact that I didn’t want you to and neither ordered you back to Corinth nor took you there by force. You did as you pleased. I didn’t stop you,” the Conqueror averred.

“You didn’t make it easy on me, though, did you?”

“I told you, anger cannot be dishonest or would you have me lie to you?”

“No, I wouldn’t,” the Queen answered. “And I have learnt long ago that anger is one of the sinews of your soul, and it is ironic to me still that although at times it troubles me and I wish you were less angry than you are, at other times it attracts me to you and lights me afire for you.”

A brief smile flickered upon the Conqueror’s pursed lips, but too soon, her soul became dyed with the color of her thoughts yet again. “I don’t understand. What were you hoping to find here? If you wanted to learn the skills of combat, all you had to do was ask. I would have taught you.”

“These trainings strengthened my body, but they accomplished far more than that. They instilled confidence in me. Nevertheless, physical strength and combat skills weren’t the reasons for my staying here.”

“Then what, then?”

“Strength of spirit and mind,” the Queen answered and absentmindedly straightened her shoulders.

“You are the most powerful woman in the world. How much more powerful were you hoping to get, staying here? I thought you didn’t care for power. How many times have you told me that you hoped we could live in Thira, being just you and me? What is it in the Amazons that has developed such an appetite for power in you?” It was all that the Conqueror could do not to raise her voice. She felt her wife and Queen drifting away from her and her grasp over her slackening and it terrified her. What she dreaded the most was about to come to fruition. She could hardly recognize the woman who stood in front of her dressed in the Amazon Queen’s attire as the woman she loved.

“You misunderstand,” the Queen insisted.

“Then explain it to me,” the Conqueror demanded. “What power have they bestowed upon you which is greater than the power I have bestowed upon you? What power do these Amazons even possess? I could wipe them out in less time that it would take me to eat an apple.”

“I’m not powerful at all, or do I need reminding you of your old flame, that Amazon, Molpadia,” Queen Gabrielle finally asserted, reproaching.

The Conqueror was fuming. “She is not an ‘old flame’ of mine. Like all that came before you, she was nothing but sport to me, as well you know, Madame.”

“With respect, Majesty, that is beside the point!” the Queen maintained and took another deep breath to regain composure.

To hear her wife and Queen addressing her as ‘Majesty’ for the first time in all their years together tore her heart asunder, but the Conqueror wouldn’t yield to it. “I would have discouraged her given the chance or did you not trust me,” she yelled more harshly than initially intended but with all sincerity.

“I didn’t want you to ‘discourage’ her! I should have been able to confront her, but I couldn’t for I was restricted!” the Queen cried out loud in frustration and vexation far greater than the Conqueror had ever witnesses before. The Queen paused and looked intently into the Conqueror’s eyes. “Perhaps I was acquiescent in your decision to keep your love for me a secret. I agreed to keep your love for me a secret, at no small price on my part. If your love for me had been known to all, that Amazon wouldn’t have had the audacity to offer herself to you, the brass to seduce my own husband right before my very eyes.”

For the first time since that conversation had begun, the Conqueror was speechless. It took her some time to gather her thoughts and prepare a worthy reply. “Molpadia is a nuisance at best and of no consequence to you or to us,” she argued, but she knew that that reply of hers was a far cry from being worthy.

The Queen knew it as well and she felt as if she was finally getting through to the Conqueror. “And before her there was Lady Octavia, and even Lady Satrina, none showing any shame in throwing themselves at you in one way or another, at my expense and without any regard for my feelings or the slightest concern for my reaction.” The Queen paused and saw reckoning across the Conqueror’s face combined with something else she couldn’t decipher. “There is an Amazon here that I was told took a fancy to me.”

“Mysia,” the Conqueror stated and when she saw the Queen raise a questioning brow, she explained, “I’ve seen the way she looks at you.”

“But she never approached me with her infatuation. She didn’t dare to. Not out of reverence for me or my station or fear of my rejection, mind you, but out of fear of you, I believe. All think the Lord Conqueror a philanderer, but a possessive philanderer. All know better than to touch what is yours but notice no hindrance in offering themselves to you – and feel not at all bothered touching what is mine. You said I have power and that I am the strongest in the Realm, yet I didn’t feel strong enough to put that Amazon in her proper place. If I demonstrated jealousy or possessiveness towards you, people would suspect our true feelings, and so I am left humiliated in my shame. How do you think it makes me feel when I, your wife and Queen, am asked about your talents as a lover and another woman dares answer in stead of me and in my presence, no less?” The Queen’s eyes welled up in tears that were the blend of divested anger and deep sadness and judging by the timbre of her voice, she was on the verge of crying. “Love,” she said with a quiver in her voice and with shimmering eyes, “is the only power I have. When you publically deny our love, I am left with close to nothing. Love is my power and my freedom. ”

The Conqueror rubbed her forehead and covered her eyes. As she listened to her Queen’s speech, she imagined herself in her Queen’s place and understood. When her wife had spoken about the question she had been asked and another woman answering, she realized something had occurred that wasn’t in the scope of her knowledge.

“Soon after you had proposed marriage to me, the late Princess Lao-Ling gave me a piece of advice,” the Queen continued when the Conqueror unveiled her eyes, “that I should never ignore or pardon any disrespect towards me for any disrespect towards me was disrespect directed at you as well.”

The Conqueror heavily weighted her Queen’s words. Two of the most important things in her life, the Realm and her Queen’s happiness, were standing on each opposite sides of the scales. Above anything else rose her longing for her wife’s love towards her like the tide.

Seeing minor assuage in the Conqueror’s demeanor, the Queen took two steps forward and covered the distance between them. She felt an enormous wave of pure love washing over her. She rested the palm of her hand over the Conqueror’s chest, above her heart. “I am your wife, your closest companion, and I love you with everything that I am. Tell me what’s in here,” she pleaded and caressed the spot that her palm was pressed against on the Conqueror’s body. “I’d prefer it if you told me rather than not knowing and have my imagination run wild and loose within me dreading the worst…” she whispered.

“I acted out of fear of losing you,” the Conqueror admitted with immense difficulty. “I feared that living amongst the Amazons and learning their ways might change you, might alter you from the woman I know and love into someone else.”

It was then that a tear left the Queen’s eye. It scoured her heart to see her powerful Lord struggling in pain.

“When I saw that you had removed your collar from around your thigh, fear gripped in my gut that I would lose you and that the removal of the collar symbolized the cornerstone of your transformation into someone different,” the Conqueror lingered before continuing, “independent who would no longer cherish who I am, relish or even need my protection or treasured what is uniquely shared between us… and now that you are Queen of the Amazons…” her speech faltered when their eyes met again.

As soon as the Conqueror finished uttering her words, the Queen reached beneath her cloak and under her blouse and retrieved her collar. “Soon after you’d left, I sewed small inside pockets into all my blouses so that I could carry the collar on my person at all times,” she said and showed it to the Conqueror.

The Conqueror was just about overwhelmed by remorse, and her wife’s next words pierced even deeper.

“Nothing will change what is between us or who and what we are to one another, not a hundred titles nor a thousand crowns. If it is your will, I shall wear it around my neck for all my Amazon sisters and subjects to see. I am proud of who I am – A strong and powerful Queen of the Realm and of the Amazons, who is perceived by others as such and a loving and devoted wife to you, who melts at your dominance and eagerly awaits to capitulate to it.”

The Conqueror touched her fingertips to her Queen’s cheeks and gently stroked the cold pale skin.

“I feel deeply ashamed admitting to you just how selfish my love for you is that I should deprive you of freedom and true friends and keep you all to myself.” The Conqueror spoke softly and her anger ebbed away. “I considered that leaving you amongst the Amazons, you’d be presented with… other alternatives and I feared your liberty would spoil the love you bear me.”

The Queen had to smile with sparkling eyes. “There could never be anything or anyone else but you for me, don’t you know that?” she said and a myriad of emotions crossed her joyous features. “I am forever your humble and willing servant. All I ask is that you allow me latitude and trust in my love and submission to you. It shall never diminish my love for you. No woman on this earth has ever loved as much as I love you.”

“Will you accept my sincere apology, Gabrielle, and forgive me for all the pain that I’ve caused you?” the Conqueror asked. It was the first time that the Conqueror had ever apologized or asked for forgiveness. The Queen didn’t underestimate the magnitude of the event, but when she saw tears welling up in the Conqueror’s cobalt eyes as well, it was her undoing and she began to soundlessly weep.

“Of course I forgive you,” she said with quavering voice and felt her trembling body being pressed against the Conqueror’s lengthy warm one.

As her head was pressed against the Conqueror’s chest and the Conqueror’s heart thumbed loudly in her ear, she said, “It took me a long time before I could come to terms with the fact I wanted to be stronger so I could put that Amazon, Molpadia in her place. I reckon I was too ashamed to admit it, even to myself. I thought it petty and quite demeaning to me.”

From above her head, she felt the Conqueror smirk in high spirit. She sinisterly relished the fact that her wife was jealous and was very guiltily amused every time her wife had referred to Molpadia as ‘that Amazon.’

“But in spite of my initial intent and motivation to stay here, however clandestine to me, I have gained so much more and I am thankful for it,” the Queen said still clinging to the Conqueror.

“Then I am pleased.”

“Are you really?”

“Hmmm…” The Conqueror released her wife from her embrace to look into her eyes when she said, “I shall make my love for you known and we shall hide it no more.”

The smile of sublime happiness illuminated her Queen’s face, coupled with two tiny wrinkles to each side of her nose just beneath her eyes, which the Conqueror had always been enamored and enchanted by.

“As for Thiba and her sisters…” the Conqueror began to say.

“I realize it is a great concession for me to ask of you to make and I do understand the foreseeable ramification such dispensation might yield. Nevertheless, in spite of their crimes against us and the Amazon Nation, I cannot in good conscience condemn them to death after all they’ve suffered.”

The Conqueror couldn’t hold the Queen’s merciful heart against her, for it was that merciful heart that she had fallen in love with. “They suffered a fate no worse than yours, yet you maintained your kindness and goodness,” she argued.

The Queen considered the Conqueror’s words, then a mysterious smile ornamented her lips. “Different experiences in life put their mark on different people in many different ways. I dare say you weren’t the only one who ever suffered the loss of a brother or the mayhem of a warlord in their homeland, yet you are the only Conqueror.”

The Conqueror mirrored her wife’s smile and admired just how shrewd her wife was.

“Only the Amazons know about the attempt on our lives the day we first came here and theirs is a reclusive tribe. Those outside Amazon borders who know about the attack specifically upon us are very few and can be trusted to hold their tongues. If you can assure me that no Amazon will reveal that I have spared the lives of traitors of the Realm, then I shall leave for you to decide Thiba’ and her sisters’ fates.”

The Queen was moved beyond words by the Conqueror’s tremendous gesture. She could hardly believe it. A healthy sobbing smothered her throat and she barely managed to say “Thank you,” as she lowered her head and gaze in decorous and demure gratitude.

The Conqueror placed two fingers beneath the Queen’s chin and gently prompted the Queen’s features upwards to meet her gaze. “May I kiss you, my Lady?” the Conqueror asked.

The Queen’s smile was rained over by soundless tears born out of sheer delight. “You are the Ruler of the world, are you not, my Lord?”

There were no tentative nibbles or sluggish exploration. The Conqueror leaned down as the Queen lifted herself to stand on her tiptoes and their mouths fervently impinged against one another and sucked on flesh. As the Queen placed one hand against the Conqueror’s jaw so to enjoy the movement of the working muscles there and the other weaved in the Conqueror’s tresses, the Conqueror wrapped her left around the Queen’s waist and with her right she cupped the back of the Queen’s head to increase pressure and depth between them. But the deeper the touch, the more unrelenting and demanding it got. The heat of their rapid pants engulfed them in a white cloud.

The Conqueror was first to break the indulgence in love. With grim concern and heavy conscience she said, still breathless, “There is something I must tell you.”

“It is of no importance now, my Lion,” the Queen said as she studied the Conqueror’s features.

“But it is,” the Conqueror replied.

The Queen took the Conqueror’s hand. “You wish to tell me that while in Corinth you tried to have another perform my wifely duties,” she said as though she had witnessed the event with her own eyes.

What amazed the Conqueror wasn’t that her Queen surmised that she had had another woman in her absence, but that the Queen knew that she had tried.

When she saw the surprised looked on her Lord’s face, the Queen smiled slyly and pressed her body against her Lord’s. “You were lonely and cross with me – that I understand. What I do not understand however is,” she said, nipping the Conqueror’s earlobe with her teeth and whispering in her ear “What folly has made you think you could take pleasure from another? You are no longer capable of it any more than I am.”

“Do you forgive me then?” the Conqueror rasped by the Queen’s solicitation of her desire, and sent her hands to knead the Queen’s buttocks.

Never neglecting her seduction, the Queen pressed her hips against her Lord’s loins and answered, “That depends…” she blew hot breath in her Lord’s ear, “How long before you came to your senses, my Lord?” she teased.

“Lady Satrina didn’t reach the stairs after I had sent her on the errand… I stopped her when still in the corridor.”

“Then I forgive you.” When she couldn’t suffer any longer, the Queen’s lips left the Conqueror’s and hastily traveled to the Conqueror’s ear with a claim on her breath. “Take me somewhere close and warm where we can be alone and lie with me, my Lord.”

The Conqueror’s lips roamed down the Queen’s milky neck. “I think I saw a sweat lodge nearby.”

“Take me…” Gabrielle pressed and moaned when she felt the Conqueror’s teeth sink into her flesh, then added, “there.”

With great effort their bodies parted so that their legs could quickly carry them to that warm private place where they could be connected.

As soon as they reached the steam hut, the Conqueror turned to divest her wife and Queen of her clothes. When Gabrielle’s nakedness was revealed to her, the Conqueror’s ravishing eyes roamed the alluring form. Her fingers worked proficiently to rid herself of her bodices, while the Queen attended the hot rocks above the burning ambers. As the hot water sizzled over the rocks, hot steams burst upwards and permeated the wooden hut.

The Conqueror lifted one of the benches that stood along the hut’s walls and placed it in the middle of the hut. She outstretched her hand to her wife and her wife took it. “Go, lay on the bench,” she said.

The steams seemed to part way as the Queen, majestic in her nudity and strides, made her way to the bench and lay prone atop it and felt its hard wooden surface beneath her back.

The Conqueror joined her waiting wife. She sat on the bench at her wife’s feet, straddling it, and feasted her eyes on her Queen’s sweaty, firm body. “Let me take in this magnificent sight of you,” she said as she took her wife’s feet in her large hands and brought them to her lips. She kissed the soles and rubbed them against her face, sighing, “Oh, how I’ve missed this… How I’ve longed for you.”

The Queen’s sultry gaze captured the Conqueror’s and held it. “I thought I should go mad without you…” the Queen whispered.

The Conqueror’s lips and tongue moved up the Queen’s calves and admired how much stronger they had gotten.

The Queen waited breathlessly for her Lord to reach where she so desperately needed her.

“I thought I would lose you,” the Conqueror said with a hoarse voice as her mouth savored the taste of the softer flesh of Gabrielle’s thighs. “I prepared myself for suffering the loss of you, beloved.”

“My Lion,” the Queen moaned and tangled her fingers in to her Lord’s dark mane. “Nothing is changed between us.”

The tip of the Conqueror’s nose moved against the Queen’s wet folds. She snorted the Queen’s fragrant lust in deeply, like she was taking stock of it in her lungs. The Queen didn’t rush her, but when she felt her Lord’s thick and agile tongue roaming over her womanhood and garnering her wetness, a scream of pleasure escaped her straining throat and the need became unendurable.

“Did you honestly think I would ever part with you?” she asked urgently as her desire kept mounting “Did you truly believe I would give this up for anything?” she groaned, lifted her hips and pressed her sex as hard as she could against her Lord’s lapping tongue.

The Conqueror abandoned the Queen’s aching need. As her tongue continued its journey up the Queen’s body, it consumed the beads of sweat pooling between the Queen’s breasts. She moved to sit closer between her wife’s thighs while her tongue slid over the luscious mounds and the Conqueror sated her thirst for her wife by drinking her scrumptious sweat.

The Queen shivered when she felt the weight and width of the Conqueror’s length resting over her womanhood and her belly. She hungered for it inside her.

They kissed again, nearly swallowing one another. The Queen caught her breath every time the Conqueror’s teeth sank into her flesh.

“I cannot suffer this torment any longer…” the Queen cried. “I’m torn between wanting you to take your time and make it last so we could relish it, and begging you to bring me release.”

The Conqueror penetrated her Queen with her toes pushing rhythmically against the floor for leverage and her upper body slick with sweat encompassing the Queen’s.

“We have all the time in the world. Let us have this first one as our desire demands it… just to relieve some of the pressure and take the edge off,” the Conqueror grunted as she rotated her loins in and out of the Queen’s seething slit, savoring the sensation of her Queen’s legs tight around her.

Their mouths met again in hunger and they became so enthralled by their soaring desire amidst the humid steams, lost to anything else but their passion and the sounds of their wet bodies slapping against each other and their ragged breathings, that they failed to hear the sounds of footsteps outside nearing the steam hut.

The door to the hut opened. A mortified Antiope stood there with a slack jaw and gawking eyes, staring at the naked Conqueror and at her flexing muscles adorning her physique engaging in pneumatic grinding into her naked Queen.

The Conqueror stilled her movement as soon as she felt the brush of cool fresh air against her heated skin and the light of midday sunlight. Her head sharply turned to the entrance.

“Sweet Artemis!” exclaimed the Amazon.

But the Queen didn’t care. She dug her nails into the Conqueror’s backside, spurring the primal in her. “Don’t stop!” she pleaded, and her Lord resumed her delicious poundings into her need.

It took Antiope a few moments to regain control of her bodily functions. She closed the door, turned around and still in shock announced to Athena, who had returned back to the village and walked a few steps behind her, and several of her sisters, “The steam hut is occupied.”

“What do you mean occupied? I’m freezing out here…” Princess Athena protested.

“Trust me, your Grace,” Antiope muttered flatly, “You don’t need the image I just witnessed inside your head,” was all the explanation she was willing to give.

Back in the hut, compelled by long moons of yearnings, the Royal couple was engrossed in their lovemaking. When the Conqueror sensed the impending torrents of release about to hit them, she tenderly cupped her wife’s cheek and when they soared together on tidal wave upon tidal wave of elating climax that had been denied of them for so long, they looked into each other’s eyes and their souls touched and came together.

They embraced one another tightly for a long time, basking in their union and the last waves of satisfaction.

“Do you think there’ll be a scandal?” the Queen asked and made her Lord laugh.

“Does it matter?” the Conqueror replied.

The Queen’s belly grumbled. “I’m hungry,” she remarked.

“Working up a sweat would do that to you,” the Conqueror chuckled.

The lovers dried their bodies, dressed and exited the hut. They walked in the woods near the lake till the Queen spotted a stag. Mutely, she pointed it out to her Lord. The Conqueror took out an arrow, stalked and subdued the animal.

“Why didn’t you use your labrys?” the Conqueror asked as she loaded the stag on her shoulders, “You had a clear shot.”

“I have taken three kills from you today, my Lord, and hadn’t the heart to take away a fourth,” the Queen replied only it was not the whole truth. There was something about watching her Lion hunt and throw the kill at her feet, so to speak, that made the Queen burn for her Lord.
Part 18
On their way back to the village center, at the Conqueror’s request, Queen Gabrielle recounted in great detail, all about what had taken place in the steam hut with Molpadia’s outrageous behavior.

“And Athena was there with you?” the Conqueror asked.

“She was, my Lord,” the Queen answered, “which amplified my shame.” She then wore a pensive expression and curiously remarked, “I was too affronted and embarrassed to notice it at the time, but when I consider it now… How odd it is that she didn’t exact austere reprisal. That is so unlike her.”

The Conqueror’s features remained sealed, but it was the lack of response that spoke volumes to the Queen.

“She really irked you, didn’t she?” the Conqueror finally commented.

“Would you think me wicked if I told you that at some point I stooped as low as to hope that she had been the one behind the killings?”

The Conqueror burst into laughter. “She definitely brought it upon herself, my love.”

“Your answer does not constitute a denial, my Lord,” the Queen teased. “What is worse, Amazon tradition dictates that since she was Queen Melosa’s second in command, now she should be mine.”

“You are Queen. You must do as you wish. A leader’s second in command is an office which should be granted based upon trust.”

“Removing her from her position might be construed as vindictive,” the Queen argued.

The Conqueror looked at her wife as if she couldn’t see anything wrong with it. She then wondered what their future would look like together now that her wife was Queen of the Amazons. Her beloved Queen seemed so happy at that moment that the Conqueror didn’t have the heart to damage that happiness, and decided against raising this issue.

The Royal couple brought the venison to the village center, where they met Athena.

“Majesties,” she bowed before them.

“Your Grace,” they greeted her back as the Conqueror unloaded the stag and two Amazons took it off her hands to prepare for supper.

Athena took one look at her parents, and their damp tresses, their tranquil demeanors and how closely they stood next to one another, and she knew in an instant that they had reconciled, and that the steam hut had been occupied on account of them using it and she couldn’t have been happier, and apparently indebted to Antiope of all people.

“My Lady,” the Conqueror addressed her Queen, “I wish to have a few words with her Grace,” she spoke gently.

The Queen gave a brief squeeze to her Lord’s arm. “Of course, my Lord. I shall wait for you at the table,” she said and left to join the others.

The Conqueror and the Princess regarded each other intensely for a few long moments.

“You have been a great service and comfort to her Majesty the Queen whilst I was away. You have performed your duties responsibly and in the most commendable of manners,” the Conqueror said.

That was not what the young Princess expected. She expected to be berated for the disgraceful behavior she exhibited when she had visited with the Conqueror in Corinth . She lowered her eyes. “I humbly thank your Majesty for the generous praises and I wish to convey my deepest apologies to your Majesty. When I was in Corinth , I conducted myself reprehensibly and with all my heart I beg your forgiveness.”

“Indeed, when you came to visit me in Corinth , you spoke to me in a manner that was outrageously disrespectful and insufferable. Granted, you thought you were shielding her Majesty the Queen and acted with accordance to what you thought was right and just. Nevertheless, I shan’t brook such insolence, least of all from my own flesh and blood,” the Conqueror chided.

“I vow before your Majesty that it will never happen again. The insults I unduly spoke stemmed out of anger and I wish to assure your Majesty that I didn’t mean them. I owe all that I am to you, Majesty, and above all I owe you reverence and awe. Her Majesty the Queen has already shown me the error of ways.”

“Did she?!” the Conqueror asked and inwardly she was moved and pleased. “And what did she say?”

“That I should speak my mind even when it contradicts your Majesty’s opinion, however I must always do so with utmost respect towards your Majesty, for your Majesty is our Sovereign Lord, and head of this family,” Princess Athena replied.

The Conqueror placed her hand over her daughter’s shoulder. “Your mother is the most magnificent, most glorious woman that ever lived,” she said and her eyes shimmered. “I have no life without her.”

Princess Athena nodded in agreement. It was marvelous to see the glowing warmth of love about her Sire again upon mentioning the Queen. “Am I forgiven then, Majesty?”

“You are,” the Conqueror rapped on her daughter’s shoulder affectionately. “I hereby relieve you of your duties. It is my desire to seize the privilege of guarding my Queen. You are free to hunt as many Amazons as you please,” she smiled mischievously.

“As your Majesty commands,” Athena bowed her head, “But before I go, may I ask, Majesty, what was the meaning of your order to me regarding not meddling in her Majesty the Queen’s private affairs?” she asked. She didn’t know what was the source of the division between her parents but she knew it wasn’t her place to ask and for her to know.

“At the time I believed your mother had a choice to make. I wished to afford her the opportunity to follow her heart and the freedom to choose without any intervention or influence,” the Conqueror replied thoughtfully as they made their way to join the Queen.

When the deer meat above the fire was ready and amply basted with fresh aromatic stock, they all sat to dine together. The Conqueror and the Queen sat at the head of the Amazon council’s table, along with Princess Athena to the Conqueror’s left. At the other end of the long table sat the Shamaness and her apprentice. Before the council’s table, table upon table was set with the rest of the tribe around them.

Cheerful chatter could be heard around the dining tables, with many conversations pertaining to the day’s events circling around like buzzing bees. The threat had been lifted and the guilty parties had been apprehended. Peaceful living and mirth could resume unimpeded.

“I trust you’ll be pleased to be sleeping in your own hut again, your Grace,” the Queen said and poured herself a cup of water.

“I shan’t be sleeping anywhere near your Majesties’ hut tonight,” the young Princess smirked quietly beneath her hand covering her mouth.

Soon after the meat was carved, the ever-serviceable Molpadia approached the council’s table with a large tray loaded with the finest of cuts and walked over to the head of the table where the Conqueror dined with her Queen.

The Queen’s second in command bowed deeply before the Conqueror, displaying as much of her cleavage as possible to the Conqueror’s eyes. “Another fine piece of meat, my Lord?” she offered suggestively and there was no denying her intent.

The Conqueror kept her mouth barred. She knew with absolute certainty that her Queen would render her reply momentarily and she could hardly wait to hear it. From the corner of her eye she saw Princess Athena’s grip over her knife tighten. She placed a quick hand over the Princess’ knee beneath the table, signaling her to hold her tongue.

Queen Gabrielle raised her eyes from her plate and beheld Molpadia with glaring eyes that nearly made Molpadia’s heart stop. She laid down her knife and demonstratively put a possessive hand over the Conqueror’s shoulder, then spoke loudly so that her voice could be heard over all other conversations. “My Lord’s body is mine; my Lord’s heart is mine. My Lord is mine, and I ferociously protect what’s mine!” There was unmistakable menace and warning in her tone of voice.

As soon as Queen Gabrielle spoke, all chatter ceased immediately, and all eyes were averted to the head of the council’s table. What amazed their audience wasn’t just their Queen’s assertiveness as opposed to her lack of response in the past to this type of provocation, but her statement that her Lord’s heart had been hers as well.

Molpadia was discomfited and humiliated beyond words and prayed that the earth would open its mouth and swallow her whole where she stood.

At the other far end of the table, the Shamaness whispered to her apprentice, “The Lioness has finally roared.”

But the Queen was far from finished with Molpadina. “Never address my Lord by that moniker ever again and tonight it is my pleasure that you should reside in the adjacent hut to ours.”

Some of their audience snickered knowingly while Molpadia’s face changed colors, first into red and then into white. She laid down the tray atop the table and commenced a walk of shame towards the hut, which had previously been occupied by Princess Athena.

A toothy gloating smile appeared on Athena’s face, as her scorning eyes accompanied Molpadia’s as she walked.

To the further astonishment of all present, the Conqueror took the Queen’s hand that rested on her shoulder, brought it to her lips and landed a passionate kiss to her palm. “I desire to be alone with you,” the Conqueror drolly whispered and to emphasize how urgent her need was she added the word, “Now!”

And as the Queen was chuckling, she whispered back in her Lord’s ear, “It is our duty to dine with our subjects, especially after all that happened today, my Lord.”

“No such duty exists, my Lady. We are Lord and Queen. A fact which entitles us to do as we desire,” the Conqueror argued.

“Then how like you this as a reason,” the Queen suggested another rationale, “You need to eat well and replenish your strength, for it is my mission to exhaust you tonight. Trust me when I tell you, my Lord, that you shall require all the help you can get.”

Jaunty, the Conqueror loaded her plate with meat, till it nearly overran. “As for having Molpadia reside next to our hut tonight… My Lady, you do have a wicked mind,” she tantalized in humor.

“And the body to match,” the Queen guaranteed with a wily glee in her eyes.

When supper ended, all Amazons remained seated at the bequest of their Queen. Mysia and a few Amazon warriors escorted the prisoners, Thiba and her two younger sisters, to stand before their Queen.

The Queen rose to her feet and signaled to the Amazons that she requested silence with a wave of her hand.

“My sisters, I am ready to render my verdict in regards to these prisoners for the brutal and treacherous crimes they’ve committed against our nation and against the Realm. First, however, I wish to extend our profound gratitude to our honorable Sovereign Lord, who in her infinite charity and justness granted me consent and allowance to decide the offenders’ penalty and for the great mercy she showed us.”

“All hail the Lord Conqueror!” exclaimed Antiope and in response, the Amazons repeated, “Hail to the Lord Conqueror!”

The Queen turned to address the condemned, “You spilled the blood of your sisters. Your actions deprived our nation of Queen Melosa and Princess Terreis. But what makes your actions even more depraved is your motivation and purpose, which were to murder your Sovereign Lord and Queen. You were willing to sacrifice the lives of your sisters out of some unfounded notion that your Sovereign Lord had wronged you and yours in the past.”

Thiba and her sisters did not lower their heads and exhibited neither shame nor remorse. They simply stood there, with blank expressions and their dead eyes. They didn’t seem perturbed but rather as though they hadn’t a care in the world.

The Queen turned to address her subjects again. “Slaying nine innocent women in furtherance of a conspiracy to avenge some baseless concept of wrongdoing warrants a sentence of death. However, given the misfortunate, miserable circumstances of their lives after their family’s demise, I wish to show them mercy as our Sovereign Lord has shown us. Therefore, it is my pleasure that their sentence shall be commuted and that they should spend the rest of their lives behind bars. I urge you all, my sisters, to accept and honor my ruling and not demand their blood.”

One by one, the Amazons stood up, thus informing their Queen that they indeed accepted and honored her ruling, till none were left seated.

“Very well, my sisters. In order to uphold and execute the sentence, it is our Sovereign Lord’s demand that you shall all swear an oath that nothing of the events that have taken place here would ever leave your lips or breech outside these borders.”

“We do so swear, our Queen,” they all said.

The prisoners were returned to the confinement of their cells. Little by little, the Amazons bade the Royal family goodnight and retired to their huts.

Princess Athena, whose eye caught sight of the Shamaness’ apprentice as she was about to leave the table as well, preceded to apply her charm and seductive skills to the object of her desire.

The Royal couple got off the table. The Conqueror snaked her arm around the Queen’s waist as they leisurely sauntered outside, as if they were on the sandy beaches of Thira with all its freedoms, and there wasn’t anyone happier than the Queen.

“I trust matters between you and Athena are resolved, my Lord,” the Queen said and leaned her head against her Lord as they strolled.

“They are, my Lady. She has apologized and I forgave her, her infractions,” the Conqueror replied.

“I thank you, my Lion, for being generous with your pardon,” the Queen said and planted a kiss beneath her Lord’s collarbone.

“You should have seen how she stood before me, stalwart and unwavering when she visited with me in Corinth . I don’t think I ever saw such display of bravery and fearless determination,” the Conqueror admitted and her chest widened with pride.

“You could tell she would grow up to be as brave as you, my Lord, ever since she was but a wee child,” the Queen smiled with the awesome love she had for her only child. “Do you remember, my Lord, when you took her riding with the Imperial Guard when she was a child? As you walked over to mount your stallion, Athena, barely three years old, sat atop your shoulders so high above the ground without a speck of fear in her. With her tiny hands, she held on to you and played with your crown, do you remember, my Lord? You didn’t have to secure her to you. She was strong and bold enough to hold on to you by herself.”

The Conqueror smiled at the fond memory her wife brought up.

“Her fierce stance before me was something to behold, I tell you. I reckon she knew I wouldn’t kill her, but there are worse things I can do than killing, and yet she stared me in the eye and spoke her mind, however disrespectfully. She stood up for what she believed in out of love for you, and although I was enraged beyond measure, to put it mildly, I was also proud of her like never before.”

The Queen’s eyes welled up with tears and she pressed herself against the Conqueror’s protective embrace even harder.

“It was then for the first time I truly felt certain that when it is time for her to inherit my throne, she will make an extraordinary ruler, perhaps even better than I; for where I strike awe, admiration and fear in our subjects, she will also strike adoration and love in them,” the Conqueror said sincerely and tightened her grip around her beloved Queen.

“Our subjects love and adore you as well, my Lord. They are simply too timid to exhibit it for your benefit,” the Queen said with utter conviction.

The Conqueror looked down and beheld her Queen with an affectionate smile adorning her lips. “Any love they bear me is attributed to you, my love, and has nothing to do with me.”

The Queen chuckled. “I’m sure my contribution is smaller than you claim, my Lion,” she said and halted halfway to their hut. “With your approval, I have a few minor matters that I wish to attend to before retiring.”

“Anything I can assist you with?” the Conqueror inquired with a raise of her brow.

“No, my Lord,” she answered and delivered a quick kiss to her Lord’s jaw, “I shan’t be detained long.”

“Very well, my precious Gabrielle,” the Conqueror said. Reluctantly parting with her wife, she walked towards their hut while the Queen walked over to where Thiba and her sisters were detained.

As she walked into the small prison, which was the only structure made of stone, Queen Gabrielle requested from the guards minding the prisoners, for some privacy. On the ground near the bars, she saw half eaten plates served on a wooden platter without a knife to cut food.

At first glance, the cells seemed empty, but on closer look, Queen Gabrielle discerned the younger sisters lying on the pallet with their backs turned facing the bars. They seemed to be sleeping. The Queen’s eyes searched for Thiba amidst the darkness in her cells.

“Did you come here to gloat?” Queen Gabrielle heard Thiba’s familiar voice and a few moments later she noticed a movement at the far back and bleak corner of the cell.

Thiba stood up, advancing forward towards the iron bars that incarcerated her till she finally stood in plain view before the Queen. Her spirit didn’t seem to be broken and she didn’t appear defeated as one might assume she would.

“There is no delight or pleasure in my heart for your downfall, only profound sadness and regret,” said the Queen sincerely.

From between the bars, Thiba’s scorning eyes regarded the Queen. “As there should be, for had it not been for you none of this would have happened,” the hateful prisoner taunted her.

For a fraction of a moment eaten by guilt, Queen Gabrielle lowered her eyes; a gesture that was not lost on Thiba. “I hoped I would be more successful in reaching you and assisting you out of the darkness you are in.”

Thiba scoffed. “You arrogant bitch!” she muttered. “Just who do you think you are?”

“I am your ruler and the one to whom you owe your life, for if my Lord were to decide your fate, then your days and your sisters’ would have been numbered,” answered the Queen.

“Do not think I owe you anything. You are no more than the filthy whore who defiled my mother’s bed, nothing more.”

“You truly ought to stop lying to yourself, Thiba. As a former body slave, I’m sure you know I had no say in the matter and that it was your father who defiled your mother’s bed as he forced me on it.”

Thiba rolled her eyes in her head. “As for your precious Lord… I suppose you believe everything she said…”

“I trust my Lord and so I needn’t any proof in order to believe her words. However, you don’t, so consider this – My Lord’s power is supreme and so my Lord needn’t any pretexts or excuses for her actions. My Lord’s might is all the justification my Lord requires, therefore lying is redundant. My Lord could’ve just as easily admitted to your charges and wouldn’t have suffered anything for it. If she took the trouble of denying your accusations, trust it was all true.”

Thiba clasped the cold iron bars and brought her face closer to them. “Tell me something for I must know… Unlike the Conqueror, my father never brutalized you and never disfigured you. Convince me of your pure motives, then. What made the Conqueror so much better than my father?”

“I owe you nothing, least of all an explanation. Nevertheless, since I decreed that you should spend the rest of your life in here, I shall indulge you if truly you must know, for it is the least I can do for you now,” the Queen replied and gathered her thoughts. “One former body slave to another,” she began to say and drew a hefty intake of breath. “Unlike in your father’s service, in my Lord’s service, in my Lord’s bed I never felt humiliated.”

Thiba’s expression was one of disbelief, then raging hatred.

The Queen continued, “In my Lord’s service, I never had to ask permission to eat, or to bathe, sleep, relieve myself. My Lord kept me well fed and well dressed. I was free to speak with others in her household, I was granted free access to the library so that I could read and study. I was allowed to apprentice the chief healer and pursue my interests. And in bed, my Lord had me submit to her power and dominance, but my Lord never resorted to degradation.”

“Even when she branded her mark into your flesh?” Thiba opposed.

“Not even then,” the Queen replied without a moment’s hesitation. “My Lord is power and commands it without the need to humiliate the powerless, unlike your father. In service to your father, I was never within his reach. In service to my Lord I was never outside of hers.”

Before the Queen left, she said, “I forgive your betrayal against me and I hope you and your sisters will one day find peace.”

The Queen had one last stop to make before this long eventful day could finally be over, and the night with all the sweet promises it held could begin with her loving Lord who was patiently and longingly waiting for her in their hut.

She knocked on the Shamaness’ door and soon after heard the Shamaness’ invitation to enter. When the Queen stepped inside she saw two cups of hot tea standing on the table as though the Shamaness had foreseen her visit beforehand.

“Just in time,” the Shamaness clapped her hands together. “Your tea is getting cold, my Queen,” she pointed out and sat at the table.

Queen Gabrielle smiled in kind and sat opposite the older woman, “I see my visit was expected.”

The Shamaness enveloped the hot cup with her palms for warmth. She pushed a bowl with dried dates towards the Queen and welcomed her to help herself to them.

“Thank you,” the Queen said as she took the sweet viscid fruit and placed it between her teeth.

“By the look of things it would seem that you and the Lord Conqueror overcame your differences and matters between the two of you have been settled,” the Shamaness commented.

The Queen’s face radiated with happiness. “Indeed,” she confirmed. “I wanted to extend my deepest gratitude to you. You have been a tremendous help and comfort to me throughout these difficult times and I shall cherish your guidance always.”

“It was my pleasure and privilege. Our nation has been blessed with an extraordinary queen.”

“You are most kind.”

“At the council’s table this evening I could see a grand change not just in you but in both of you and what is between you,” the Shamaness stated knowingly and took a sip from her cup.

“A change for the better, I hope,” said the Queen as she looked across the table and regarded the Shamaness.

“A strong Queen is paramount to the insurance of our tribe’s survival, so your newfound strength is vital, I’d say.”

“And the other changes you spoke of?”

“I believe that the Lord Conqueror’s revealing her great love for you for all to witness would make your life wholesome and happier than ever before. As for the Conqueror’s love for you in itself, you are already aware of my grave concerns.”

Queen Gabrielle considered the Shamaness’ reply and she couldn’t help feeling disappointment.

“By not shooting the arrows and thus ordering her forces to destroy our nation and by relinquishing her judgment of chastisement over to me, my Lord proved today that she was capable of…” but the Queen’s voice trailed off mid-sentence.

“It wasn’t mercy, ” the Shamaness stated, not affording the Queen any illusion. Like all others in the tribe, she had heard Queen Gabrielle’s speech about the mercy shown to them by the Conqueror earlier that day.

Queen Gabrielle fixated her pensive gaze on the hypnotizing spiraling steams emanating from the cup in front of her. “You are right,” she said in resignation, “It wasn’t mercy.”

“I speak to you as your true friend without the barriers of our stations so please forgive me for the liberties I take in speaking my mind truthfully and with candor. The Conqueror has no mercy in her.”

The words were hard to absorb. Queen Gabrielle wasn’t sure whether the Shamaness was more right than wrong. Either way, lines of pain grooved her forehead.

“No one knows my Lord better than I do, and you are wrong. My Lord is capable of mercy, only her capacity for mercy is more discriminatory and reserved.”

The Shamaness placed her hand over the Queen’s hand that rested unmoving flat against the table’s surface. “I didn’t mean to sadden you,” she said.

Queen Gabrielle offered no response.

“You are the Conqueror’s greatest advocate,” the Shamaness smiled.

The Queen withdrew her hand from under the Shamaness’.

“Whether you believe me or not it doesn’t matter,” the Queen said.

“I do believe you.”

“And you were wrong about another thing. It was my Lord’s love for me that spared the Amazon Nation from oblivion and Thiba’s and her sisters’ lives.” The Queen had no need to convince herself in the truthfulness of that assertion.

“I know,” the Shamaness replied sincerely.

The Queen emptied her cup and rose to her feet. The Shamaness stood as well.

“My Lord’s love for me is not a blind destructive force and I have faith in it and in my Lord.”

The Shamaness hoped she could be as convinced as the Queen was and that the Queen wasn’t simply deceiving herself. She thought what the Conqueror would have done if something had actually happened to the Queen and she had to suppress a shiver.

As they walked together to the door, the Shamaness placed a halting hand on the Queen’s forearm. “I have a gift for you, Gabrielle.”

“What is it?” the Queen asked and looked around trying to guess.

“After returning from supper today I was visited by your unborn child’s spirit,” she said and watched the confusion forming upon the Queen’s features.

“My unborn child?” the Queen faintly asked and nearly collapsed to the ground.

The Shamaness laughed as she supported the Queen and steadied her on her feet.

“You shall conceive again and give birth, a year from now,” the elderly woman revealed.

“That is impossible,” the Queen argued, too scared to even allow herself to hope, knowing she had promised her Lord never to even bring that subject up again.

“You will survive childbirth and live to see that child’s children, your grandchildren. That is all that I can say to you, dear Gabrielle,” she said and her laughter rolled and filled the hut.

The Queen began to sob violently till her entire body shook uncontrollably. She threw her arms around the older woman and squeezed her so hard that the Shamaness nearly had to fight for air. Her heart overflowed with unmatched happiness.

“Thank you,” she murmured into the Shamaness’ shoulder over and over again.

The Shamaness tapped gently on the Queen’s back to sooth her, “You needn’t thank me. It is your sisters and I who thank you, my great Queen Gabrielle,” she whispered.

When the Queen finally let go of the Shamaness, she saw the latter’s face beam with a wide smile. “Go on, now,” she prodded her, “Your Lord is waiting for you.”
Part 19
Too lost in her emotions, Queen Gabrielle was barely capable of nodding her head. She ran outside into the freezing night. She didn’t feel the snow that hit her face as she ran and the piles of it covering the earth didn’t slow her strides. Her legs were light as though they were stepping over thin clouds.

When she stood on the threshold of her hut, she stopped and wiped the droplets of tears that nearly froze to her skin. She opened the door and was greeted by the most enthralling sight she could imagine.

Their hut was illuminated by dozens of candles. The hut’s entire furniture was pushed aside and the floor in front of the fire was covered with a few layers of furs creating a large soft bed.

Her svelte Lord stood naked facing the hearth and with her strong back sculpted with marvelous shoulder blades facing the entrance. She leaned against the mantel with her muscled arms outstretched forward against its edges. Stripes of the finest leather framed chiseled dense globes.

Hearing the door being closed behind her, the Conqueror turned around slowly and drank in the sight of her wife. Both their scarcely contained anticipation was thick and overbearing. Standing on opposite walls of the hut, they held each other’s gazes.

Something about the Conqueror’s posture and countenance stole the Queen’s breath away and behooved her to cross the space between them mindfully. When she reached her Lord she began disrobing. Before discarding her blouse, she took out the collar, which was somewhat frayed from many years of usage, and handed it to her Lord.

It was a mute gesture that spoke volumes to the Conqueror and further incited her desire. As she ran her thumb over her crest she glanced at her naked Queen, whose delicate features were tilted downwards, and took one step forward till she stood toe to toe with her.

“I have a request, my Lord,” the Queen said.

As the Conqueror fastened the slave collar around her wife’s neck, she declared, “Anything you wish is yours, my Lady.”

“Make her hear,” the Queen requested and there was no need to state whom she was referring to. As her fingertips fluttered over her Lord’s hard bulging collarbone, she continued, “Make her hear my cries as you wreak pleasure upon me and yours as you take pleasure from me.”

The slave collar was now secured around her neck and she relished the sensation of the owning leather carrying her Lord’s crest against her skin. Her teeth began to graze the Conqueror’s chest seductively. “Force upon her the sound of your name being shouted out of me in the throes of passion,” she pleaded unashamedly as she bucked her hips against the Conqueror’s loins and rubbed her nub along the leathered phallus. “Leave no doubt in her mind,” she whispered hotly in her Lord’s ear.

The Conqueror leaned in, sank her teeth into the tender flesh of the Queen’s neck beneath her ear and elicited a bursting yelp from her. “I give you my solemn oath that I shall make her ears bleed tonight,” she vowed and began to suck the flesh till she tasted blood in her mouth. “I shall make it so that she will not know a moment of peaceful repose tonight,” she promised while her hands molded the pair of nipples into hard erections. “I swear to you, my beloved Lioness, that the cries of our love and desire for one another will render her deaf come daybreak.”

A shudder shook the Queen’s spine at her Lord’s brutal words and rippled through her core.

“Lie down on your belly, Gabrielle,” the Conqueror said hoarsely. It was not a command but a request.

The Queen stepped away from her Lord and inwardly mourned the temporary loss of contact. She knelt before her Lord and walked on all fours onto the furs and laid herself according to her Lord’s will, trembling with anticipation.

The Conqueror’s gaits were predatory before she knelt at her Queen’s feet and began to massage her toned calves. She would not rush it this time. She kneaded the firm flesh, her hands slowly traveling up the Queen’s body, learning the changes in it.

“You are so beautiful,” she husked.

The Queen enjoyed the sensation of her thighs being skillfully molded, but it was the occasional pricks of the tip of Conqueror’s length hovering over her against her legs that caused a brook of her essence to trickle between her inner thighs. The closer the Conqueror got to that aching spot between her legs, the faster her heart beat and the tighter her grasp upon the fur beneath her got.

“So tight and smooth I could polish my blade on your skin,” the Conqueror’s low hoarse voice taunted the Queen and quickened her breath.

The Conqueror was beyond prurient but she would control herself. That short tryst in the steam hut earlier that day had only aggravated her appetite and she knew it had had the same effect on her wife. She would not stop before they both had their fill and the vows she had made to her wife fulfilled.

The Queen let out a throaty moan that put half a smile on her Lord’s lips, exposing a sharp white prominent canine.

Her powerful fingers dug into the willing flesh of the Queen’s round buttocks. She splayed her palms over the twin mounds and tugged sideways to expose the puckered orifice to a single lash of her tongue.

Another guttural moan shot out of the Queen’s mouth with a gasp. She forced her hips downwards to try and apply some contact with the furs beneath her to relieve the pressure, but it was too soft. Her Lord would be the only one to ease her carnal suffering tonight, she acknowledged.

The Queen’s movement widened the Conqueror’s smile and revealed the other canine. As punishment, she sank her canines into the left ample orb and broke the skin, provoking a scream of delicious pain out of her lover.

“Your rapture is mine to grant, my love.”

The rich, smoky timbre was intense enough to bristle up the Queen’s skin.

“Do anything remotely akin to that again and I’ll tie you up,” the Conqueror warned.

The thought of being even more helpless, being at her lover’s mercy, sent the Queen’s desire soaring higher. She was tempted to try her only Lord.

The small of her back and her waist were given the same treatment. The Conqueror’s wet agile tongue slid along the Queen’s spine all the way up to her nape and it was like a single flame that instigates a conflagration.

“It is I who’ll make you scream, love, only I.”

The Conqueror’s melodious voice blowing in her ear, and the feel of the heat coming off the Conqueror’s body above hers, tormented the Queen.

Every spot the Conqueror fervently kissed, sucked and bit burned, leaving marks of passion like scorched land after battle.

The Conqueror straddled her Queen and her shaft nestled between the Queen’s rear cheeks, the tip raking back and forth between them.

“Who am I, my Lady?” the Conqueror asked.

“You are my Lord,” the Queen answered.

“I didn’t hear you!” the Conqueror demanded and denied her Queen contact by lifting up her loins.

“Please, put your member inside me,” the Queen begged when she thought she couldn’t take it anymore. Her fists trembled from the effort of clutching the furs.

The Conqueror was redolent of dominance. “I will not ask you again,” she cautioned.

“You are my Lord, my Love, and my Lion!” the Queen shouted.

“As you are my Lady, my Love and my Lioness!” the Conqueror growled and guided her hard shaft into the soaking petals of her wife’s cleft.

Their heady scents hung heavy in the air. The Conqueror suspended her weight on her elbows. She interlaced her fingers with the Queen’s, both grabbing the furs. The Queen turned her head backwards and allowed her lips to be captured by her Lord’s. Her Lord occupied her lithe body and she wished it could be like that forever.

Each deep thrust brought her closer to the Gods. The Queen’s heart prayed that she would never be parted from her dark-haired Warrior Love and Ruler and gave thanks that their love was imperishable.

Their bond overwhelmed them and as their bodies were engrossed in their desire, their hearts pounded in their chests as they ascended and intertwined.

“Never leave me again,” the Queen cried, while the Conqueror’s penetrations into her impelled raw emotions. “Say you’ll never leave me again,” she implored.

“I never will,” the Conqueror vowed. “I love you so much, Gabrielle. I love you above all else,” the Conqueror exclaimed under labored rasps. “Your word that you’ll always be mine and mine alone.”

“Only yours. I love you,” the Queen swore.

Close to their climax, the Conqueror suddenly retreated and got off her lover.

The Queen protested and never felt emptier as she did then. She wasn’t done being one with her soulmate and she ached with need.

Involuntary, her hip grounded against the furs again in order to supplant the lacuna.

That was the excuse the Conqueror was waiting for. She took her belt in one hand and her whip in the other from the nearby table.

“Seat yourself on the furs at the foot of the bed,” the Conqueror ordered.

The Queen obeyed.

The Conqueror crouched by her with the grace of a regal predator.

The Queen caught sight of the Conqueror’s massive shaft dangling between chiseled glistening thighs and her mouth salivated, craving a taste.

The Conqueror took the Queen’s hand and tied it to the left bedpost with her belt and the other to the right with her whip. As she beheld her incapacitated with a collar around her neck, she read minutiae of Gabrielle’s desire.

Gabrielle tried to move her hands and struggled against the leather that bound her, but the Conqueror knew how to tie unbreakable knots. She was granted her unspoken wish to be at the Conqueror’s mercy.

The Sovereign stood over the bounded Queen, each foot to each side of her. She bent her knees slightly so that her crotch would be at the same level as her wife’s head. She rutted the Queen’s golden hair with her fingers, tilting her head upwards to suit her.

“Open that sweet little mouth of yours, beloved, and take my length in full.”

The Queen opened her mouth as wide as it could open and received the Conqueror’s tool, which still carried her own wetness on it.

The Conqueror held on to the bedposts with both hands as she began to deliver long stokes into her wife’s mouth. Her need for her wife was so great it hurt.

“In full, I said,” she growled and pushed deeper into the besieged gullet.

The Queen quickly accommodated. A mad rush of awe and pleasure coursed through her veins as she sucked on the instrument that possessed her so copiously.

As the rams into her mouth intensified, the Conqueror let go of the bedpost and placed her palm at the back of the Queen’s head to protect it from being slammed against the hard wooden board behind it.

A small gesture, perhaps, but the Queen was moved deeply by it, that even in a heightened stage of arousal, her Lord was mindful of her safety. She glanced upwards in gratitude and saw her Lord looking down at her with smoldering desire.

As her lips and tongue traveled back and forth repeatedly over the shaft, the Queen became inebriated by the Conqueror’s trenchant subjugating scent. As the pace became more urgent, the Queen closed her eyes and braced herself for her Lord’s eruption, her ears barraged by her Lord’s heavy, labored grunts as she neared the edge.

The Conqueror’s head dropped backwards, her glazed blue eyes fixated at the ceiling. She opened her mouth and howled at the top of her lungs, “Gabrielle!!!” It was louder than any battle cry she had ever produced, loud enough to startle Hades. A river of her release sprinkled the Queen’s breasts. The Queen moved her head sharply to the side so to eject the shaft out of her mouth and enable her face and mouth to be showered and consume as much of it as possible.

The Conqueror dropped to her knees. She took a few short moments to recover and planted a kiss on her wife’s lips.

“No one has ever made me feel the way you do,” she said, then closed her lips around a saturated nipple and flicked her tongue over the pebbled bud that hardened instantly in her mouth. “Not just love,” she continued and scraped it with her teeth and elicited loud screams out of her lover. “I never knew such heights of lust before, either.” She enjoyed the sight and sensation of Gabrielle’s taut body jerking against the binds.

Two coarse fingers rubbed circles on Gabrielle’s swollen clitoris. The pleasure between her legs with the torturing pain raking her nipples drove the Queen out of her senses. The wild sounds that burst out of her mouth were like something uncanny, almost unsettling.

In the red haze of desire, Gabrielle felt her lover’s long fingers plunging into her slit. Her wet depth hungrily suckled on the commanding digits.

Their gazed locked like two magnets as a third finger delved into the blazing opening and a fresh flux poured onto the Conqueror’s palm. Then a fourth finger pushed into the engorged flesh, but only when all of the Conqueror’s fingers were inside and the Conqueror fisted her imposing hand did the vigorous pumping begin.

“It feels like I have two hearts beating inside my body, equally yours and mine,” she exclaimed as her womanhood strained to contain the immense intrusion. “I cannot abide this torturing wait for release much longer,” she whimpered in agony.

The Conqueror knew precisely the spot to stimulate inside her lover’s womanly crevice and felt torrents of hot confection coating her fist and dribble out of the contracting tunnel and onto her wrist down her arm to her elbow. As she made intense love to her wife, she witnessed the veins in her beloved’s throat expand and the outburst of a pink hue over her skin. The stentorian groans of ecstatic pleasure ringed in her ears and she rotated her fist to match her wife’s need.

The Conqueror kept her word, for the Queen’s climax hit her hard and her name was carried by a piercing scream.

As she came again and again, the Queen kept shouting “Xena!” over and over.

When the final tremor subsided, the Conqueror took out her fist from the warm, moist and quivering pouch. She smeared her wife’s essence over her forehead, on each of her cheekbones and between her upper lip and her nose like war colors. What remained on her hand she licked clean and what encrusted her arm she spread over her chest. She reeked of her wife’s sex as well as her own.

The Conqueror undid the knots she had tied her wife’s wrists with and gently helped her to lie prone on the furs for some much needed rest.

After some time elapsed, the Conqueror lay over her Queen, then lifted her body up, supporting her weight on her arms and hovering over her.

“Take it off me,” she requested, “I want to feel your flesh against mine everywhere.”

The Queen smiled and sent diligent hands to unbuckle the Conqueror’s harness. Reverently, she removed it and set it aside. Next she felt the Conqueror’s hard protruding erection against her thigh.

“Will you be inclined to engage once more?” the Conqueror inquired in a sinister jest, almost like a challenge.

“I shan’t be fully sated before you, my Lord,” the Queen answered.

“I want you too much, Gabrielle,” the Conqueror said and pelted her wife’s sweaty face with countless gentle kisses, over cheeks, over nose, over forehead and over eyelids. “It scares me sometimes.”

“Take comfort in the knowledge that I want you just as much, my beautiful Xena,” the Queen replied as she stroked the black tresses of her Lord and returned kisses whenever her Lord’s lips touched hers.

“You don’t understand. No one should want another that much, least of all me,” the Conqueror whispered as she levied a slow, deliberate ride upon her wife’s body.

Utterly beguiled by her Lord, the Queen beamed with delight, “If not the Ruler of the world then who?” she argued so to alleviate her Lord’s dire concern and jolted her pelvis upwards to meet with her Lord’s languid motions against her.

The Conqueror interposed her hand between their writhing bodies. She entered her Queen’s sopping womanhood with two fingers. Another cleaved its way into the Queen’s sphincter of her rear passage and her thumb stroked the engorged nub at the apex of her sex.

As thrusts fraught with need became further laden with force and quicker pace, Lord and Lady caressed one another and indulged in kissing and whispering and moaning and granting. The blood in their veins was seething with greedy lust. When desire conquered them entirely, the Queen dug her nails into her Lord’s back till she drew blood, the soles of her feet rubbing her Lord’s muscled calves. The sensation of her Lord’s sex plowing her thigh brought her equal pleasure as the skilled hand attending to her own need. Her Lord strove into her wife’s flesh and deeper, much deeper than that and the Queen knew that there was nothing on earth that elated her more.

Ultimate release was about to overtake them. The Conqueror pushed harder, against and into her eager overheated wife. The ascension stole their breaths, as if they were fighting to keep their heads above repeatedly purling swells of a deep dark ocean. They succumbed to it and milked their shuttering pinnacle for all its worth.

The Conqueror collapsed over her Queen, her head pillowed by a blushed, heaving breast.

The Queen smiled a loving and tender smile at her Lord who lay spent on top of her. “There is light outside,” she pointed out after throwing a glance at the window.

“Have I kept my word to you?” the Conqueror asked, still lightly rasping and thoroughly exhausted.

“You already know the answer to this question, my Lion,” the Queen replied and glanced smugness about the Conqueror’s countenance. She took the Conqueror’s hand in hers and brought it to her lips. “Those strong, rough and large hands of your make me melt at their touch.”

The Conqueror let out a lazy lark. “Each and every token of your body makes me melt, love,” she said. She got up to fetch a pillow from the bed for her Queen and placed it carefully beneath the Queen’s head.

The Queen closed her eyes and enjoyed the relaxation of her finally satiated body. She heard her Lord stirring the cinders in the hearth and adding two more logs to the fire. She then heard her Lord pouring two cups of water, then an unrecognizable rustle, but she was too elated to wonder about her Lord’s doings.

The Conqueror returned to lie down on the furs and rested her head on the Queen’s flat stomach. She gave one cup to her Queen and drank the other.

Smooth silky mane blanketed the Queen and pampered her sensitive skin. She couldn’t resist the urge to braid a few strands of her Lord’s ebony hair.

The Conqueror enjoyed the Queen playing with her hair but wouldn’t admit to it out loud. Her shimmering eyes beheld her pensive and calm wife reclining against the hefty pillow, and then moved to rest on the collar around the Queen’s neck.

“I look at you now and I am amazed at how much you have grown and changed ever since I first saw you… A skittish slave girl on the slavers’ block. Look at you now. A magnificent strong Queen, whose past is no longer visible upon her… not even by the tiniest hint,” the Conqueror said and profound admiration was clear on her.

“This is one of the best compliments you have ever paid me, my Lord.”

“If it weren’t for my shortcomings and selfishness, you could have…” the Conqueror began to say.

But the Queen placed a silencing finger upon the Conqueror’s soft lips, “No regrets and no more apologies, my Love. We should put our discord behind us and be grateful for our bond and our love.”

“Your ability for forgiveness humbles me and it is one of your traits for which I best love you,” the Conqueror admitted. She dipped her tongue into the Queen’s nave. “As Queen of the Amazons, you must have been trained to command an army.”

“I was indeed, and during my training I did command the Amazon warriors in a simulated battle,” the Queen told the one who she knew would relish it most and not without pride.

“How I wish I could have seen you, my Lady.” To the Conqueror, it seemed impossible to avoid regret.

The Queen placed a loving kiss on the Conqueror’s smooth, damp forehead. “My achievements in life could not have been accomplished if it weren’t for you, my Lord.”

The Conqueror was thankful for her wife’s bounteous kindness. “I might have facilitated some of them, but it was you who earned each and every one of them.”

“That is too generous of you to say, but I suspect that the great love you bear me veils the truth from you, or rather makes you forget. I was a scared worthless slave not able to even look one soul in the eye. I could walk around your palace and encounter dozens of your staff and hardly anyone noticed me and those who did, looked at me with either pity or scorn in their eyes.”

“But you were noticed. Karpa noticed you. Do you know when was the first time I saw you as something other than a piece of property? It was the first time I learnt your name. You saved a nobleman’s child’s life that day. Soon others noticed you, too.”

The Conqueror unfastened the collar and took it off from around the Queen’s neck and buckled it around the Queen’s right thigh were it had been ever since their wedding night.

“You are my Queen before anything else,” the Conqueror said. By this she meant that Gabrielle was her Queen before she was her servant.

The Queen understood the Conqueror’s meaning. “Your Queen before anything else, my Lord,” she repeated and affirmed, only what she meant by it was that she was her Lord’s Queen before anyone else’s Queen, and her Lord took it to mean just that.

And then a few moments passed between them in silence.

“What is it you think of?” the Queen broke the silence and caressed her Lord’s features, for she appeared to be immersed deep within her thoughts.

“About Thiba,” came the Conqueror’s unexpected response. Upon seeing surprise cross her wife’s face, she explained, “I know your heart, my love. You must feel guilty, like you failed in some way.”

The Queen absentmindedly nodded her head in mute agreement.

“You mustn’t. Five moons cannot repair the damage done by years of maltreatment, and some people can never be repaired. She is a predator now.”

“You’ve changed,” the Queen claimed.

“Have I?” the Conqueror wondered out loud.

“Not long ago, you would have executed all three of them,” the Queen answered.

The Conqueror wasn’t entirely convinced at her wife’s assertion. She wondered whether she would have spared the Governor of Crete’s life had her Queen asked her to. She wasn’t entirely sure. Leisurely, she drew circles around the Queen’s nipple with a single affectionate fingertip.

“When I picked his name I did so knowing very well who he was,” she stated.

” Damianos?” the Queen asked.

“Yes. He was an archer with my twenty first’s legion. When planning my campaign to Persia , I was short three dozen soldiers to ride with me on the first line of battle. The legion’s commander presented me with a list of archers from which to choose. When I saw his name on that list, I didn’t hesitate to station him at the most dangerous place in my forces’ formation, and I did hope that he would perish because he had had carnal knowledge of you. He and a few of his fellow archers were ordered to the forefront. Many of them died on the battlefield, and later on I was glad to learn he was amongst the fallen.”

The Queen considered her Lord’s words, and carefully contemplated her response. “If it wasn’t him it would have been someone else just like him instead. His blood hadn’t greater value than that of his fellow brothers in arms. You are as responsible for his death as you are of all that died under your command, no more and no less, your rejoicing at his demise notwithstanding.” The Queen knew that her Lord felt no scruples, regret or remorse over her actions either way, and she was correct to think so. She knew that the only reason that her Lord divulged the details of how her former owner had met his end was so that she would know and so there would be no secrets between them.

The Conqueror wasn’t sure what to make of her Queen’s reply. Was her Queen making excuses? So she could live with herself for choosing her as a mate, or did she really believe what she said?

“Do you think me evil?”

The Queen directed her gaze at her Lord and regarded her intently. “I wouldn’t have loved you if I believed you were, Xena,” she simply replied.

And then it was quiet again.

“You haven’t answered the question I asked you regarding how you felt when you first heard about your previous owners’ deaths,” the Conqueror remarked.

“I wasn’t content to learn of my previous owners’ deaths. Their demise brought me neither relief nor comfort. The damage to me was already done, and there was no malice or impropriety in their actions.”

The Conqueror’s initial instinct was to be angry that her wife and Queen didn’t share her contentment that those who had owned her had died, but she soon overcame it and her admiration towards her Queen grew even stronger. Hatred wasn’t a denizen in her wife’s heart and she loved her for it.

The Queen continued her speech, “While here, the Shamaness was a great service to me in confronting the past and its ramifications. It no longer has a hold over me.” A satisfied smile stretched her lips.

The Conqueror cupped her Queen’s features and soon after, their lips met in a tender kiss. When the kiss ended, the Conqueror’s fingertips lingered against her wife’s cheeks.

“With your reverence for life… How can you suffer to share your life and your bed with a killer?” she was bold enough to pose the question.

“I share my life and my bed with a Ruler, and never has lived a ruler without blood on his hands,” the Queen replied, hoping she had given a satisfactory riposte.

“And what if I told you I took pleasure in the kill, in wedging war, in devising and plotting a battle?” the Conqueror persisted.

The Queen afforded herself a few moments to consider her Lord’s question. “I take pleasure in your battle-lust. What does it say about me?” she softly pondered and caressed her Lord’s rough knuckles.

The Conqueror answered thoughtfully, “That there is a sliver of darkness within you as well.” She closed her grasp around her wife’s fingers and brought them to her lips, “Which makes us suit each other perfectly.”

“There is a difference between killing for pleasure and taking pleasure in killing. You are a just and honorable Ruler and you allow neither your great power nor your darkness to overshadow your judgment.”

She saw that her Lord was contemplative still. “What is troubling you, my Lion?” she warmly inquired.

The Conqueror let out a deep breath before she responded. “I have no right and no moral grounding asking you this,” she began to say then paused, overwhelmed by her ignoble feelings of intense jealousy.

“You have every right to ask me anything you wish and it is my duty to answer you truthfully,” the Queen said.

It was all the encouragement the Conqueror needed. “Did you receive pleasure with them?”

“Yours is the only pleasurable touch I have ever known, my Lord.”

“Did they ever inflict physical pain on you?”

“Rarely,” the Queen answered.

And then it was quiet once more.

“Will you make me a promise?” the Queen asked.

“Let us hear it,” the Conqueror said.

“That from here on, you shall always speak what is in your heart freely with me. I assure you, there is nothing that would make me think less of you or lessen my love for you.”

“I will try and do my very best,” the Conqueror said.

The Queen was amused by her Lord’s choice of words, for she knew her Lord’s limitations all too well.

Another kiss was shared between them.

“Never call me ‘Majesty’ again,” the Conqueror demanded in high spirit when their lips separated.

“Never call me ‘Madame’ again,” the Queen countered.

The Conqueror chuckled. “Bargaining with me again, are you?”

The Queen took another deep sensual kiss from her Lord as a response.

With a hint of a rasp, the Conqueror asked, “Will you marry me, my Lady?”

“Are you having sport with me, my Lord?” the Queen inquired, thinking her Lord was taunting her. “I am already married to you.”

“You always say that you were so overwhelmed and so anxious during our wedding that you hardly remember much of it. Will you do me the honor and be joined with me in a joining ceremony, my Amazon Queen?”

The Queen’s eyes lit up brightly. She threw her arms around the Conqueror’s neck, and bathed her Lord’s face with kisses. “Should I take it to mean that you’ll have me?”

“Of course I will,” the Queen replied in between kisses, “As many times as you desire.” She laughed as she felt the Conqueror’s scorching breath roaming down the valley between her breasts. “We should try and get some rest now,” the Queen whispered and pressed her body into every nook and cranny in her Lord’s body.

As the Royals settled for some much needed sleep, the Conqueror, encompassing her wife’s body from behind, buried her face in her Queen’s hair, and whispered tentatively as if halfheartedly, “Do you still harbor a desire to conceive and bear me more children?”

At first there was stillness, then the Queen stirred in the Conqueror’s arms and turned to face her.

“Why do you ask now, my Lord?”

“Because I wish to oblige you all your heart’s desires, as it should be.” The Conqueror’s voice was burdened as she spoke.

“Would it please you if I was with child again?” the Queen inquired.

“Anything would please me, my Lady, which made you happy.” Inwardly, the Conqueror hoped that her wife had long abandoned her desire to produce more children, and would reject the notion of conceiving again. The thought of besetting her precious wife’s life in jeopardy made her blood run cold in her veins and her heart shrink in fear.

The Queen wrapped her arms around her Lord in a tight embrace. “Thank you, my gracious Lord. Set aside any concerns you surely have for my wellbeing. I am stronger and no harm shall befall me this time. The Shamaness told me I shall live to see our future child’s children.”

The Conqueror was astounded beyond measure. “You two have spoken about this matter?” She withdrew from her wife’s embrace to look in her eyes.

“Just before I retired to our bed, my Lord. She told me she was visited by the spirit of our unborn child and that I should give birth this time next year.”

“And you have waited this long to tell me?!”

“I gave you my word that I should never bring the subject of children before you, my Lord.”

The Conqueror gathered her Queen back into her arms. “How marvelous you are,” she caressed her beloved with her voice and pressed her lips to the top of her Queen’s head. “Tell me, beloved, now that you are Queen of the Amazons, how would you wish our lives to proceed?”

“I should like to return to our home in Corinth . I have missed it more than I thought I would. It is my wish that we shall visit the Amazon Lands whenever it is agreeable with you and with your permission and that every year for one summer moon, we shall visit Thira alone, just us.”

“As you wish, my love,” the Conqueror smiled kindly. “I shall summon my brother to Corinth, then.”

“As long as you send a letter to Amphipolis, might we not invite Lady Cyrene as well? I have missed my dear mother-in-law terribly.”

The Conqueror rubbed her chin and said nothing.

“Is something the matter?”

“I’m afraid I might have made a bit of a mess of things whilst in Corinth,” the Conqueror confessed and decided against elaborating any further.

“I’m afraid to ask…” the Queen muttered. “Then I shall be the one to send an invitation to Lady Cyrene,” she concluded.

Happy beyond her dreams, almost too excited to keep still and fall asleep, the Queen settled back and lay in her Lord’s arms, which held her close and tight. ” We are to have another child, my Lion,” she murmured.

“Swear to me that I will not lose you,” the Conqueror requested.

“I do so swear.”

And just before she succumbed to slumber, the Queen said, “My heart cannot contain this great love I feel for you and so it overflows and the love I bear you swims in my blood and occupies body completely.”

“I love you too, Gabrielle.”
Part 20
It was a little after noon while still in bed when the Conqueror was awoken by a less than gentle manner as she heard her wife state firmly, “My Lord… My shoes!?”

Disheveled, she stared with only one eye through a half-opened lid at her fully dressed Queen and smacked her lips. “I’m sure I have absolutely no clue as to…”

The Queen walked to stand over the bed where her Lord lay, folded her arms over her breasts and impatiently tapped her bare foot on the ground. “Yes, you do,” she said. It occurred to her what the rustling sounds the previous had been when her Lord had brought her a cup of water.

Lying on her stomach with half her naked body wrapped in a blanket, the Conqueror was the picture of sloth. Slowly she opened her other eye and revealed the bluest blue. “I’m not done being alone with you,” she emitted with the angle of her lips still pressed against the bed; then slowly, with a heavy grunt she rolled half a turn to lie on her side.

The Queen sent a quick hand under the covers. “So I see,” she smiled lasciviously when her fingers discovered her Lord’s arousal pushing against them. “You are hard again, my Lord,” she stated the obvious.

“It is your fault for being so beautiful and pleasing,” the Conqueror argued as she felt her wife stroking her stiffness.

The Queen sat on the edge of the bed, her fingers never neglecting their toiling.

“Come back to bed,” the Conqueror demanded jauntily as she sent her own hand for a teasing exploration beneath her Queen’s dress, which was greeted by her Queen’s liquid reaction to her own erection.

“I’m already dressed,” the Queen protested beneath a soft moan.

“You can be undressed,” the Conqueror retorted an enticing solicitation.

“Very true,” the Queen remarked with a smile, “But should we delay here any longer our subjects might begin to wonder and speculate.”

“Not after last night, they won’t,” the Conqueror murmured under her breath while her wife’s stimulating attentions challenged her clarity of mind and hindered her resolve to rise and forgo an afternoon of pleasure.

The Queen’s ears were burning with blush. She leaned down and placed a kiss on her Lord’s lips.

“Very well,” the Conqueror finally gave in and climbed out of the warm bed unenthusiastically just to oblige her wife.

As they stepped outside their hut, they were greeted by a cold yet bright day. The Queen couldn’t help but be thankful for the cold weather, for it called for warm clothing, which effectively concealing the love bites that the Conqueror had left on her body the previous night.

“Have I told you how much I’ve missed you?” the Conqueror asked lovingly and regarded her Queen’s fetching profile.

“I suspect you might have neglected to tell me all and kept a few things secret from me on that score, my Lord.”

The Conqueror cast her glance ahead and with a shadow of a smile on her lips divulged nothing further.

On their way to dine, the Royals saw Amazon warriors along with their daughter practicing on the training field and the sight simultaneously awoke a desire in both of them: in the Queen, the desire to demonstrate to her Lord what she had been learning, and in the Conqueror, the desire to see it.

Hand in hand, the Royal couple stepped onto the training field and all around them bowed in their honor.

As the Conqueror signaled with a wave of her hand to one of the Amazon warriors holding a staff to hand over her weapon, she looked back at her wife and asked, “Are you in good form today, my Lady?”

“I am, my Lord,” the Queen replied and beckoned Mysia , who was holding a staff as well, to give it to her.

“Show me what you’ve learnt,” the Conqueror challenged as she examined the balance of the weapon in her hands.

“With pleasure,” the Queen was only too eager to accept it.

Princess Athena, who nearly salivated over the scene that was about to be displayed before her, along with the other women all formed a circle around the Conqueror and the Queen. Even bystanders who passed nearby quickly joined the circle in order to watch the best spectacle in the village.

The Conqueror extravagantly twirled the staff in her hands. “I’ll go easy on you, my Lady,” she said, well aware of the fact that she was waging mental warfare by subtle intimidation, so to strike fear and tamper with her wife’s focus.

“You’ll do no such thing, my Lord” the Queen answered defiantly and a tad more confidently than she actually felt, eliciting amused “ooohs” and “huhs” from her subjects surrounding them.

The Conqueror’s right eyebrow rose. “Do not hesitate to hit me as hard as you can,” she exhorted.

Princess Athena couldn’t curb a joyous smirk. It occurred to her that she would have been willing to pay any amount for the delight of seeing her parents spar.

As soon as the Royal couple were ready and stood facing one another at the center of the training field, the Queen bowed before the Conqueror.

The Conqueror took advantage of the fact that the Queen’s eyes were downcast and she hit the Queen’s calf with her staff as a warning.

“Never take your eyes away from your opponent, not when you bow, not even before me,” the Conqueror instructed.

The Queen nodded her head to signal her understanding.

The Conqueror bowed her head but her eyes kept beholding her Queen as she did.

And the match began. The Conqueror had all the seeming of a predator as she landed the first fierce strike. As with the first one, the fast blows that followed from various directions overwhelmed the Queen by their forcefulness and speed and it was all she could do to deflect them or block them from reaching her body and maintain her balance as she did. In all her trainings with the Amazons, she hadn’t come across any that could compare with her Lord’s immense force and alacrity. It was like sparring with a different creature all together. The Conqueror’s staff moved so quickly that at times the Queen failed to discern its distinct contours and all she could see were smears of brown wood flying in the air around her. Inwardly she delighted in experiencing her Lord’s power in this new way.

She barely managed to hold her own and offered no offence but defense only. She was under no illusion that her Lord would indeed spare her.

As the Conqueror was delivering her strikes it seemed as if she knew exactly which would meet hard wood and which would meet soft flesh, for while the former were awesome in their forcefulness, the latter were quite endurable, merely firm taps against the Queen’s limbs.

The Queen demonstrated an inferior ability than she actually possessed and subtly exaggerated with the amount of effort she applied by feigning weakened counterstrikes and by fending off her Lord’s strikes too closely to her person. However, she soon realized her strength was dwindling fast and some form of action was needed, so she made a few attempts against the Conqueror but yielded no fruit.

“You are significantly shorter than I am. Use it to your advantage. Do not aim at my torso. Aim lower.”

And then, between the frames of two fractions of a moment, with the Conqueror’s advice in mind, the Queen recognized a breach and swiftly launched her staff and jostled its tip into the Conqueror’s lower abdomen.

The hit momentarily knocked the air out of the Conqueror’s lungs and she bent over. Her eyes remained fixed on her Queen and she noticed concern and regret on the features she admired. Taking advantage of her lower position, with agile movement of her left wrist the Conqueror twirled her staff quickly behind her back and landed a hit behind the Queen’s ankle. She then leveraged her bodyweight forward till the Queen fell to the ground prone on her back and the Conqueror landed on top of her, lightly pressing her staff to the Queen’s neck.

“You simply won’t miss any opportunity to lie on top of me, will you, my Lord?” the Queen rasped with a seductive smile only the Conqueror was privy to on account of her black mane veiling their faces.

The Conqueror nodded assent and her face lit up in response. “Do you surrender, my Lady?” she whispered under labored breath.

“To you?” the Queen questioned as her breasts heaved. “Always, my Lord,” she whispered back.

All spectators clapped their hands and were incredibly proud and impressed with their Queen who succeeded in delivering a blow to the almighty Conqueror, knowing full well it was no small achievement.

The Conqueror lifted herself up from the Queen’s body and offered her Queen her hand and gallantly helped her back to her feet.

As the Queen dusted away the dirt that clung to her bodices, she could still feel her palms irritated and reddish from the vibrations of the wooden weapon she had held caused by her Lord’s powerful strikes. It felt like countless worms swarming beneath the skin of her palms.

When the Amazons around them made their way to lunch, leaving the Royals to their privacy, the Conqueror turned to her wife. “You fought me admirably, my Lady,” she complimented while rubbing the area that had been in contact with her wife’s weapon.

“Thank you, my Lord,” the Queen answered quite smugly.

“The Amazons indeed are capable tutors and you are a bright student, however…”

“However, what?”

“There is no place for mercy on the battlefield. It is either kill or be killed. Your enemies will not show you mercy and neither should you.”

The Queen knew immediately that the Conqueror was referring to the concern that came over her when she had delivered the only strike that had reached its mark.

“I understand,” was her initial reaction and as they walked together with the Queen hanging on her Lord’s arm, she went on to say, “I’m just glad that as long as you’re here, there will be peace and the Amazons will be protected so that I would never have to shed blood.”

On their way to their seats at the head of the council’s table, the Conqueror and the Queen passed by Molpadia. The Queen’s second in command looked terrible. Her eyes were bloodshot and it was obvious she struggled to keep them peeled. Her head occasionally nodded off sideways, her movements lethargic, and it was clear to all that she hadn’t had a moment’s sleep throughout the previous night.

The Queen threw a gloating glance at her after deciding to afford herself her vice however petty and ignoble.

After all were seated, the Queen stood at the head of her table and requested her subjects’ attention.

“Sisters, it is my joy and pleasure to announce that last night my Lord asked me to join with her in a joining ceremony with accordance to our nation’s tradition,” the Queen said with bright eyes.

“Did you accept, my Queen?” the question came from the audience. It was the young, slightly soft-touched Amazon who had asked the Queen about the Conqueror’s skills as a lover at the steam hut.

All in attendance laughed, as did the Conqueror and the Queen.

“Of course I did,” the Queen replied still laughing.

At the other end of the council’s table, the Shamaness rose to stand facing the Queen. “I’m happy for you, Majesties, as I’m sure all our sisters are,” she said and all around them Amazons nodded in the positive. “Congratulations,” she continued, “With your approval, I shall make all the preparations for the joining ceremony and if it pleases you, Majesties, I shall perform the ritual this time tomorrow.”

The Queen locked her eyes with the Conqueror.

“It does, Shamaness Smyrna ,” the Conqueror said and raised her goblet in show of honor and gratitude.

The Shamaness returned the gesture. Princess Athena and all present followed suit and raised their goblets as well; all but Molpadia, who now looked not just tired but miserable, too.

After the hearty meal, the Conqueror and the Queen returned to their hut and each wrote an invitation to their palace in Corinth . The Conqueror wrote to her brother along with another letter informing Lady Satrina of their return, and the Queen wrote to Lady Cyrene. After sealing all three parchments with their royal seal, the parchments were sent to be delivered to the addressees.

Once alone again, the Conqueror gathered her wife in her arms, leaned in and began pelting her face with soft kisses. “Shall we continue what you started this morning, Gabrielle?” she asked with that specific low tone of voice she knew would cause her wife’s heartbeat to quicken.

“What I started!?” protested the Queen and purred when she felt the Conqueror’s tongue sliding down her neck to the apex of her breasts.

A knock on the door crudely drew them out of their own world. “Enter,” the Queen exclaimed, still in her Lord’s engulfing arms.

The Shamaness and her apprentice stood at the threshold. “Majesty,” the both bowed before the Conqueror. “My Queen,” they greeted Queen Gabrielle. The young apprentice wore an expression of wonder still when she regarded her Queen secured in the Conqueror’s embrace.

“Shamaness,” the Royal couple tipped their heads in unison.

“It is tradition that an Amazon Queen and her chosen consort should spend the night before the joining ceremony apart for two reasons: the first, so that you may contemplate on the meaning of matrimony and the second…” the Shamaness arrested her speech and then opted to say, “Never mind.”

With a puzzled look, the curious Queen asked, “What is the second reason?”

“Well…” the Shamaness seemed reluctant to have the answer dragged out of her, “So to kindle your carnal desire for one another on the wedding night… But, and I say it with utter respect,” she paused so to prevent a smile from starching her lips, “Judging by what reached my ears last night you don’t seem to suffer any shortage on that score, Majesties.”

Hot blush broke onto the Queen and the Conqueror felt the urge to clear her throat in an ominously manner.

“Being married for as long as her Majesty and I have been, makes contemplating about it quite redundant. As for the second reason,” the Conqueror tightened her hold around her Queen, “As you so eloquently argued, her Majesty and I have carnal desire between us in abundance.”

“All true,” the Queen agreed, “Nevertheless, you won’t stand in the way of a sacred tradition, my Lord, surely,” the Queen claimed in effort to persuade her Lord to consent to the temporary separation so to maintain tradition, which she believed was imperative.

Joylessly, the Conqueror released her Queen from her grasp and enabled her to be taken away by the Shamaness and her apprentice.

“Sleep well, my gracious Lord,” the Queen whispered and curtsied before disappearing into the cold night.

“You too, my beloved Lady,” the Conqueror replied tenderly and with a heart already heavy with longing, she bowed.

Sleep was illusive and unkind to both Royals, not because of any jitters before their second wedding but because they weren’t sharing a bed that night.

The next day, Molpadia was summoned to the Shamaness’ hut to attend to the Queen as her second in command and assist her into her wedding garments with accordance to Amazon custom, which both the Shamaness and the Queen were only too happy to keep.

When it was time, the Conqueror and the Queen stood before the Shamaness on the high podium in the Amazon village, with the Amazon nation and their daughter as their witnesses.

The Conqueror regarded her wife of many years. The Queen wasn’t dressed in a marvelous white dress with gold embroidery as she had been during their first wedding in Corinth , nor did she wear extravagant jewelry or exquisite white shoes. In fact, the only regal white in sight was the light snow that floated down around them, yet she was more Queen than ever before. Her heart swelled with profound love and great pride.

The Queen’s eyes sparkled like polished gems and were riveted on her Lord, for whom she would endure all things and forgive fully without reservations or stray remnants of the tiniest of grudges.

The Shamaness blessed their union and the Royals renewed their vows and this time, the Queen would remember every single moment of it vividly.

When the ceremony was over, the couple shared a tender kiss to the cheering of the crowd, and it seemed as if the enthusiastic cries pierced their intimate world and all of a sudden made them notice the fact that they weren’t alone. The Conqueror and the Queen looked around at the happy faces and the waving and clapping hands in the air and smiled in kind for the adoration they generously received.

Hand in hand, they stepped down from the high podium and all around them their subjects bowed and showered them with congratulations. The Amazons shook the Queen’s hand and some even hugged her, yet naturally, none dared to be as familiar with the Conqueror.

They were lead to the feast that had been prepared for them under a large canopy that was ornamented by colorful feathers at the center of the village. It wasn’t as lavish, as fancy or as formal as the celebrations on their first wedding at Corinth all those years ago, but by far merrier and more authentic.

Under the canopy, over an improvised dais, stood three chairs for the Conqueror, the Queen and the Princess to sit on. The Royals were shown to their seats and were given copper goblets filled with sweet wine while festive ceremonial music befitting the occasion began to play.

Two dozen Amazons began to dance before their Queen and her Lord Consort.

The Conqueror leaned over to Princess Athena, who seemed engrossed by the dancing women. “You must not like winter in Amazon lands…” she muttered and tasted the wine, “Not as stimulating as in warmer climate, is it?” she teased. “In winter they cover their bodies completely… so as not to freeze off a nipple,” she explained with a smirk.

“Or two,” the Princess contested.

“Listen to the two of you,” the Queen said, feigning a rebuke, “Like a couple of drunkard garrisons.”

“I’m besotted only by you, my Lady,” the Conqueror flattered to appease her Queen but she meant every word of it.

“Look at this one,” Athena drew the Conqueror’s attention to the Shamaness’ apprentice who stood not far from them, “Isn’t she the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen?”

The Conqueror cast a quick inspecting look at the young woman with the petite stature, light brown hair and pointy nose with some indifference and dryly replied: “No, she’s not.”

Athena threw a glance at her mother, who sat to the other side of the Conqueror, and saw a small smile adorning her lips, suggesting that even though she was looking elsewhere she had been listening in on their conversation. “Oh… Of course…” the young Princess remarked, somewhat agitated although with a touch of mirth in her voice, “Mutual blindness.”

Both the Conqueror and the Queen chuckled.

“I’m sure that by now you have mastered the mechanics of carnal pleasures,” the Conqueror remarked, “But you are still too young and too inexperience to fully grasp the intricacy of marriage, the barter that is matrimony,” she went on to say thoughtfully and emptied her goblet, slowly savoring the sweetness of the wine and the taste of her own words in her mouth. “And you cannot fathom how rare it is to harbor desire and preserve love after so many years of sharing your life with a single mate.”

Impudent Athena scoffed at what she perceived as the Conqueror’s condescension.

As if to penalize her daughter for her scoff, the Conqueror leaned to her left and said to her heir, “Now, watch what your parents can do.”

The Conqueror took her Queen by the hand and they both rose to their feet. The Conqueror chivalrously guided her wife and Queen to the middle of the square as the dancing Amazons cleared a path for them.

“Music,” the Conqueror voice commanded and the Amazons mastering the musical instruments began to play a tribal tune with drums and flutes and lyres.

“My Lady,” the Conqueror bowed almost theatrically before her Queen.

“My Lord,” the Queen curtsied with a graceful fluent motion of her body, while touching her dress.

They commenced to dance the most sensual of dances. Their steps were belligerent seduction. It looked like some ancient courting ritual executed before mating from times before language was even invented. The Queen’s movements sang feisty defiance and spurn and her Lord’s movements exuded demanding and conquest. The lovers displayed a dance of battle between overpowering and surrendering; between compelling and resisting.

Their audience, their daughter included, were mesmerized by the exhibition.

The Queen twirled in her Lord’s arms and swayed her backside against her Lord’s crotch with the rhythm of the music. From behind her, the Conqueror encompassed her wife’s luscious frame and her persisting, coveting hands glided down the sides of the Queen’s breasts, only to have them shoved away by the Queen as if their touch, unwanted, and when they possessively moved over the sides of the Queen’s hips the Queen once again slapped them off her.

Yet, as the drums beat faster and music progressed both in pace and in volume, the Queen’s movements indicated submission and no longer fought against the Conqueror’s inexorable advances. Their bodies pressed together in want and passion and their hands slid over one another like the couple of many years that they were, knowing each other’s movements perfectly and anticipating each other’s every step and stroke.

At the end of the dance, the Queen leaped into her Lord’s spread arms and wrapped her legs around her Lord’s lean waist. Their gazes were locked and both were slightly panting, completely enthralled by one another.

The music ended with their dance and there was stillness and silence all around. The Amazons, it would appear, weren’t expecting what had been shown to them, and neither was Princess Athena.

Mysia , who sat on one of the rugs surrounding the square, where the food had been arranged on low wooden tables, turned to Antiope who sat next to her and decisively said, “I’m going to the lake for a dip.”

“It is nearly frozen solid!” Antiope did her best to discourage a fellow warrior sister.

“Good,” was all Mysia could answer.

“Are you mad? It’s just begun to snow again!”

“Has it?” Mysia looked around to find that Antiope was correct. “So why is it so hot?” she faintly mused and pulled at her blouse repeatedly so to vent out the heat.

Antiope exhaled and rolled up her eyes but on closer inspection at her fellow sisters, she could hardly believe what she saw. Some of her Amazon sisters were covertly picking up snow off the ground and rubbing the cold substance on their necks and on their faces so to cool down, as well.

The Conqueror gently lowered her wife down and when the Queen’s feet touched the ground the Conqueror released her loving grasp from her wife and looked around only to catch sight of what Antiope was seeing.

“I think now might be a good time for your announcement, my Lady,” she said quite amused.

“First, we eat, my Lord,” the Queen replied and led her Lord back to their seats.

***

“Sisters, for the limitless generosity you have shown me and for embracing me into your nation I am forever indebted to you. You taught me so many things and I shall treasure them in my heart for the rest of my days. Alas it is time for me to go home. I shall not say goodbye to you, for I shall return here as often as I can for you have given me a second home. Know that you couldn’t be any closer to me if you were my own flesh and blood, and when I return it won’t be just as your Queen but as your true sister and friend. When I’m gone, it is my will that Mysia act as my regent.”

When the Queen delivered her speech, one could detect sorrow mixed with happiness: sorrow for the much loved Queen’s imminent departure and happiness for her joining with her Lord whom all knew she loved beyond measure. None was surprise that the Queen appointed Mysia as her regent rather than her second in command, though, save perhaps Mysia herself.

When the Royals were packed and ready to leave, Antiope, Mysia and the Shamaness bade the Queen farewell in private as well. Antiope shook the Queen’s arm and bowed respectfully before the Conqueror.

The Shamaness hugged the Queen tightly in her arm. “Please return to us soon,” she asked with tears clogging her throat.

“I’ll be back here not before long, I promise,” the Queen replied, equally sobbing. She believed she would miss the Shamaness the most.

“Thank you for all that you’ve done for us, your Majesty,” the Shamaness said and bowed before the Conqueror.

“Thank you for the wonderful ceremony,” the Conqueror returned the favor, “And for being a good and loyal friend to her Majesty the Queen.”

“Befriending the Queen was a great privilege, Majesty,” the Shamaness replied.

Mysia seemed more affected by the Queen’s impending departure than any of the others and was on the verge of tears. “In appointing me regent, you have given me a greater honor than I deserve,” she told the Queen and offered her arm.

“Now I know I have made the right decision,” the Queen replied and rather than shake the offered arm, she opened hers and embraced the tall and deeply moved Amazon warrior. “You are courageous, honorable and loyal, dear Maysia,” she continued and released her.

“My Queen,” Mysia sighed and her voice was laden with tender emotions, which the Conqueror, who stood closely by, didn’t care for since she believed it held more than simple reverence of a subject towards a Queen. “There is none like you,” Mysia complimented in the same tone of voice.

The Queen smiled in gratitude and caught a glimpse of her Lord’s unconcealed glare. “So I’ve been told,” she replied and disarmed the Conqueror completely.

Princess Athena helped the Queen to mount her horse and the Royal Family rode together to the border where the detachment of the Imperial Guard had been waiting to escort them and thus began their journey home to Corinth .

****

A few long, cold and arduous days later, the Royal family finally arrived to the heavy iron gates of the extravagant Corinthian palace. Half a dozen horns announced the return of the Sovereigns to their abode and festive banners with the Realm’s color billowed from the palace’s highest tower.

Upon entering through the iron gates, the Queen was surprised to see about two hundred of Corinth ‘s sons and daughters, who had gathered to welcome her back, approaching towards her. Rejoicing, they bowed and curtsied before her, scattering all sorts of flowers in her path, which weren’t too easy to come by in that time of the season, and exclaimed “Majesty!” over and over again. Some even got close enough to touch the hem of her mauve dress. The Imperial guards around her became agitated and were about to remove the commoners away from the Queen’s presence, but the Queen signaled them to stand down and take no such action. That was by no means a hollow demonstration of servility but genuine happiness and relief that the Queen had returned to them and all was well again in the Realm.

The Conqueror was overjoyed to see the great love that their subjects showered over the Queen and so, though anxious to enter the palace after the long voyage, she lingered outside, affording the Queen to absorb the much deserved adulations.

Princess Athena observed the Conqueror and studied her gesture, recognizing it for what it was.

The Queen’s eyes twinkled and she waved her hand at her subjects, letting them know that their affection was being gladly received and welcomed.

As they dismounted their horses and handed the reins to the Imperial grooms, the large and high wooden doors to the palace were opened and Lady Satrina along with a few of the palace’s servants and the Queen’s ladies in waiting stood there, fidgeting with excitement.

“Your Majesties… Your Grace,” the household staff bowed and curtsied before their Sovereigns and it seemed like Lady Satrina could barely contain herself. The changes in the Queen didn’t escape her eyes.

When Queen Gabrielle’s and Lady Satrina’s eyes met, both their hearts nearly leaped out of their chests with delight. For a few moments, the major gap between their stations was set aside if not erased and forgotten along with any proper protocol, and both women dashed towards the other with arms wide open. They held each other in a tight embrace and shed tears of pure joy.

“How I’ve missed you, dear and sweet Satrina,” the Queen said in between sniffles.

“Words cannot express how much you’ve been missed, Majesty,” Lady Satrina sobbed against the Queen’s trembling shoulders. “This great palace is not the same without you, Majesty.”

“It seems as if I haven’t seen you in ages,” the Queen said.

“You have changed so much, Majesty, and it suits you tremendously,” Lady Satrina complimented.

Following rules of etiquettes, as if on cue, the servants and the Queen’s ladies in waiting took their leave and went about their business so as not to interlope.

Princess Athena, taken aback by the sentiments bestowed upon her mother, decided it was time to take her leave and retire to her own chambers so to rid herself of the dust of the roads. But before she turned to take her leave, from one of the corridors leading to the palace’s entrance hall approached Lady Cyrene and her son, the Conqueror’s brother.

Queen Gabrielle and Lady Satrina stepped away from one another and wiped away their tears.

Stuffing her soiled handkerchief back into her sleeve, Lady Satrina composed herself. “Pardon me, Majesties, but with the excitement of your Majesties’ return I’m afraid I’ve neglected to mention that Lady Cyrene and Sir Toris arrived at the palace yesterday.”

Before the Queen had a chance to put her loyal servant and friend’s mind at ease, Lady Cyrene covered the distance between the Royal family and herself.

The Conqueror and her mother held each other’s stern and acrimonious gazes.

“I’m here to see my other daughter and my grandchild,” the older innkeeper stated matter-of-factly to the Conqueror.

The Queen made haste and took a step forward and enfolded her mother-in-law’s wide plump frame. ” Cyrene , I am so happy to see you. You cannot imagine how much I’ve longed to see you.”

“I’ve missed you too, my child,” Cyrene chuckled with a special fondness she reserved only for her daughter-in-law. In many regards she looked upon Queen Gabrielle as the daughter she never had and she held a debt of gratitude to her for tying her destiny with that of the harsh dark Ruler that was her progeny.

“I would have apologized to you on behalf of my Lord, but her ill-treatment of you was so despicable that I don’t believe my Lord deserves such a grace,” the Queen jested “I will, however, assume some of the responsibility for it, for I was away and left my Lord to her own devices and I’d venture to say that is why in part my Lord has made such a grand mess of things.”

The Conqueror became aloof and frowned but she wasn’t really chagrinned or peeved.

“You should have seen the letter she sent me…” Lady Cyrene complained.

The Queen scoffed, “Count your blessings, dear Lady – at least you got a letter. I received none.”

Both women could contain their laughter no longer.

“Ladies,” the Conqueror engrossed their attention with more than a healthy measure of annoyance, “That is enough larking at my expense.”

The laughter died down eventually and when it did, the Conqueror addressed her mother and sincerely said, “I’m so sorry, mother.”

“All is forgiven, Majesty,” the elderly woman replied.

Queen Gabrielle took Lady Cyrene’s hand in hers. ” Cyrene , you have worked hard all your life. It is high time you rested. My Lord and I wish to invite you to live with us here at the palace.”

“I’ve been waiting for years to receive this invitation,” Cyrene grumbled with a touch of glee in her eyes and the corner of her lips.

“I always assumed it was your own choice to stay in Amphipolis. It never occurred to me that my Lord has never proposed it,” the Queen threw her hands in resignation. “Conquerors…” she muttered with a smile and gazed adoringly at her Lord.

Lady Satrina left their presence to give instructions to the servants attending to Lady Cyrene and Princess Athena, and both Princess Athena and Lady Cyrene seized the opportunity to retire to their chambers. When alone, the Conqueror gathered the Queen in her arms with a sinister smile about her.

“What is it that makes you so happy, my Lord?” the Queen asked, touching her hands to the Conqueror’s chest as was her habit.

“You’ll live to regret it, my Lady,” the Conqueror replied cryptically.

“Oh?!”

“You don’t know my mother quite as well as you might like to believe,” the Conqueror replied and planted a kiss on top of her wife’s head.

Lady Satrina returned to escort the Royal couple to the Imperial chambers, inwardly thinking she wouldn’t be able to have enough of the Queen for she truly had missed her terribly. Before opening the doors, Lady Satrina felt very pleased with herself for always keeping the Conqueror’s and the Queen’s chambers in constant readiness even in times when they were elsewhere.

“I took the liberty of having a warm bath drawn for your Majesties’ pleasure,” she said as she walked into the antechamber with the Conqueror and the Queen behind her.

Next she entered their bedchamber to make sure everything was in order. The Royals’ bedchamber was dark, so Lady Satrina first went to draw open the curtains to allow daylight in. However, before she reached them, still in the dark the Queen stumbled against something hard and massive and was startled, letting a sharp gasp escape her lips. Right when the curtains were drawn, sunlight invaded their bedchamber and the marble statue of her likeness was fully and unmistakably revealed before her astonished eyes.

Vexed, the Conqueror gave her steward a questioning and ill-omened scowl for not having the statue removed before the Queen’s arrival.

It wasn’t that Lady Satrina hadn’t possessed the common sense to get rid of the statue beforehand, but rather her tiny rebellion against her Master was her welcome present to her Mistress. Keeping calmer than she actually was, Lady Satrina claimed innocently, ” Your Majesty’s order was not to touch the statue.” She reminded then turned her gaze to the Queen, and went on to say, “I was merely following your Majesty’s order to the letter.” Lady Satrina smirked and winked her eye at the Queen.

But the Conqueror failed to be amused. “I wish to be alone with her Majesty,” she said to Lady Satrina.

“Majesties,” Lady Satrina curtsied before them and left their chambers.

“See what you’ve done?” the Conqueror directed her annoyance at the Queen.

“What have I done, my Lord?” the Queen teased and took the Conqueror’s hands in hers, enjoying their roughness.

“Shhh… do you hear that sound?” the Conqueror cast glances all around as if searching for something yet her body remained perfectly still.

“What sound?” the Queen asked quietly as her eyes followed her Lord’s.

“That quiet crumbling sound…” the Conqueror replied and a beginning of a smile formed at the angles of her lips, betraying her thoughts. “It is the sound of the twilight of an Empire.”

The Conqueror and Queen Gabrielle spent the afternoon leisurely in their hot Roman style bath, allowing their muscles the rest.

“I must admit that I have missed the luxury and lavishing comfort of our Corinthian palace,” the Queen said and rubbed some scented Persian bath oils into her Lord’s shoulders.

“And the climate here in Corinth is a tad more agreeable than at the Amazon Lands,” the Conqueror replied and closed her eyes in delight at the feel of her Queen’s fingers moving lower and digging into her back.

“Indeed,” the Queen muttered and moved in the water in order to sit in front of her Lord and enable her to wash her hair. “So, when were you going to tell me about the statue you’ve commissioned, my Lord?”

“Never, my Lady,” the Conqueror chuckled as she delved her fingers into her wife’s gilded hair and tenderly massaged the scalp.

The Queen snickered at the Conqueror’s answer.

“The one in our bedchamber was in fact the second one that was sculpted. I destroyed the first one.”

“Why, I wonder,” the Queen said while resting her head backwards against the Conqueror’s chest and caressing the strong vein-corded forearms that held her around her waist.

The Conqueror contemplated her reply and eventually said “I shall have the Imperial sculptor remake the first one and have it stand in the Imperial rose garden for you to look at and I suspect it ought to become apparent to you.”

After exiting the bath, while drying one another, “Have your ladies in waiting dress you for a formal supper, my love,” the Conqueror said.

***

“The Lord Conqueror and her Majesty the Queen,” announced the ceremony master.

With their crowns on their heads and in full regalia, the Conqueror and the Queen entered the Great Hall hand in hand. Princess Athena and the nobility in attendance all bowed before the Sovereigns as they made their way to their thrones.

“I have missed our home in Corinth , my Lord, much more than I thought I would,” the Queen whispered discretely to the Conqueror.

Nobleman Timaeus was invited as the Royals’ honorary guest to sit and dine at their table along with Lady Cyrene and the Conqueror’s brother.

The silver-haired governor to Athens was beside himself with mirth as soon the Queen addressed him and while he engaged her in a lively conversation, the Conqueror beckoned her brother to a secluded spot and conveyed to him her will and her Queen’s to have another child in the same manner in which they had done in the past. He, of course, agreed.

When the Conqueror returned to her throne, she raised a gold goblet filled to the brim with wine. “Noblemen, Ladies, subjects of the Realm,” she commanded their attention and all turned to behold the Conqueror and the Queen with their goblets raised in the air. “To my beloved, her Majesty the Queen!” the Conqueror exclaimed and downed half the goblet’s content in one swig.

The word ‘beloved’ resonated in everyone’s ears and none attributed the statement to the Conqueror’s exceptionally good mood or any other such explanation and none misjudged it.

***

Three moons later, and after the Queen had developed an appetite for figs, an announcement swept throughout the Realm that the Queen was with child again.

The End

Continued in Princess of the Realm

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