The Realm – Epilogue by WarriorJudge

DISCLAIMER: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle and some others belong in their entirety to Universal/MCA, Renaissance Pictures, and all the other powers that be. No copyright infringement is intended. I wrote this story at the urging of my muse; it should never be used for profit.
This story is a sequel to the stories “Lord Conqueror of the Realm,” “Queen of the Realm,” and “Princess of the Realm.” I strongly recommend you read them first because in this story there are references to events that took place in them. Here is where you can find them:
https://thestoreelounge.wordpress.com/authors/lord-conqueror-of-the-realm-by-warriorjudge/
https://thestoreelounge.wordpress.com/authors/queen-of-the-realm-by-warriorjudge/
https://thestoreelounge.wordpress.com/authors/princess-of-the-realm-by-warriorjudge/

The third story of the Realm series “Princess of the Realm” can now be found on an Ebook format as well – for free. (epub, MOBI, PDF) on the Xena Library web site. It is listed under the LORD CONQUEROR OF THE REALM SERIES, so scroll down to the L’s.
http://www.xenalibrary.com/ebooklibrary.htm

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

SPECIAL THANKS: My humble most ardent gratitude to the excellent, most brilliant Beta reader Nancyjean, whom I can’t thank enough.

Comments, thoughts, questions & feedback: MOST WELCOMED – The more you write me, the quicker I post – I mean it!
warriorjudge2000@yahoo.com

 

The Realm – Epilogue

Written by WarriorJudge

Part 1

Upon the Queen’s suggestion, the Conqueror appointed the Imperial Guard’s Chief Commander Periander as the Realm’s new Governor to Epirius, and the Chief Commander of the Spartan Legion Amyntas as the Realm’s Governor to the province of Rome. Both men viewed their elevation to nobilty as the Conqueror’s show of appreciation for their loyalty and excellent military service. Naturally, their second in command rose to their predecessors’ posts as commanders of the two legions.

That year, the Conqueror and the Queen could not wait for summer to arrive and with it their much-anticipated annual trip to Thira with its white lazy windmills and dormant volcano. When it finally arrived, they were very light on their feet as they made their way to the Imperial seaport; so much so that Athena, Sieglinde and little Terreis barely managed to keep up with them as they rushed to the docks. When it was time to say goodbye, Terreis resumed her fearful protest, which had began earlier that morning against her parents’ refusal to take her along with them. She willfully clung to her Sire’s leg and simply refused to let go. The Conqueror would have none of that. With the Queen’s advice in mind regarding a firmer hand with Terreis, she lowered herself to release her leg from her youngest’s grip and said to her unequivocally, “You will cease this unacceptable behavior as a spoiled brat and conduct yourself henceforth as your station as my second in line dictates, is that clear?”

The child stifled her cries and wiped her tears away. “I am sorry, my Sire,” she whimpered.

A half smile appeared on the Conqueror’s lips. She tapped her cheek with her forefinger and little Terreis – mirroring the half smile – placed a kiss on the spot where her Sire was tapping.

That year in Thira, the Queen started her herb garden, where she began planting various seeds that had been sent to her upon her request from all over the Realm, suitable to the climate of the isle and its rich soil. Her garden of medicinal herbs and plants would become renowned in later years and the produce of her industry would be shipped to the hospices and apothecary throughout the Realm. During the time that she couldn’t be present at Thira, a few locals attended her ever-growing garden with great care and with accordance to her specific instructions.

Cynna’s return to the Amazon Lands was difficult, to say the least. She did not expect to be greeted back with open arms and she was not disappointed. It wasn’t her deeds in Corinth that her Amazon sisters frowned upon, but rather the fact that she had left them in the first place to become the Realm’s mistress. Cynna, they all believed, should have been better content with being the wolf’s head rather than the lion’s tail.

Facing the Shamaness, however, proved to be far harder than facing any of her sisters as she had thought. After all, the Shamaness had foreseen her humiliation in Corinth and had received conceited rejection for her ample warnings. Far from being petty and better than holding a grudge, the shamaness welcomed her home. Now that Cynna had been given a hard lesson in humility, the old woman thought, she was finally ready to fulfill her true destiny as the Amazon’s shamaness and she would be proven correct.

When the Conqueror and the Queen returned back to Corinth when summer ended, feeling very much relaxed and invigorated, Princess Athena and her consort were free to travel as planned to the Nordic Lands. As a new province of the Realm, the region had been under military regime since the Realm’s forces under Princess Athena’s leadership had conquered it.

The sea was kind to them in their journey, as were the winds, and Sieglinde took advantage of the long voyage to teach Athena to speak in her native tongue. Sieglinde made a game of it. She would reward Athena with a kiss whenever the Heir had done well, which made Athena remarkably diligent and eager to succeed.

By the time Princess Athena and her Nordic wife, Princess Sieglinde, arrived at the Nordic Lands, winter had already spread its pure white blankets all over the cold earth and frozen lakes, covering all traces of the carnage that had taken place there not too long ago. The Realm’s Heir was grateful for the abundant snow for erasing all evidence of the bloodshed, leaving the beautiful landscapes of her wife’s homeland unblemished in her memory.

Princess Sieglinde took in a lungful of her homeland’s chilly air and her spirit was uplifted.

A wedding ceremony was arranged to take place at the central hall of the former late king and Sieglinde’s father’s palace. While preparations were made, Princess Sieglinde proceeded to show her Lord the most breathtaking landscapes and mighty Fjords during the days and during the nights new ventures were explored in their bed. It almost seemed as thought the colder it got outside, the hotter in got between their sheets.

A fortnight into their visit, Princess Athena and Princess Sieglinde stood before the Nordic high priest and once again they affirmed their vows before the Nordic Gods and the Nordic people, Princess Sieglinde in her native tongue and Princess Athena in hers. The kiss they shared before the cheering masses lasted for a long time, and when it ended Princess Athena knelt before her wife and kissed her feet for all their subjects to see, just as she had done in Corinth and with the same intention – to show her wife’s people the profound respect and deep humility she truly bore her.

When she rose to stand on her feet again, Princess Athena noticed a blush coloring her wife’s cheeks.

“Min Herre,” Sieglinde addressed Athena with a bashful smile and beaming eyes, “Pray, tell me – How may I return your grand display of honor you’ve paid me?”

“Min Dame,” Athena replied with a light of her own shining in her eyes as she beheld her beloved, “It is I,” she spoke slowly, deliberately in Sieglinde’s native tongue so that their subjects would understand her, “who is still indebted to you. However, it would please me immensily if you would be kind enough to sing for me.”

Princess Sieglinde’s complexion turned even redder but she was only too happy to indulge her Lord’s request. She opened her mouth and began to sing and out came the same songs she had sung for the Royal family back in the dark days before the Conqueror and the Queen’s reconciliation. Her singing voice was gentle and clear as Athena remembered and chests pressed into backs at the specious hall, for all in attendance wanted to hear their adored Princess singing. Sieglinde sang like a muse, Athena thought as she fought against shedding tears in public. Those who were present that day in the Nordic wedding would later grow to believe that Princess Sieglinde’s singing blessed them, for those who had heard her that day would never know sorrow throughout their lives.

Nominating Jarl Albrich, who was the Royals’ guest of honor at the wedding and sat at their table, as the Realm’s governor to the Nordic Lands, was the last thing Princess Athena did before heading back to Corinth. The high position of governor was the Lord Conqueror’s decree as a show of respect to her Nordic subjescts, nominating one of their own – and a show of gratitude for Jarl Albrich’s loyalty.

Come spring Athena and Sieglinde were back in Corinth. They were publically welcomed back in the Great Hall with the customary bows and curtsies, but in the privacy of the Imperial Chambers they were welcomed back with tight embraces and warm kisses by the Conqueror and the Queen. On the first evening of their homecoming, while they took supper in the Dining Hall as servants placed delicacies before them, Athena and Sieglinde regaled the Conqueror, the Queen and Terreis with a colorful account of their journey.

As soon as the servants left the Royals alone in the Dining Hall, the Conqueror laid down her knife, turned her attention to her eldest and with her usual bluntness asked:

“And what of children!?”

Understanding the Conqueror’s meaning exactly, Athena shot a look at her mother in an attempt to voicelessly bridle her Sire. The Queen, however, suspiciously enough seemed not the least bit disconcerted, and she immediately knew that her parents had been discussing the issue between them rather extensively.

It galled her, but she would give none of it away. She would not give her Sire the satisfaction, not if she could help it. She raised a curious eyebrow and answered the enticing question which had been thrown as if from a catapult with a question of her own: “What children, Majesty!?”

The Conqueror washed her throat with wine and lowered her goblet onto the table in an unnervingly calm manner. “You know perfectly well what children.”

Terreis became quiet and Sieglinde moved uncomfortably in her seat.

“My mind is clean amazed!” Athena exclaimed. “We’ve been away in a distant land for moons…” she protested. “Have we exhausted all other subjects of conversation, already!?”

The conversation around the table stopped when Terreis’ governess entered the Dining Hall and took the child upstairs, for it was way past her bedtime. The Queen seized the respite and placed a gentle hand over the Conqueror’s, wordlessly soothing her. Princess Sieglinde observed the Queen’s gesture and rested her hand over Athena’s hand, as well.

“Our line must be secure,” the Conqueror stated, feeling irritated that she had to bother herself with explaining the obvious.

“I know that, Sire,” Athena replied.

“What is the impediment, then?” the Conqueror inquired.

“I am not equal to it just yet,” Athena answered with a small voice.

“I will ask you again…” the Conqueror grew impatient.

But Athena cut through her speech, “Well, Sire… Obviously I cannot do the deed myself and I am not ready to have my wife be touched by another,” she raised her voice as she stood up abruptly.Her insides were burning with rage for not being able to plant a seed of her own in her wife’s belly. At that moment she wondered whether her Sire had ever entertained such thoughts, for after all her Sire was the sort to view it as a flaw, as a weakness. “I don’t think I’ll ever be! Just the thought of it makes me want to crush the skull of whoever…”

The Conqueror did not let her finish. She understood perfectly well her Heir’s reservations, for she had had them herself. With the images of what she herself had done to men who had tried to lay their hands on her wife over the years freshly in mind, she grabbed Athena by her forearm more firmly than she intended.

“Sit down, Athena,” she said almost softly and exhaled a shallow breath.

Athena was taken aback by her Sire’s surprising demeanor but slumped back onto her seat without another word.

“How do you think you and your sister were conceived?” the Conqueror asked.

“I knew I was of your blood, so I have always assumed your Majesty’s brother Toris…” Athena’s voice trailed off. She couldn’t fathom a way to utter her thoughts in a manner that wouldn’t be disrespectful to either her Sire or her Mother.

“Go on,” The Conqueror encouraged her.

“Well, it was my understanding that Toris was my father,” Athena continued.

“Toris is not your father – I am!” The Conqueror did her very best to rein in her anger.

Athena recognized her error immediately. “My deepest apologies, Sire. I misspoke. I am your child and have no other father but you,” she offered most sincerely.

The Sovereign accepted the apology with a nod of her head and leaned backwards into her seat. “How were you and your sister conceived?” she repeated the question. “You have leave to speak freely.”

“I reckoned Toris had knowledge of mother…” Athena whispered and could not meet her parents’ eyes.

The Conqueror chuckled at the absurd notion her firstborn suggested. “I wonder…” the Conqueror emitted, ruminating, “Over the years, have you heard nothing regarding this matter either from servants, or from teachers, fellow students… the nobilty…?”

The fact that the Conqueror never mentioned friends was not lost on Athena. She was appreciative enough though that the Conqueror never mentioned past bedmates.

“When I was thirteen and attended the Academy in Rome, I once had occasion to overhear four students debating the matter amongst themselves. They came to the conclusion that since your Majesty was clearly touched by the Gods and therefore must be a semi-God that your Majesty must have impregnated the Queen herself,” Athena said.

The Conqueror could not curb a hearty laughter but inwardly felt a pang deep within her for she rued the fact that it wasn’t so. “I’m rather quite fond of this theory,” she said when her laughter subsided.

“From what little I’ve gathered, they are not alone in that belief,” Athena continued. “No one dared to speak about such matters in my presence, just as none dared mention Mother’s past to me.”

“My Lord’s God-like traits notwithstanding – that is not how my Lord has impregnated me,” the Queen intervened with bright eyes. “You should know, Athena, that my Lord had harbored the same… grave, agonizing sentiments and had dallied for many moons before bringing the subject of children to me.”

Athena listened to her Mother with a good measure of relief.

“What my Lord did not know was that I’d devised a way that did not require the presence of a man at the moment of conception,” the Queen continued, sounding very proud of herself.

The puzzlement across both Sieglinde and Athena’s features when the Queen spoke of her method amused the Conqueror to no end.

“Do you mean to tell me that there is a way for Sieglinde and me to concieve without…” Athena couldn’t help but letting her voice trail off again.

“Have you spoken about concieving a child?” the Queen asked Sieglinde.

“We have, Majesty,” Sieglinde bashfully admitted. “I should love to have as many children as I can, but due to the basic requirements needed to procreate, Min Herre and I were at a loss.”

“Then if you are equal to the notion of having children,” the Queen said, but the Conqueror interrupted her.

“Of course they are equal to it!” the Sovereign stated impatiently and a lark escaped her daughter-in-law’s mouth.

Athena took her wife’s hand in hers and brought it her lips. Their eyes met in silent understanding and newfound happiness.

“We would gladly give you grandchildren, Mother,” Athena’s smile widened then her gaze averted to the Conqueror, “and continue your line, Sire,” she said and her smile turned wicked.

“Very good then,” the Conqueror stressed on, inwardly pardoning her firstborn’s attempt at getting a rise out of her, “for my brother isn’t getting any younger,” she paused, then added after a moment’s thought, “and neither your mother nor I for that matter. I want grandchildren while I’m young enough to spar with them.”

The Queen shot a sideway glance at her Lord signaling her not to place unwarranted pressure on their Heir and her wife. “Then when it is time, I shall instruct Sieglinde and my Lord shall instruct Athena,” the Queen concluded.

“As appropriate,” the Conqueror muttered then after a few moments added, “I shall summon Toris, for your children ought to be of our blood.”

After supper, the Conqueror and the Queen retired to their bedchamber. After the Queen’s ladies in waiting finished attending to their Mistress and the Conqueror’s grooms finished filling up the luxurious, Roman style marble bath, the Sovereigns were left alone for the night.

The Conqueror, enjoying the looks of the white and red rose pettals floating in the steaming water, put her feet first into the masive marble bath making sure the water was not too hot.  She ran adoring eyes over the naked beauty as she extended her arm for the Queen to lean on and gently helpped her into the bath.

When the Queen crouched into the water, the Conqueror noticed a thin red trickle slowly dripping down the Queen’s thigh. The sight of her wife’s menstrual blood excited her.

“Are you feeling some discomfort, my love?” the Conqueror gently inquired as she sent her finger to collect a drop of her wife’s blood and brought it eagerly into her mouth.

The Queen, tracing the movement of her spouse’s finger with loving eyes from the inner side of her bare thigh to its final destination, smiled a soft smile. “Some…” she answered, then slyly added, “But you will grant me relief with your ravenous tongue later, will you not!?”

The Conqueror raised her left eyebrow and drew a half smile on her lips. “Tell me, have I ever refused you my carnal services?”

The Queen’s heart skipped a beat at the thought of the salacious delights that she would receive later on that night and she forgot all about the slight pain she was feeling in her lower abdomen.

“Can you imagine it!?” the Conqueror spoke with great wonder as they both settled into the scented water. “You and I are soon to be grandparents.”

The Queen’s face was one of utter exultation. She swam towards the Conqueror’s open arms and nestled between them, straddling the strong, wet figure. She rued the fact that before Athena and Sieglinde’s marriage, her disagreement with the Conqueror had deprived them of sharing their excitement over their firstborn’s grand day.

“I wake up sometimes in the wee hours of the night still, my Lion, and I feel your warm breath against my neck and your arm around me gripping tightly enough to make me wonder whether you are sleeping or awake, and I need to remind myself that I am your wife and Queen and haven’t fallen asleep after service and need not return to my chamber,” the Queen said as her hands were busy washing the Conqueror’s hair.

The Conqueror’s heart expanded in her chest and her slick, wet arms engulfed the Queen’s waist and embraced her closely against her body. “Even as a slave, my precious Lioness, you had the heart of a queen. You were absolutely and thoroughly a queen through and through and in my mind, I believe, I’ve always maintained so.”

***
A fortnight after Princess Sieglinde had gotten her blood, the Conqueror’s brother, Toris, was summoned to Corinth to appear before the Throne, and regardless of the manner in which the Conqueror had presented the matter to him, Toris did not mistake it for anything other than the order that it really was. Nevertheless, he did not mind it one way or the other. Fact was that he had predicted that that particular subject might be presented to him within time even before the Imperial summons arrived at his doorstep. He was long resigned to the fact that raising his own progeny was never meant to be.

In Athena and Sieglinde’s bedchambers, the Queen instructed her daughter in law, and in the antechamber the Conqueror handed the device that the Queen had designed years ago wrapped in clean cloth and explained to her eldest in great details as to how the seed ought to be delivered into her wife’s womb.

“Above all, child, you must be gentle and careful not to cause any injury to your wife. Be as gentle with her as you would shaving a single hair off a rodent’s belly with the blade of a spearhead. Your wife’s constitution and wellbeing should be constant in your mind. You can have heirs by other women, but there will be no other Sieglinde for you to have should anything go awry, do you understand me?”

“I understand, Sire,” Athena replied, feeling a cold shiver running down her spine. A grim thought passed through her mind that they haven’t even begun yet and already she was in the clutches of tremendous dread, which she had never felt before. She cleared her throat as if trying to rid herself of the suffocating sensation that was wringing her neck.

The Conqueror got up, went to the urn that stood atop a nearby table and poured a cup of fresh water and handed it over to Athena.

“You look appallingly pale,” the Conqueror pointed out with some concern, for she recognized the mask of fear on Athena’s features.

Athena emptied the cup and nodded her head.

“Ghastly isn’t it!?” the Conqueror queried almost casually.

Athena knew that her Sire was referring to the fear she was experiencing. “It is, Sire.”

“Do not worry yourself without cause. Sieglinde has the best healers including your mother at her disposal. All will be well,” the Ruler assured.

A knock on the door urged them to hasten their conversation towards a conclusion.

“I will try my best,” Athena said and rose to stand and face her Sire. “Have you any other words of advice for me?”

“Your wife needs to be calm, wide and ready, do you understand?”

“I believe I do, Sire,” Athena replied as the color slowly crept back to her cheeks.

“Before you administer the device as I’ve instructed you, you ought to service her. Do you take my meaning?” the Conqueror demanded assurance.

Athena swallowed hard. The Conqueror’s question took her by complete surprise to put it mildly and for a fraction of a moment she was not entirely convinced that she understood what she thought she did.“You mean pleasure her, do you not, Sire?” she asked and the skepticism was noticeable in her voice. If she weren’t in the presence of the Conqueror she would have surely looked for a hole in the ground to bury herself in – then again, she thought, if she weren’t in the presence of the Conqueror, then there would have been no need.

“I do. Pleasure her as best you can and as best as she desires it. Do not spare your affections.”

“Majesty!” came a cry from the other side of the door along with another three somewhat urgent knocks. It was the voice of Toris.

Athena wore a sinister grin on her face. “Is it your intention to educate me as to how I should pleasure my wife? Have you any special methods I should apply…”

But the Conqueror cut through her firstborn’s insolent speech. “That’s enough witticisms and quips from you.” The Conqueror did her best to mask her amusement. “Conceiving children or not… You’re not too old to be put over my knee and receive a solid spanking.”

“Pardon me, Sire,” Athena murmured but the Conqueror was not fooled into thinking the apology was sincere.

“Keep your wife wanting until you have delivered the seed then leave her wanting for nothing once the seed has been planted,” the Conqueror said her final words in the matter.

“I will, Sire. Thank you.”

At that moment, the door connecting the antechamber and the bedchamber was opened and the Queen and Princess Sieglinde walked into the antechamber.

“Come in, Toris,” the Conqueror called out to her brother, who was still standing in the corridor, inviting him to enter.

Toris opened the door and bowed before the Royals and greeted them with accordance to custom.

“Uncle Toris,” Athena was the first to greet him back. She closed the gap between them and for the first time in her life she embraced him. The Conqueror and the Queen observed their firstborn’s actions and understood that what may seem to be an inappropriate outburst of emotions was actually a show of profound gratitude.

The Conqueror and the Queen bid their family a goodnight and retired to the Imperial chambers, leaving the three to their own devices.

When Toris completed his function in the antechamber, he left a cup with his deposit on a table and knocked on the bedchamber door to let Athena and Sieglinde know that he was done. After he left, Athena walked into the antechamber and collected the cup, then returned back to bed, where her wife was anxiously awaiting her. A night of profound and tender love, patient and reticent desire and high expectations passed between Athena and Sieglinde as they were creating new life. It was the bond between them above all that sparked hope in the notion of a new era.

A couple of moons came and went and the Conqueror was sauntering in the menagerie soon after daybreak with Princess Athena, holding in one hand a bucket full of freshly cut meat submerged in blood that had been delivered by the butcher, and with her free hand she tossed the cutlets to the growling lions, occasionally leaving the bucket on the ground so she could brush her fingers through the animals’ manes.

Athena watched the lions’ immense canines sink into the succulent meat, tearing it off the bones, and massive tongues licking the excess blood dripping from the sides of their jaws. It always amazed her how serene her Sire appeared amidst the giant predators.

“Well!?” the Conqueror pressed.

“Well what, Sire?” Athena answered.

The alpha lioness groomed her head against the Conqueror’s thigh, demanding her attention. The Conqueror leaned down and petted the animal, then refocused her attention back on her Successor. “Why must I always have to labor in order to extract information out of you!?”

“Do you wish to know whether there is good news, Sire?” Athena grinned, and by the radiant happiness on Athena’s features and the unmistakable shimmer in her eyes, the Conqueror already knew the answer.

“Congratulations, my dear child,” the Conqueror warmly offered and wrapped the arm that wasn’t covered in blood tightly around Athena’s shoulders. With her heart pounding hard in her chest, it was all the Conqueror could do not to dash back to the Imperial bedchamber where her wife was still sleeping the sleep of the righteous and deliver the wonderful news to her. “And how is Sieglinde?”

Athena let out a sigh. “She is feeling as well as can be expected save for her constant fatigue and stomach upsets.”

“Then you should have come to your mother sooner, for she can alleviate some of Sieglinde’s irritations.”

Athena ignored the Conqueror’s carping, petulant faultfinding and went on to say: “And she has developed some… unwholesome cravings…”

The Conqueror was in high spirits and burst into laughter. “Your mother had cravings, too.”

“Fortunately for you, Mother craved figs, whereas Sieglinde craves herring and I can hardly stand the revolting stench of it.”

When Athena saw how hard her Sire was laughing, it occurred to her that what amused her Sire more was not the bizarre nature of Sieglinde’s craving in itself, but the fact that it’d annoyed her so much.

The Conqueror scattered the remaining cutlets for the lions to feast on and proceeded to the iron gates of the menagerie, where a servant rushed to her with a basin full of water and a clean towel to wash her hands with. When the Conqueror finished drying her hands, he bowed before her and left.

The Conqueror and Princess Athena made their way back to the pallace through the Imperial Gardens as the sun made its presence felt more potently.

“You should not deny Sieglinde anything, regardless of your revulsion. Your mother will instruct her as to the best comestibles she ought to consume in order to maintain her health and strength.”

“We greatly appreciate it, Sire.”

“Sieglinde must refrain from any exertion and excitement for the duration of her parturiency.”

“I will make sure she is well rested, Sire,” Athena promised.

“As for your… conjugal rights…” the Conqueror felt behooved to bring the delicate matter up despite her disinclination, for there was too much at stake.

Princess Athena let out a deep sigh and exhibited an irritated reluctance to listen, but the Conqueror halted her strides and rested a firm hand over Athena’s shoulder.

“While I am not unsympathetic towards your current embarrassment, I am far less sympathetic towards the idea of jeopardizing the wellbeing of your wife and the child inside her – so you will abandon your grievances – heed my words and do as I command!” The Conqueror made clear to her Heir that she was not making mere suggestions but rather giving orders that she expected to be obeyed to the letter without deviations or reservations.

Athena held her tongue and listened.

“Hence forth, you will not intrude on her flesh with your instrument.” The Conqueror bore her eyes into Athena’s in search of a definitive sign of comprehension.

“At all!?” Athena exclaimed.

The Conqueror nodded assent.

“Mind her belly always. Do not apply any form or measure of pressure on it, do you understand?”

“I do, Sire,” Athena replied.

“Should your dark needs arise – avoid your wife’s bed altogether,” the Conqueror continued and her mind raced back to the time when she had returned back from quelling the insurgence in Cyrra and the Queen had been with child and how excruciating it had been arresting her darkness even with the help of her Queen, who was far better expeianced than Sieglinde.

“Do you not think me capable of restraining myself?” Athena was offended.

“Is proving me wrong worth risking it!?” the Conqueror retorted. “If you take after me –  then the sight of your wife carrying your child inside her along with the form her body takes will aggravate your lust for her tenfold. Trust me when I tell you it is best you avoid her bed entirely.”

Athena absentmindedly bit down her lower lip, for the Conqueror’s words painted a picture in her mind of her wife with a small swell in her belly and heftier breasts, which made her mouth water and her loins throb.

“If you are not utterly convinced that you can trust yourself in your wife’s bed then you ought to take your needs elsewhere.”

Athena shook her head in protest. “I have made her a promise to be ever constant to her, unswerving in love and devotion. Besides, I desire none but her.”

The Conqueror was pleased. She touched her lips to Athena’s forehead. “Be cautious and fortify your resolve, for in two moons or so her carnal appetites might grow and she will be tenacious with her seduction. Your will must be stronger than hers and steadfast. Prepare yourself to resist her salacious temptations by any means necessary.”

Athena wore a mischievous look about her and folded her arms over her chest. “I cannot even imagine you resisting Mother’s salacious temptations, Sire,” she remarked.

The Conqueror mirrored her eldest’ posture and with equal tone replied, “One must be grateful for small mercies.”

And with that, the massive wooden doors of the palace were opened and the Conqueror scurried upstairs to the Imperial chambers to deliver the merry news to her wife and then to her mother, Cyrene.

Cyrene was beside herself with joy. Alas a fortnight later she left Corinth with Toris in order to help with his wife, who had fallen ill.

***

Another moon had gone by and the fact that Princess Sieglinde was with child could be hidden no longer. A healthy glow was about her and her belly began to swell. All around her lavished her with warm congratulations. With accordance to the Queen’s suggestion, Sieglinde was sequestered along with her unwedded ladies in waiting while her wedded ones were temporarily dismissed from her service, in order to reduce the chance of any ailment.

It was then that the great fire in the Corinthian palace broke out, leaving great destruction and devastation in its wake.

 

Part 2

On the night of the great fire, while the Conqueror was sleeping soundly next to her wife in the Imperial bed, a vague odor of smoke tickled her nostrils and pulled her out of the land of dreams and into dire reality. Sounds of horrifying screams and frantic yelling followed before long, violently waking the Queen up. “Fire!” was the word that was shouted the loudest. Without passing a single word between them, the Conqueror and the Queen leaped out of bed, covered their nakedness with their robes, and dashed with tremendous haste out of the Imperial Chambers. They nearly trampling over the Lady Satrina accompanied by the Conqueror’s grooms, who were running in.

“Majesties,” the disheveled servants murmured and bowed before the Royals.

“What is happening, Satrina?” the Conqueror demanded to know with a severe tone of voice, as her eyes quickly surveyed the nebulous smoke hanging in the corridor, nearly obfuscating the complete and utter chaos that seemed to rule her domain.

“Fire broke out,” Lady Satrina replied.

The new Chief Commander of the Imperial Guard approached the Conqueror and the Queen with wide gates, and greeted his Sovereigns.

“All your Majesty’s guardsmen are toiling to extinguish the fire. We are not yet certain as to the source,” he reported.

It appeared as though the entire palace’s household was up on its feet – dozens of maids, cooks, stable boys, secretaries – all without exception running up and down the lengthy corridor carrying with them buckets of water, still in their nightly attire. Their sheer panic caused massive spills along the way and so by the time the buckets reached their destination, they were half empty. The air became stifling and black and soon enough loud dry coughs could be heard along with the frenzied shouts. The high ceiling could no longer be seen through the heavy clouds of thick smoke.

The first thing, the Conqueror thought, was to control the chaos and to regain her rule over her domain. “Have all the wives of the Imperial Guardsmen evacuate all the children residing under my roof to the palace grounds, immediately,” the Conqueror ordered the Chief Commander. “When they are done, they are to return and drow out water from the wells nearest to the kitchen, for I wish them as far away from here as possible.”

Gusts of hot air were coming in waves from the far end of the corridor and mercilessly stung the eyes of the corridor’s occupants. Men and women covered their eyes and noses, but to no avail.

The Conqueror turned to her groom. “Tell the others they can use the water in the imperial bath and all other baths on this level and the levels closest to this one,” she ordered him.

As the Conqueror was about to go and pound on Athena and Sieglinde’s chamber door, which was further away down the corridor and further away from the fire, Athena and Sieglinde immerged from behind the other side of it. Athena’s eyes searched for her mother and upon seeing her, sighed deeply in relief.

“Your Grace,” the Conqueror said to her eldest, “take your wife and your mother downstairs and out of the palace, this instant!”

The Conqueror grabbed another one of her grooms, who was scurrying in the corridor with a bucket full of water in each of his hands by his nightshirt.

“Find Princess Terreis at once and bring her to me!” she ordered him.

“Yes, Majesty,” he said and resumed his mad dash.

At that moment the Chief Commander came running back to his Master for further orders. “Instruct the men to form a row from the wells below to the source of the fire, and have the buckets pass between them from hand to hand,” she said to him, all the while her eyes searching for her groom and her youngest.

“By your will, Majesty,” he said and went to obey the order he was given.

“Subjects of the Realm,” the Conqueror exclaimed, speaking over their screams, coughs and the sounds of wild crackling, “keep calm and conduct yourselves in an orderly fashion. Under no circumstances should you risk your lives for the sake of saving my property from the flames.”

Not long after she’d finished voicing her command, her eyes caught sight of her groom, who was making his way back to her, alarmingly empty-handed. Her heart sank and despite the terrible heat, her blood ran cold. She looked at her wife, who was regarding the groom, and saw the same horror she felt in her.

Athena noticed the terror on her parents’ features, clear as day, and although she was afraid for her young sister, she controlled her faculties and gripped her Mother firmly, preventing her from running towards Terreis’ chambers, as she was sure was her Sire’s will.

“Xena!” the Queen screamed with all the strength she possessed while struggling against Athena’s vice-like grip, “Save Terreis!”

Those who heard the Queen utter their Master’s name were stunned as though it was the first time they had ever heard it, and had it not been for the pressing matter of the fire blazing all over, they would have surely ceased all action.

“Take the Queen out of here!” Athena told her wife, but Sieglinde lingered for she, too, dreaded the worst.

The Conqueror snatched a bucket of water out of the hands of a passing servant, raised it over her head and emptied its entire contant all over herself. As she began to sprint towards Terreis’ chambers, Athena ran after her in order to help.

“She is my child, and I will not have you risk your life, as well!” the Conqueror hissed at her eldest and her eyes narrowed with the sting of the heated smoke. “Besides, one of us has to survive for our reign to continue!”

Athena knew that her Sire’s concern was not just about losing power, but the welfare of her subjects and above all – the protection of their family.

“Get your Mother and your wife out of the palace, now!” t he Conqueror ordered and vanished into the ominous grey and orange mist.

Athena did as her Sire ordered and carefully guided her Mother and her wife out of the palace and to safety.

Meanwhile, inside the inferno, the Conqueror made her way to Terreis’ chambers. Droplets of water still streamed over her hair and face, but quickly evaporated due to the extreme heat surrounding her. Her heart thumped wildly in her chest. The life of her precious child was in grave danger and she was fighting a vicious and formidable enemy she could not fight off with a sword.

As always, she relied on her keen senses, her sharp mind and her extraordinary physical strength. Alas, the clamoring of her subjects made it impossible to discern any cries for help that her daughter might have produced.

“Silence!” the Conqueror shouted and abruptly all voices quieted down, as the buckets of water kept on moving with even rhythm from one hand to the next.

The Conqueror pricked up her ears but to her dismay, she could not hear Terreis’ voice.

At the same time, the Queen and Princess Sieglinde wore masks of perfect serenity, not letting a hint of their anguish and distress show upon them so as not to upset the children, whom the Conqueror had ordered be rushed out of the burning palace. They knelt on the cold ground outside the palace, and prayed, each woman to her Gods, to keep the Conqueror, Terreis and all the men and women still in the palace safe and for rain to come down from the sky. Upon seeing their Sovereigns, their young subjescts dropped to their knees as well and prayed for the Conqueror to prevail.

Finally, the Conqueror reached the end of the corridor. So thick was the smoke that she could not see her own hand in front of her. She tore a piece of fabric from her robe, which was wet still, and tied it around her nose and mouth so that she’d be able to breath. At the corner, she turned and saw ten or so men throwing water at a wall of fire so tall that it reached all the way up to the high ceiling. It was like trying to quench the thirst of a monster that would not be sated.

The immense flames were raging and eating all that stood in their wake.

“Move aside and let me pass!” the Conqueror yelled from behind the men, and upon their instinct to obey their Master’s command, they parted and created a passage for her to walk through.

“Majesty,” one of them, a young stable boy no older than sixteen, called out to her, “it is most dangerous.”

The Conqueror knew he spoke out of concern for her. “My daughter is in there! Empty your bucket over my person and move out of my way, now!”

He knew better than to argue with the world’s Ruler and did as he was told.

To the men’s astonished eyes, the Conqueror jumped into the flames and vanished behind the wall of fire. Their admiration for their supreme Ruler grew tenfold, not only for the Conqueror’s great courage, for they had witnessed her commanding lions in battle of one against hundreds; but also for the fact that a lesser ruler would have ordered one or all of them into the flames in order to fetch his child rather than risk his own life, especially a daughter who was not the heir to the throne.

Harsh, scorching flames were fast enclosed on the Conqueror and upon reaching Terreis’ chambers, relying solely on her knowledge of the structure of her palace because of the blinding smoke and bright flames, a gruesome foreboding sight greeted her. The wooden door leading into Terreis’ chambers was burnt to a crisp and aside from its hinges nothing remained of it any longer. The Conqueror had to fight in order to maintain full possession over her faculties rather than give in to the fear that her beloved young daughter that was the living image of her beloved mother might be dead.

“Terreis!” the Conqueror shouted with all the strength she could muster over the deafening simmer of the fire.

Glowing, whispering, red-hot embers seared the leather off the Conqueror’s boots as she advanced into the inferno that was her child’s chambers, but her mind was so occupied with the wellbeing of her child that it did not register the pain when the heat singed the skin off her feet.

Her Sire came to her rescue and for no other purpose, Terreis knew as soon as she heard her Sire’s voice.

“Sire!” she screamed a piercing scream, “I am here!”

The Conqueror’s heart raced with excitement as soon as she heard her daughter crying out to her. As hard as the Conqueror tried, she could not open her eyes, for the heat stung them something fierce when she tried, but she had a decent idea as to where Terreis was from the cry’s point of origin.

“Stay where you are, child. I will come to you,” the Conqueror exclaimed as she covered her head with her soaked robes and mindfully worked her way through flames, wreckage of burnt furniture and other objects, ruined beyond recognition.

When the Conqueror covered the ground across the chamber, she was met with a slight brush of fresh nightly air. She opened her eyes and saw her daughter perched on the edge of the marble ledge on the outer side of the window, her bent knees trembling and her tiny toes white from the effort supporting the weight of her body for so long. Her body was pressed hard against the outer wall, for she knew that any shift of her weight no matter how small would send her plumeting down from a great height and to her death.

The Conqueror’s heart expanded in her chest with immeasurable pride. “My brave, clever child,” she said and tightly gripped Terreis’ arm. Her youngest was resilient, she thought, her youngest was a strong survivor.

When Terreis moved towards the Conqueror, her legs, which were numb from the awkward position she was in, gave out from under her and she could feel nothing but wind beneath her.

But the Conqueror anticipated it, and as soon as she felt Terreis beginning to fall she tightened her grip around her so strongly that it would later leave a bruise around Terreis’ arm.

Terreis did not feel any fear at all, not even when her legs were dangling in the air, for she trusted her Sire so completely.

Effortlessly, the Conqueror pulled Terreis back over the ledge and into her arms and cradled her tightly against her body.

The flames in the chamber soared higher and the floor could not be seen for the gleeds covering it entirely and it seemed like there was no longer a way out.

“Take a deep breath, sweetheart,” the Conqueror told her daughter while they still were close to the window, “and shut your eyes as tightly as you can.”

They filled their lungs with air for the dangerous journey out of harm’s way. The Conqueror took a different path than the one she had used coming in. She covered both of them with her wet robes as she made her way out. However, along the way she made two disturbing discoveries. The first, Terreis’ governess was dead. She saw her charred corpse lying on the ground. The second, Terreis’ antechamber was burnt far worse than any of the other chambers she had seen, leading her to the forgone conclusion that the fire had originated there.

A large, heavy wooden beam supporting the ceiling came tumbling down and broke against the Conqueror’s back, hitting her left knee on the way to the ground. The Sovereign hardened her muscles and shielded her daughter with her body. Nevertheless, the force of the blow nearly knocked the Conqueror down, as did the immense weight of it. She quickened her pace and soon enough she was down a flight of stairs leading to the level below.

“You can breathe freely now, sweetheart,” she told Terreis as she pulled down the robes away from Terreis’ face. She closely examined Terreis, trying to ascertain whether she had sustained any major injuries. However, there were none to find, except for a few burnt strands of hair and a small burn on her right thigh. The Ruler let out a long breath of her own. Her daughter was safe and unharmed.

Terreis breathed deeply and in-between coughs she muttered, “I knew you would save me, my Sire.”

Servants nearby were still passing buckets of water upstairs, but under the unique circumstances the Conqueror and Terreis ignored their presence.

“I am so very proud of you, little Princess,” the Conqueror stated lovingly and placed a lingering kiss on Terreis’ forehead.

“Are Mother, Athena and Sieglinde safe?” Terreis queried.

“They are,” the Conqueror replied and embraced her daughter hard against her body.

From the corner of her eye Terreis caught sight of a nearby window. “Look, Sire,” she exclaimed, “It’s raining!”

The Conqueror averted her gaze from her child and out the window and saw blessed rain pouring down outside. She proceeded down the stairs and out to the palace grounds.

As soon as the Conqueror was out the palace’s gates, she placed Terreis in Athena’s arms.

“Have the healer attend to her,” was all that the Conqueror said to her eldest before her eyes found her Queen.

Upon hearing the children murmuring ‘Your Majesty’ from a distance, the Queen knew that her Lord was near. She rose to her feet and saw her Lord – her blue eyes bloodshot and features covered with soot and dark as the night, giving her the appearance of a beast that dwelled in Tartarus. She began to run towards her Lord.

“Her Grace is safe, my Lady,” the Conqueror assured the Queen with a voice hoarse from the smoke she’d inhaled as they fell into each other’s arms. The Queen was beside herself with peerless happiness and relief that her Lord and her daughter were alive.

The children in the vicinity could not help but stare at their Sovereigns passionately embracing with amazed eyes and slack jaws. So completely astounding and extraordinary was the sight before them that they could not look away.

Princess Sieglinde cleared her throat in a deliberate manner, wordlessly signaling the children to be respectful of the Conqueror and the Queen’s privacy, and they heeded her, quietly dispersing.

“I wish to see her,” the Queen requested as her hands stroked the Conqueror’s features and her lips hungrily caressing the strong neck that tasted like salted ash.

“You will see me first,” the Conqueror’s voice was a low growl and the Queen recognised her Lord’s blood-lust.

“Yes, my Lord,” the Queen’s voice did not register above a whisper.

The Conqueror took the Queen’s hand and briskly led her away from prying eyes and to the Imperial gardens, where they could be alone. As they walked side by side, the Queen noticed a slight limp in her Lord’s strides.

“You’ve sustained an injury in your left knee, my Lord,” she said with a small voice laden with concern.

But the Conqueror’s blood was gushing in her veins and her terrible, copious dark desire drowned all the pains, aches and throbs in her body except for the ones that tormented her in her groin.

“Never mind that, now,” she simply muttered as her glare was searching for a decent support for her wife’s back.

There, on a patch of wet grass, amidst the flowers, which were closed as though dreading to bare witness to the darkness, the Conqueror took her Queen and ravaged her body. An incapacitating hand held down the willing woman beneath her by her throat while the other coaxed her thighs to part wider.

The feel of gasping for air while her Lord was slowly grinding into her sex made the Queen shiver and shudder with lust. The sharp odor of smoke, sweat and arousal emanated from her mate and it drove the Queen wild. She cupped the Conqueror’s naked buttocks and encouraged her penetrations as deep as her opening allowed to glut their need.

As the Conqueror was raising a firestorm with her thrusts inside her Gabrielle’s core, making them both climb to numinous heights, the fire in the palace was dying down.

Close to dawn the Conqueror and the Queen rejoined the others. The fire was extinguished at long last. The Chief Commander of the Imperial Guard reported that the fire took but one life, that of Princess Terreis’ governess.

While accommodations were made for the housing of all those under the Conqueror’s roof in the lower levels of the palace where the fire had not reached, the Queen attended to Terreis in the infirmary.

The Queen applied a salve to her daughter’s thigh while the Conqueror presented her with a few questions.

“Did you see how the fire started?”

“I did not, my Sire,” Terreis replied.

“Tell me everything that you remember, little Princess,” the Conqueror requested with a gentle tone of voice so as not to give her daughter the impression that she was crossed with her in any way.

“I was sleeping when the cries of my governess woke me. I saw fire everywhere. The governess tried to reach me, but she couldn’t because of the flames. Then she disappeared from my sight. I couldn’t breathe because of the smoke and I couldn’t leave my chambers on account of the flames, so I ran to the window and waited for you, my Sire, to come.”

“I see,” said the Conqueror.

“Any thoughts as to how the fire broke out, my Lord?” the Queen asked.

“Not yet, my Lady,” the Conqueror replied.

Terries was saved that night, but another child had perished, for not moments after the Conqueror had finished uttering her words, Athena burst into the infirmary carrying Sieglinde in her arms.

“Take her Grace outside!” the Conqueror ordered one of the Imperial Healer’s apprentices as she pointed her finger at Terreis. The young woman took Terreis with her as she vacated the infirmary.

Horror distorted Athena’s face and tears ran down her cheeks as she deposited her wife atop one of the beds.

A large stain of blood was evident on Sieglinde’s nightgown from her hips and all the way down to her feet. At first, the Conqueror assumed that Athena had expelled her own blood-lust and had inadvertently inflicted injury to her wife, and so fumed – she was on the verge of letting her eldest have it, but Sieglinde’s voice halted her intention before it came to fruition.

“It is my fault,” the Princess Sieglinde wept, “I’ve let fright get the better of me.”

“Find the midwife and bring her here,” the Queen told Athena, then turned to the Chief Healer. “Master Healer, you are to escort my Lord to the bed at the far end of the infirmary and place a partition in front of it. Your apprentices are to attend to the wounded outside the palace walls in open air,” she ordered as she placed a kettle over the fire burning in the hearth .

There was no time to waste on grief, the Queen knew, as she felt her Lord’s hand touch her shoulder, as if to comfort her and give her strength, before the Chief Healer – a corpulent, short man from the Province of Egypt – led the bruised Ruler to bed.

Athena wiped the tears off her face as she ran out of the infirmary to fetch the midwife as her Mother had instructed. Despite the chaos, she assumed that the midwife would not have ventured too far away from the infirmary, and she was correct in her assumption.

The Queen seated herself beside Sieglinde’s bed, cleaned her face with a moist linen cloth and whispered calming words to her. As she was about to remove the cap from her head for her comfort, curious at the fact that Sieglinde had had the presence of mind to wear it to begin with what with all that had happened, Sieglinde placed a trembling hand over the Queen’s to halt its motion.

“I promised Min Herre that none shall clap eyes on my hair but her,” she explained with a weak voice.

The door to the infirmary was opened and the midwife entered. As she closed the door behind her, the Queen caught a glimpse of her eldest waiting outside, rabid with disquiet and concern.

The Queen returned her attention back to the young woman lying on the bed. “Daughter,” she spoke gently to Sieglinde and caressed her blushed cheek ; “My Lord cannot see you from behind the partition. There is no one here but us.”

Sieglinde removed her hand from the Queen’s and allowed her to free her lush blonde hair.

While the Queen and the midwife attended to Princess Sieglinde, the Chief Healer carefully removed the Conqueror’s boots from her feet, dragging off with them burnt skin. Although it caused the Conqueror great pain, she barred her lips and did not issue a single sound of discomfort. Her ears were attuned to Sieglinde, as was her mind. Her daughter-in-law’s cries of agony were far worse than the burns all over her feet and the horrific gash on her left knee.

As the Chief Healer dressed the Conqueror’s wounds, Sieglinde’s gut-wrenching cries intensified and the Conqueror knew that the child she had been carrying within her womb was gone.

The Chief Healer was done. He offered the Conqueror a walking cane to support her weight for when she would need to walk on account of her injuries. The Conqueror took it from him but they both remained sitting behind the partition, just sitting and doing nothing but staring at no particular points, each in different directions. Neither wished to intrude on Princess Sieglinde in her darkest hour.

Some time had passed and Sieglinde’s cries gradually waned into sniffles until they died down entirely. The Chief Healer bowed before his Master and left.

A few moments later, the Conqueror rose to her aching feet and moved from behind the partition. A dull pain throbbed all over her back where the burning beam had collapsed on her.

If it hadn’t been for Sieglinde lying in the infirmary, the Conqueror would have sent for one of her grooms to fetch her clean pair of boots and some clean clothes. With a heavy heart the Ruler hobbled towards where the Queen was sitting.

The Ruler looked down at the frail young woman, who was now sleeping with her hair covered under her traditional Nordic cap, and emitted a deep sigh.

“I gave her… to ease her sleep…” was all that the Queen’s sorrow allowed her to say as silent tears ran down her face and her eyes were fixed still on the slumbering Princess. She could not meet her Lord’s gaze.

The Conqueror leaned down and pressed her lips to her wife’s nape. She felt her wife’s shoulders trembling and knew in heart that she was sobbing.

“I am so sorry, Love,” she whispered into her wife’s hair.

The Queen delved her fingers into the Conqueror’s sticky and unkempt hair to which the odor of smoke still clung. “Athena will be devastated.”

“We shall console them,” the Conqueror murmured.

“And each other,” the Queen nodded her head.

After a few moments had passed between them in silence, the Queen emitted: “Poor Sieglinde.”

“They are so young…” the Conqueror offered, “Younger than we were when we first conceived Athena.”

“Of course you are right, my Lord,” the Queen took in a deep breath and nuzzled the back of her head against the Conqueror’s cheek, “I see no reason as to why they should not be with child again, soon. The strain of tonight’s daunting events dislodged the child from her womb, nothing more.”

“That is good,” the Conqueror straightened upwards to her full stature and shifted her weight from her injured leg to the other.

“You are hurt, my Lion,” the Queen whimpered and sent her hand to pull a little at the dressing around the Conqueror’s knee and took a peek beneath it to examine the wound.

“It is very mild, my Love. There is nothing for you to worry about.” The Conqueror tried her best to appease her wife’s concern, but when she adjusted the moist robes over her shoulders a sharp pain made her wince for a fraction of a moment and the Queen saw it.

The Queen frowned as she walked over to stand behind the Conqueror and stripped her of her robes. A large discolored bruise covered over half of the Conqueror’s back. The look of it was horrifying.

“Did you not show this to the Healer!?” the Queen admonished her Lord.

“It did not hurt as much as the other injuries,” the Conqueror replied, defensively.

“What sort of an argument is that!?” the Queen went on with her scolding.

“First things first – I wish to put my hand on the culprits who caused the fire,” the Conqueror said, determined.

“In all humility, my Lord – the first thing is to put you in a warm bath with special herbs and dress your wounds while you’re clean,” the Queen sounded as adamant as her Lord had.

She opened the infirmary door and signaled her ladies in waiting who had been standing there to instruct the Conqueror’s grooms to prepare a warm bath in one of the baths on the entrance level which the fire hadn’t eaten away at.

She then turned to her Lord and said, “I will deliver Athena the sad news.”

The Queen noticed the profound gratitude in the Conqueror’s eyes.

***

In an empty chamber not far from the Great Hall, the Queen regarded her eldest. “Sit down, my child,” she said softly.

Athena’s eyes were bloodshot and sorrow was written over her features. The Queen’s soft speech told her all she needed to know.

“I wish to see her now, Mother,” Athena said and remaind standing.

“She is sleeping now and will be sleeping for quite awhile,” the Queen said.

Sorrow turned quickly into rage. “I demand the heads of the ones who started the fire!”

“My Lord will…” the Queen began to say but Athena interrupted her.

“It was my child that was lost! Mine! My Sire will not…” she raised her voice. However, the Queen cut through Athena’s angry words.

“This is my Lord’s home and these are my Lord’s subjects,” the Queen spoke gently yet firmly. “My Lord’s justice will be done.”

Athena began anxiously pacing from one end of the chamber to another. To say she was distraught was a gross understatement. Worse yet, the Queen sensed a deeper disturbance in her firstborn that caused the Queen an eerie disquiet.

“Give me your word that you will wait for my Lord’s justice and refrain from doing anything rash and foolish.” It was not a request but a demand.

Athena stopped in her tracks and hesitated. It looked as if the Queen’s demand thwarted her plans.

“Your word!” the Queen repeated.

“You have it!” Athena nearly spat her words, letting her reluctance known.

“Your wife will need you. You must be strong for her,” the Queen pressed.

“I know,” Athena muttered with a hint of resentment.

Like her Lord, the Queen understood, rage was a comfortable, familiar sanctuary for Athena. When she exited the chamber, she instructed one of her ladies in waiting to keep a close watch over Athena and keep her informed. Then, she went to the bath where her Lord had been soaking to redress her wounds.

Once all was settled and the first rays of sunshine adorned the sky, the Conqueror ordered all her subjects to gather in the courtyard.

The Queen insisted that her Lord should wear sandals rather than boots so that the burns in her feet might receive the fresh air necessary for them to heal properly and the Conqueror’s protests on that score were rejected. Nevertheless, before stepping outside the palace, the Conqueror discarded her walking cane so to conceal her infirmity from her subjects. She hid her limp as well, as she wrapped her arm around the Queen’s waist for support as much as affection.

“Subjects of the Realm,” the Ruler addressed the hundreds of people awaiting her address, applying taciturnity to every syllable that left her mouth, “I command you all for performing your duties so courageously and so assiduously.”

They all smiled and tapped on each other’s shoulders and relief was across all their face.

“However,” the Conqueror’s voice turned somewhat foreboding and restlessness began to plague her audience, “I must now demand those who are responsible for this calamity to step forward and claim responsibility.”

Silence was so severe that one could here the soft morning breeze rolling over the grass. The crowd was ensnared by stillness. No one moved.

When the Conqueror saw that no one was stepping forward, she continued. “It is my solemn oath to you that if by your silence I am forced to conduct a thorough inquiry…” but before the Conqueror concluded her sentence with some colorful threat, a small boy, not older than seven summers, made his way through the crowd and stepped forward.

A few gasps were let loose into the morning air and one woman went as far as trying to pull the boy back into the crowd, but the boy shrugged her hand off his shoulder.

“Your Majesty,” a tremor could be detected in his voice when he bowed before her.

The Conqueror’s gaze slowly descended until it reached the boy’s face. His red hair told her that in all likelihood he hailed from the Province of Britannia . She left the Queen’s side and approached him. The sight of her loomimg over him was almost ridiculous for the boy’s head barely reached her thigh.

The Sovereign hid her surprise well.

Stoic, perhaps too stoic, she reached down and grabbed the boy by his sullied, shabby looking shirt and lifted him up from the ground as if his weight was the weight of air.

“Who put you up to this?” she demanded to know.

His parents, a laundress and a blacksmith, pushed through the crowd until they both stood in the first line. On their faces there was a mixture of dread and shock.

The boy was scared mute.

“Who told you to set fire to Princess Terreis’ chambers?”

The boy still wouldn’t give an answer.

“Do you understand my questions?” the Conqueror was enraged by what she perceived as defiance.

A nod of his head was all the boy was capable of.

The powerful arm that held up the boy began to shake. The audience was not sure whether it was the Conqueror’s wrath that made it shake or it was her intention to shake an answer out of him.

The Ruler was at the end of her tether and her patience was about to come to its limits.

“Who wants my daughter dead?” she shouted at him.

The boy’s nerves betrayed him and urine began to trickle down his legs and because he was hanging in the air, all could see it dripping down and forming a puddle in the sand.

The Conqueror put the boy back down onto the ground in a less than a gentle manner.

“You will answer my questions, boy!”

The boy burst into tears and cried to his mother, but his mother could not save him, not from the hands of the Conqueror. For the life of her, she could not fathom what had possessed her son to come forward and claim responsibility for the fire to begin with. She looked at the Queen, as if begging her to empathize with her – mother to mother.

But the Queen put her faith and her trust in her Lord and besides, she had lost a grandchild and but for her Lord’s deliverance would have lost a daughter, too. Her face remained sealed.

With no one to intervene on her behalf, the mother called out to her child: “Answer the Lord Conqueror.”

“Majesty,” he began to say when his whaling subsided, “I just wanted to see the Princess. Nothing more.”

“I do not understand,” said the Conqueror.

“I heard of her great beauty. I only wished to see her. I waited for all to go to sleep and I went into her Grace’s chambers just to look at her. On my way out, I accidentally knocked over a burning candlestick and the tablecloth caught fire,” he said and sniffled.

“Go on,” the Conqueror ordered.

The boy stretched out his hands and showed his palms to his Master. His little palms were covered with burn marks. “I tried to put out the fire, but it spread so fast. My hands were burning and I ran.”

“And throughout the ordeal never did it cross you mind to call for help?” the Conqueror asked, livid.

His green eyes welled up with fresh tears again. “I was scared, your Majesty. I wasn’t supposed to be in her Grace’s chambers.”

“So out of fear of punishment you left her Grace to be burnt to death – caused her Grace Princess Sieglinde to lose her child – and caused the death of the governess?”

“I so sorry, your Majesty,” he began to cry again, which only made the Conqueror madder. At his young age he could not have understood the ramification of his actions. He was crying solely out of fear of her retribution, the Conqueror understood.

She lifted him upwards by his shirt again and tore it.

“Mercy, Majesty” rose a murmur from the crowd. All eyes looked at the Queen, not the Conqueror, pleading with her to stop her Lord, but the Queen did not waver.

“What made you think you were worthy of clapping your eyes on my daughter!?” the Conqueror shouted and he knew better than to produce any excuse. He knew his Sovereign was correct. “She is your Princess and far, so far superior to you, boy!”

The boy held his head down and sobbed.

“My daughter had to stand crumpled on the narrow edge of a window dozens of feet off the ground fearing for her life!”

The Conqueror drew out her sword, yet despite the gasps from their subjects, the Queen remained rooted in her place and did not move a muscle. So awesome was her trust in her Lord.

“A future Ruler to this great Realm was lost in the damn fire!”

The Conqueror put down the boy till his back was pressed against the cold hard ground in the puddle of his urine and wielded her sword as she towered over him.

“Knave! Have you any idea what you’ve cost me!?” she yelled as she swung her sword downwards with immense force and speed, seeing the blood rushing from the boy’s face, leaving it as white as milk, and pierced the ground merely a tenth of a hair from his right ear.

The Conqueror’s ire was not sated. Her wild dark eyes were pinned into the boy, who remained lying on the ground paralyzed with fear.

The Conqueror averted her eyes to his parents, who were as petrified as their son. “It is your fault!” she accused them with a harsh tone of voice and pointed at them. “You should have taught your little mongrel his proper place! You’ve neglected your obligation to discipline him! If it weren’t for your incompetence the bastard would have been obedient and none of this would have happened!”

The Conqueror backed away from the boy and returned to stand next to the Queen.

As the parents hung their heads down between their shoulders, the Conqueror continued. “I promise you this,” she told them, “The boy will never again be wandering at night, entering chambers he has no natural right to enter.” She paused for a few long moments before she resumed her speech. Now, the Ruler was ready to render her punishment. “Each of you will be imprisoned in the dungeons for one turn of the seasons. The father will be imprisoned first and when he is released the mother will be imprisoned. That way, the boy will have one of you looking after him.”

The Conqueror and the Queen began walking back into the palace as their subjects bowed before them.

Later on that day, the Conqueror found the guard that had been posted to keep watch over the corridor leading to Princess Terreis’ chambers and sentenced him to be incarcerated for two full turns of the seasons in the dungeons.

 

Part 3

The following day, bright and early, master builders and master craftsmen were summoned to Corinth for the reconstruction and restoration of the palace.

The Imperial Chambers remained intact but required a thorough scrubbing and cleaning in order to get rid of the soot that seemed to be everywhere.

At dusk, Athena and Sieglinde sat in the antechamber looking away from one another, each in their own thoughts. Sieglinde waited for Athena to speak but Athena remained distant, somber and aloof.

Athena’s silence was unbearable. Sieglinde’s heart ached and the sensation of emptiness was so potent that she could physically feel it. As hard as she tried, her grey eyes welled up with tears, just when she thought she could cry no more. When she could no longer bear it, she mustered up some courage and asked Athena, dreading her response, “Are you angry with me, Min Herre, for losing our child?”

“Of course not,” Athena said, yet she did not meet her wife’s gaze.

There was no denying the distance that Athena had placed between them. “I am so sorry for not being strong enough, Min Herre,” Sieglinde whispered. If only Athena would wrap her arms around her, all would be better. She would have the fortitude to try and conceive again and she would be better equipped to bear the loss.

Athena did not comment. After some time had passed between them in silence, Athena stood up and muttered, “It is stifling in here,” and without looking at Sieglinde, she simply left the antechamber without even telling her wife where she was going.

In the wee hours of the night, Athena returned to their chambers, heavily intoxicated. She was happy to find that Sieglinde was sound asleep – or so it appeared – and so she did not have to face her. She dropped into bed, too intoxicated to even remove her clothes, and fell asleep.

Come morning, around the dining table, the Conqueror and the Queen noticed that Sieglinde’s eyes were red from crying and Athena’s eyes were red from drinking.

After breakfast, the Conqueror and the Queen conversed between them and decided it would be best if the Queen approached Athena and gently broach the subject of the loss and her subsequent drinking.

Princess Athena was announced by one of the Queen’s ladies in waiting.

“Your Majesty,” Athena bowed before her Mother.

“Your Grace,” the Queen greeted back.

“You may leave us,” the Queen dismissed her servants.

The Queen’s ladies in waiting curtsied before the Queen and the Heir and vacated the Queen’s chambers.

“You asked to see me, Mother,” Athena stated.

“I did. Come sit with me,” the Queen offered the settee next to hers and added, “You will find no better sign for a disturbance in a marriage than when a wife is in tears and her lord is drinking.”

Athena did not even bother denying her Mother’s assertion.

“With respect, Mother, I think I am entitled to grieve,” Athena replied, as she sat down. She looked around at the spacious, luxurious antechamber, where the Queen of the Realm had been receiving audiences throughout her reign. She wondered whether it was her Mother’s intention to throw on her the weight of her station or if it was a mere private conversation between mother and child.

“You are, which is why my Lord has exempted you from your duties for the time being,” the Queen said.

“Is the life of my child worth so little!? One turn of the seasons in the dungeons – you call that justice?” Athena asked in anger.

“My Lord called it justice,” the Queen retorted.

“I should have expected your defending my Sire,” Athena scoffed.

“It was an accident caused by the recklessness of a young boy, not yet of age. My Lord found no malice in the boy. And what would you have my Lord do? Behead the boy!? Execute his parents!?”

Despite the Queen’s persuasion, Athena remained intransigent. “If any of us had died in that fire, I am hard pressed to think that my Sire would have missed the boy’s head, is all I am saying.”

“Then you do not know my Lord as well as you think you do.”

“It is of no consequence. You cannot understand how I feel.”


“Maybe so, but this I do know – you will find greater comfort in your wife’s bosom than in a jug full of ale.”

After awhile without further words between them, Athena stood up. “Is that all, Mother?” she asked.

“Be a comfort to your wife and take comfort in her,” the Queen concluded.

That night, when Athena had chosen yet again the company of ale to that of her wife, the Conqueror and the Queen decided that what their Heir needed was a firmer hand.

Lady Satrina had informed the Conqueror as to Athena’s whereabouts and, in a rare step, rather than summon Athena to appear before her, the Conqueror went to seek her. There, in a dimly lit chamber not far from the Great Hall, the Conqueror found Athena sitting at a table with her back to the door, engaging in substantial libation.

“Athena,” the Conqueror announced her presence.

“My Sire,” Athena greeted back, slurring her words and not turning her head around.

The Conqueror seated herself next to her Heir.

“Drinking is the weak man’s way of dealing with misery, not to mention selfish, for you are condemning your wife to suffer alone.”

Athena emptied her cup and poured herself another.

“I cannot contain her grief as well,” Athena somberly replied, and brought the cup to her lips.

The Conqueror placed her hand over Athena’s forearm and prevented the cup from reaching its destination. Athena was forced to lower the cup back down onto the table.

“You will have to. You are married now.”

Athena did not answer. It irked her to hear her Sire preaching to her about deserting her wife when she herself had done so more than once.

“Besides, I will not have you totter about inebriated in public for all to see,” the Conqueror added.

So that’s what this was all about, Athena thought: keeping up appearances. “To be conducted to the dungeons for a short while, there to abide during the Lord Conqueror’s pleasure… The punishments you’ve rendered, Sire, were an insult!” Athena remarked, knowing full well it would provoke her Sire.

And not unexpectedly, the Conqueror became angry. “I will not argue with an angry drunk about my law and my justice. I would not explain myself to you even if you were sober. If you do not consider my ruling just, then I hope you will never shame my name and my legacy by rendering punishments that do not fit either the offence or the circumstances.”

“I lost a child and future Heir!” Athena exclaimed.

“Oh!” The Conqueror emoted, “Now I see… So you think the fire only happened to you, do you? Do you think you were the only one affected by it?” Her voice was laced with ire and sarcasm as she landed her fist atop the table. “Do you think you were the only one who lost something? The fire happened to all of us. Your mother and I lost a grandchild and Sieglinde lost a child, too. Your mother and I have been grieving for the loss of our grandchild, constantly.” The Conqueror paused in order to calm herself then added somewhat reserved, “I am still shaking from nearly losing Terreis in the fire.”

“The great conqueror prevails yet again! You managed to save your child!” Athena retorted. “It seems as thought nothing horrible, no real tragedy ever touches you! There was nothing I could have done to save my child – Nothing. I just stood there… useless… as I watched Sieglinde miscarry and I could not help her!”

It was all the Conqueror could do not to lose her temper, but she understood perfectly well.

“I nearly lost your mother having you. I know the awful feeling of being helpless. I know the sentiment of not possessing any control whatsoever over events that might change my world completely. I know how it feels to be at the mercy of the Fates. You must not feel guilty for having no power over events you have no control over.” The Conqueror paused and ran a soothing hand over Athena’s forearm. “A sickness on the way back home from battle, childbirth that has gone awry, a silly boy knocking off a burning candlestick, and the Ruler of the world is rendered as powerless as the last of the peasants. This is the harsh reality of life.”

A shadow came over the Conqueror as her mind raced back to the snow covered ground where she had been lying ravaged by disease. “I never told your Mother this, because I did not wish to upset her, but as I drew what I thought were my last dying breaths on route back to Corinth … I am not sure whether my mind was playing tricks on me due to the fever… but I think I saw Celesta. She was holding a burning candle in one hand and reached out her other for me to take… Little did she know that Death or not… I was not going anywhere without your Mother.”

The Conqueror’s words left Athena speechless.

“It might not have been within your power to save your child, but it is well within your power to have other children. So quit wallowing in self-pity. It is unattractive and incredibly unbecoming a future Lord Conqueror of the Realm. “

“Yes, Sire,” Athena responded and pushed the ale away from her. “It is not mainly the loss of the child itself that hurts the most, for I never knew him. I never even saw him and never held him in my arms. It is the loss of the notion of parenthood that cuts the deepest. I’ve so longed for Sieglinde and me to become parents already and have a child who will share in our great love.”

The Conqueror understood Athena’s meaning. “Your Mother and I have always cherished our roles as parents,” she said. “You will go to your chambers and face your wife,” was the Conqueror’s last order for the day.

Athena bid the Conqueror goodnight and went upstairs to be with her wife. Slowly she pushed open their bedchamber door and noticed no movement on their bed.

Silver rays of a full moon shone brightly through the window as Athena stepped into their bedchamber and watched the woman lying in bed, with her long hair covering the pillow beneath her head completely.“Sieglinde,” she whispered, “Are you asleep?”

“I haven’t been sleeping since I’ve lost our child, Min Herre,” came Sieglinde’s faint reply, her voice hoarse from crying.

“I am to blame for it. I haven’t been a mate to you, have I!?”

“Min Herre,” Sieglinde sighed and rose to sit on the bed.

“I have been a selfish, heartless fool… leaving you all alone… Could you ever forgive me?” Athena asked with genuine concern.

Sieglinde’s face lit up with a smile that illuminated the entire bedchamber, or so Athena thought. “I have already forgiven you,” she said as she stretched out her arms, inviting her spouse to an embrace.

Athena covered the distance between them and held Sieglinde tightly in her arms. “I do not deserve you,” she muttered as she felt her wife’s heart beating next to hers.

“Of course you do, Min Herre,” Sieglinde said softly as she basked in the much-needed warmth emanating from Athena’s strong body.

“I am so very sorry that I could not save… what was lost,” the Heir said and planted gentle, loving kisses all over Sieglinde’s face.

“Her Majesty the Queen told me that we can try to concieve again,” Sieglinde said with hope in her voice.

“So soon!?” the Heir asked. “Are you ready for it?”

“I am if you are,” Sieglinde giggled and her kisses sucked the flesh of Athena’s neck.

A deep guttural groan escaped Athena’s throat and her hands began to roam over Sieglinde’s body, touching waist and breasts over the thin, fine fabric of Sieglinde’s night garment.

“Min Herre,” Sieglinde gasped as desire blazed through her body, and her nipples hardened under Athena’s fingertips. “You and I must be united always,” she breathed heavily in her mate’s ear. “I wish to be all to you, as you are all to me.”

Athena’s fingers traveled over Sieglinde’s stomach and further down till they reached the hem of the nightdress. With insurmountable urgency, she slipped her fingers beneath it until she reached the hot, wet spot she craved to delve into more than anything in the world at that moment.

“You are all to me as I am to you, Min Damme,” Athena growled and meant every word she uttered.

Sieglinde pressed her back against the pillows as Athena moved to lie on top of her.

“I have missed you,” the younger woman moaned into Athena’s mouth.

With the pregnancy and all that had happened preventing them from sharing carnal intimacies, Athena yearned for Sieglinde’s sweetness. “I have missed you more, my precious.” She captured an earlobe between her teeth and merged with her beloved.

***

In the following moons, Athena and Sieglinde spared no effort to conceive again, but were unsuccessful. After the third try they sought the Queen’s counsel. When the Queen could find no physical impediment, she sent for the Amazon Shamaness.

Not seven days had passed, and Shamaness Smirna arived at Corinth and appeared before the Queen, in the Queen’s chambers.

The Queen dismissed her ladies in waiting and after they had left, she invited the Shamaness to join her and Athena and Sieglinde for tea and the finest dates from Syria .

“I have received your message, my Queen, and first I wish to convey my sincere condolences to you and your Graces for the great loss suffered,” the elderly Shamaness offered, wholeheartedly.

“Thank you, my friend,” the Queen replied.

“I suspect I already know the reason for my being summoned to appear before you, my Queen,” the Shamaness said and sipped from her cup.

Her almost presumptuous statements caused all around the table to raise their brows.

The Shamaness cleared her throat. “You wish to know if I can see whether there are future heirs to the Throne.”

“Are there!?” the Queen could not curb her curiosity.

The Shamaness features turned somewhat grave. “Unfortunately, my Queen, it has not yet revealed to me. The future is obfuscated.”

The Queen was profoundly disappointed, as were Athena and Sieglinde.

“I did not come empty-handed,” the Shamaness continued and gave the Royals a sliver of hope. She reached for her leather pouch and retrieved a small wooden box and placed it on the table.

“What is it?” the Queen inquired.

“Cynna gave it to me to give to you, your Grace,” the Shamaness said to Athena and carefully opened the box. She took a small vial out of it and held it between two fingers with noticeable reverence like it was the most prized thing in the world. She then averted her gaze to Princess Sieglinde and further explained, “The concoction must be spread over your Grace’s food twice a day, once with breakfast and once with supper.”

“The wench is trying to poison my wife, is she!?” Athena said sarcastically and scoffed.

“Min Herre,” Sieglinde said and placed a caressing palm over Athena’s thigh. “With all humility – you cared for the woman once, and I know in my heart that you can be merciful and kind,” she whispered in Athena’s ear so that the older women would not hear what might be construed as criticism.

“I apologize to you for my outburst,” the Heir said to the women around the table. “It was uncalled for.”

“Cynna is a much changed woman now, and is no longer the selfish woman you might remember,” the Shamaness told Athena. “Have a little faith, your Grace,” she said lightly and her eyes smiled.

“You have my trust, Shamaness, because you have her Majesty’s,” Athena said and kept a serious air about her.

“Cynna’s late mother had an aunt who was a renowned midwife. This here is a recipe she used to swear by. Cynna said she used to give it to women who experienced… difficulties conceiving, and it failed them not even once.” The Shamaness returned the vial into the box and handed it over to Princess Sieglinde.

“Please thank Cynna for her kindness and generosity,” Sieglinde said and the Shamaness could see the light of goodness shining from her as she took the box. “And if we were indeed to be blessed with children, I would thank you to invite Cynna to court for the celebration as my guest of honor.”

Athena looked into her wife’s silver-grey eyes and her heart ached from loving her.

“I will, your Grace,” the Shamaness smiled.

***

Princess Sieglinde consumed Cynna’s potion twice a day as recommended under the watchful eye of her Lord and not too moons had gone by before she was revisited again by fatigue, nausea and the craving for herring.

Hope was once more a denizen in the Royals’ hearts, as was concern. Princess Athena, it seemed, hovered over her wife like a hawk every moment of the day she could spare, and Sieglinde relished her Lord’s attentiveness and wished it could be this way always.

By the time the master builders and craftsmen had finished reconstructing the part of the palace that had been damaged by the fire, adding to it new murals, tapestries and frescos, Princess Sieglinde went into labor.

The whole of Corinth stood on its feet as soon as the Realm’s heralds announced it throughout the city’s streets, agoras and markets. Many visited the Gods’ temples to offer prayers and sacrifices for their Princess’ preservation and for her progeny – the continuation of their Lord Conqueror’s bloodline. Some even stood outside the Corinthian Palace ‘s massive gates, waiting anxiously for the news.

Princess Sieglinde’s confinement was hard. In her bedchamber, the Queen, the Imperial Healer and another Healer from the Province of Chin , along with two midwives helped the Princess’ labor.

At that time, Princess Athena stood outside pacing back and forth in the empty antechamber, which she had the good sense to clear beforehand of all of her wife’s ladies in waiting. The sounds of her dear wife’s cries of pain and grunts of effort and anguish laid tormenting siege to her very soul. She wanted to place her hands over her ears so as not to hear her wife struggling and hurting, but she could not bring herself to do so. She had to listen. She had to know what was happening to her beloved.

The Conqueror sat at her Throne and received audience as if that day was like any other day. As she was governing her Realm and dictating her orders to her secretaries, she governed her faculties as well. She donned the mask of stoicism over her countenance and ignored the fact, much to her subjects’ surprise, that at the same time the Princess was giving birth to a future ruler.

Close to dusk an infant’s cry immerged from their bedchamber. Athena fought the urge to bring the door down and storm in. Nervously she pressed her ear hard against the door and searched for Sieglinde’s voice under the newborn’s cries but she heard nothing and her heart skipped a beat. Unconsciously, and uncontrollably, she began to scratch the door, till her fingernails were worn to the nubs. When she heard her wife screaming again Athena became equally terrified and baffled – for the cries of the infant meant that the labor was over, that much she was certain of.

Inside the bedchamber, which was too humid, too sweltering and too stifling, the Queen, the midwives and healers realized as soon as they saw that the Princess was still in labor despite the fact that she had already given birth that it was not over yet.

“I see the head of another one,” the Queen exclaimed, excited as she placed her hand beneath the tiny moist head for support.

One midwife was cleaning the infant already born, one healer examined the infant making sure it had all fingers and toes, the other midwife wiped the Princess’ brow with a wet linen cloth while encouraging her to push, and the other healer helped the Queen to deliver the second child.

The sun was setting outside and the other child was out of its mother’s womb.

The door was opened and the Queen, holding both infants, one in each arm, approached Athena absolutely beaming with mirth and happiness.

Athena could not believe her eyes when she saw her mother holding not one, but two infants in her arms. Her jaw nearly dropped and her eyes were wide with astonishment. The notion that she was now a parent, and to two children, no less, was very far from dawning on her, yet.

“Sieglinde?” she asked, nearly fainting. The grand event made her forgo proper protocol despite the fact that they were not alone.

“She is well, my beloved child. Now come meet my grandchildren,” the Queen said and the wide smile on her face did not fade.

“A daughter and a son,” the Queen announced with pride etched all over her face, like nothing Athena had ever heard before.

Athena closed the gap between them as the Queen instructed the midwife to convey the news to the Conqueror’s groom, who had been standing in wait in the corridor outside the suite.

When the Queen and Athena entered the bedchamber, the other midwife opened the window to allow some fresh air in. Both the Queen and Athena thanked their servants for their service.

When the Royals were left alone, Athena seated herself on the bed and planted a lingering kiss on her wife’s lips.

“Min Herre,” Sieglinde smiled.

“I am so very proud of you, Sieglinde,” Athena said and smiled back. “I love you so much,” she continued and tenderly stroked her wife’s flushed cheek with the back of her fingers. “Are you in pain?”

“Nothing for you to worry about,” Sieglinde replied.

“That is not what I asked,” Athena refused to accept her wife’s reply.

“There are some aches, but they will pass soon enough,” Sieglinde answered then averted her eyes to the Queen.

“Majesty, may I see them now?” she asked.

“Of course,” the Queen replied and sat on the bed to the other side of Sieglinde and presented her with the twins.

“May I hold them, please, Majesty?” Sieglinde asked.

“Are you strong enough?” The Queen wanted to make sure, but she also found it difficult to part with them.

“Yes, I am,” Sieglinde replied.

And with that, the Queen gently placed the twins in Sieglinde’s cradling arms.

Meanwhile, the Conqueror’s groom reached the Great Hall. As soon as the Conqueror laid eyes on him as he came hastily through the doors and nearly ran towards the dais, she became alert and felt her insides turning into knots, but her exterior remained as calm as the surface of a small pond on a windless, summer day.

“Your Majesty,” he greeted and bowed before her.

The commotion of secretaries, advisors and other courtiers at the Great Hall was at once suspended. All waited for the Conqueror’s groom’s message.

“Well!?” the Conqueror inquired.

“Her Grace Princess Sieglinde has given birth to a boy and a girl, your Majesty,” he said.

A hint of a half smile brushed the Conqueror’s lips for a short moment, and her eyebrows rose briefly at the unexpected news that her daughter-in-law had given birth to twins, but she remained seated. “And her Grace?” she asked.

“Her Grace is well, your Majesty,” he answered.

All in attendance regarded the Conqueror.

After some time had gone by, the Conqueror rose to her feet. “We shall adjourn for today,” she informed her subjects. She then turned to her groom and said, “Inform Lady Satrina of the news and have the heralds bring the good news to my subjects,” she said. No longer able to rein in her elation, the Conqueror’s features lit up with a smile. “I shall now go and make acquaintance with my grandchildren.”

And with that, she strode out of the Great Hall as her audience bowed before her and enthusiastically clapped their hands with joy and merriment.

***

The muffled “Majesty” murmurs that came from the other side of the door spoken by the Queen and Princess Sieglinde’s ladies in waiting, who assembled at the antechamber waiting to catch a glimpse of the newborns, informed the Queen that her Lord was about to enter.

The door was opened and sure enough the Conqueror walked in and closed the door behind her, much to the ladies in waiting’s disappointment.

“My Lord.” The Queen climbed out of the bed and her legs carried her quickly to the Conqueror, who spread her arms widely for her.

“Gabrielle,” the Conqueror exclaimed as the Queen fell into her arms and pressed her head hard against the strong chest.

They embraced for a considerable amount of time with tears welding up in their eyes.

“My heart is overflowing with joy and with awesome love for the newest additions to our family,” the Conqueror spoke and her voice was trembling with unbridled excitement.

They remained clinging to one another for a few more long moments. The Conqueror’s long fingers were tangled into the Queen’s gold hair and her lips were pressed to the top of the Queen’s head.

“Come and meet your grandchildren, my Lion,” the Queen finally said and wiped the tears from her shimmering green eyes.

They walked together hand in hand towards the bed, where Sieglinde was lying.

It never ceased to amaze Athena how, no matter how great the occasion or who else was around them, her parents always sought each other first when they were present in the same place.

“Majesty,” Sieglinde emitted when the Conqueror towered over her.

“Daughter,” the Conqueror gently said, “You must be feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.”

“A little, your Majesty, but I am also very happy,” Sieglinde smiled back.

“And you!?” the Conqueror asked her eldest, as if she was an afterthought.

“Oh, Sire,” Athena emoted, “I did nothing but lose my wits worrying. Nothing more.”

The Conqueror chuckled. She extended her lengthy torso over Sieglinde, moored her hand behind Athena’s neck and pulled her closer so to place a solid kiss on her forehead, which made the Queen laugh out loud.

“So which is the girl and which is the boy?” the Conqueror asked when she straightened back up to her full stature.

“The one to my right is the girl and the one to my left is the boy, your Majesty,” Sieglinde replied.

The Conqueror ran examining looks over her grandchildren. The boy had a golden down covering his tiny head and his half opened eyelids covered sky-blue eyes. The Conqueror thought she recognized both Athena and Sieglinde in his features. The girl, however was the living image of Athena, there was no mistaking it. The fine down on her head was as dark as a moonless night and her silver-grey eyes, however, were the only feature she took from her mother.

“She looks just like the two of you,” the Queen said to the Conqueror and her eldest as if she was reading the Conqueror’s mind, “very much in the way of her Sire and Grandsire.”

“She does, does she not!?” the Conqueror answered her Lady, looking very pleased and contented. “Which one was the first to come out of their mother’s womb?” the Conqueror asked.

“What difference does it make, Sire?” Athena asked . “They were born merely moments apart .

“The first to come out is the first in line for the succession,” the Queen replied, knowingly.

“Indeed,” the Conqueror confirmed her wife’s words, “The firstborn is the one to rule the Empire.”

“The girl was the first one to be born, my Lion,” the Queen answered the Conqueror’s pending question.

The Conqueror would never admit it to anyone other than to her Queen later on that day, but she was pleased beyond measure that the girl was the firstborn.

“And have you thought of names, yet?” the high-spirited Conqueror further inquired and placed a single finger in her granddaughter’s hand. The newborn closed her tiny fingers around her Grandsire’s finger and the latter was impressed by her strength.

“We have, Majesty,” Sieglinde answered.

“Of course we did not foresee the possibility of having to use both the name we thought for a girl and the one we thought for a boy,” Athena added, amused.

“Let us have it, then,” the Conqueror spurred them on.

“The girl shall be named Xena Athena Alexia,” Sieglinde told the Conqueror and the Queen, all the while looking adoringly at her daughter, then averted her loving gaze to her son and continued, “And the boy shall be named Lyceus… in honor of your Majesty’s late brother.”

The Conqueror was moved to her very core by the gesture, not just by the naming of her grandson after her beloved, dead brother, but also for the naming of her granddaughter and future Sovereign Lord of the Realm she had conquered after her. When she felt her wife’s hand being gently placed on the small of her back, the Conqueror could not hold back her tears any longer.

“Thank you,” was all she managed to say, as a pair of silent tears rolled down over each of her high cheekbones.

Inwardly the Ruler admonished herself for exhibiting what she considered sentimentality. She wiped her tears with a determined hand, collected herself and steadied her voice.

“Alexia is a fine name,” she said eventually.

“A ‘Defender’ is indeed a suitable name for the future Ruler of the Empire,” the Queen concurred.

At that moment the door was opened and Princess Terreis entered the bedchamber and joined her family.

“Little Princess,” the Conqueror’s spirit was immediately uplifted even higher, “Come and meet your new niece and nephew, Alexia and Lyceus,” she beckoned her youngest to come closer.

Terreis approached the bed. “I wish to congratulate you, Athena and Sieglinde,” she said.

Athena picked up her sister and seated her on her lap. “Thank you, Terreis,” she said and squeezed her tightly till Terreis began to giggle.

“Thank you, little sister,” Sieglinde smiled and leaned towards Terreis so that she could better see the infants. “This is Xena Athena Alexia,” she signaled with her right shoulder, “and this is Lyceus,”she continued and tipped her left shoulder.

Terreis carefully observed the newborn. “Alexia looks just like my Sire and Athena except for the color of her eyes,” she remarked.

“Indeed she does,” the Queen said.

“May I hold one, Sieglinde?” Terreis asked.

“Of course,” Sieglinde said.

The Conqueror, who was pining for the opportunity herself, took Alexia from her mother’s arms and held her for a bit, eagerly inhaling her newborn scent before carefully placing her in Terreis’ arms.

“Mind her head, little Princess,” the Conqueror issued a gentle warning.

“I will, Sire.” Terreis touched her lips to the infant’s forehead. “I’m your aunt Terreis, and I will always love you and Lyceus,” she said.

The Conqueror wrapped a loving arm around the Queen’s shoulders and regarded her family with tremendous love.

“You’ve done me proud, child,” she said to her eldest.

Athena’s eyes met the Conqueror’s. In all her life, she thought, she had never seen her Sire exhibiting such tender emotions as she had that day.

“We must leave now,” the Queen said to Terreis.

“Please, Mother, can we not stay a while longer?” Terreis said and instinctively tightened her hold around her niece.

“You heard your Mother,” the Conqueror intervened and took Alexia from Terreis’ arms. “It is past your bedtime and Sieglinde needs her rest,” she said.

“Yes, my Sire,” Terreis resigned to her Sire’s will.

The Queen opened the door and instructed her ladies in waiting to fetch the wet-nurses. Sieglinde’s ladies in waiting ceased the opportunity to peek inside the bedchamber and catch an eyeful of their Mistress’ children.

The servants curtsied before the Conqueror and the Queen, who bid them good night. The Conqueror picked Terreis up and carried her in her arms as she walked with her Queen to put her youngest to bed.

“I miss Alexia and Lyceus already,” Terries protested.

“You will see them again tomorrow,” the Queen chuckled and sent a sideway glance to her Lord. She always enjoyed seeing her Lord cradling their children in her arms.

“One day I shall marry too and have children, like Athena,” Terreis stated. “Will it please you, Sire?” she asked as her fingers mindlessly played with a strand of the Conqueror’s hair.

“Of course it will. I can hardly wait. How many children do you wish to have, little Princess?” the Conqueror asked, amused.

Terreis thought for while, then after some contemplation answered unequivocally, “Twenty, my Sire.”

“Twenty, no less,” the Conqueror burst into laughter which infected both her wife and her youngest.

“And who do you wish to marry, sweetheart?” the Queen asked.

Terreis put a thoughtful finger over her chin as she seriously considered her Mother’s question.

“Well,” she began to say, “I wish to marry someone like my Sire,” she said, very confident with her answer.

“But of course,” the Queen sighed, far from being surprised, though she rued the fact that her daughter might be in for a future disappointment, for there was no other like her Lord.

 

Part 4

When the arrival of Cynna was announced in the Great Hall during the grand banquette in celebration of the birth of the twins, all cheers stopped and all eyes were averted to the Amazon that made her way to the dais with hesitant steps.

Once the initial surprise passed, those well versed in gossip, that knew who Cynna was and remembered, began to shout out insults and other invective words at her.

The incensed Conqueror laid down the lamb chop onto her plate before her and was about to stand up and admonish her subjects for their unacceptable behavior. She was not the only one, for Athena was about to do the same, but the Queen rested a halting hand over her Lord’s thigh beneath the table.

“Please, wait, my Lord,” she whispered in the Conqueror’s ear.

And a few short moments later, it was Sieglinde who stood up and addressed all in attendance.

“Subjects of the Realm,” Princess Sieglinde exclaimed and silence fell over the Great Hall. Hearing Princess Sieglinde speak with such authoritative tone of voice was an even greater surprise than the presence of Princess Athena’s former mistress. “I will hear no more scurrilous remarks and foul words aimed at my guest of honor – not on this day or any other day. Your behavior is an affront to the gracious Lord Conqueror, your Sovereign Lord and host, and an affront to my Lord and to me. Lady Cynna has committed no offence against me and certainly no offence against you. It is with Lady Cynna’s generous help that I was able to conceive and those of you who shame her – shame me!”

Princess Sieglinde’s reproach generated shame and regret in the hearts of those who had thrown lewd comments at Cynna, and created profound pride and esteem in her Lord’s.

“Approach, my sister,” Princess Sieglinde smiled kindly at Cynna and extended her arm in an invitation.

Cynna bore deep feelings of gratitude and unworthiness at the graces shown to her by her former lover’s wife. She reached the dais where the Royals sat behind a capacious table and bowed before them.

Princess Sieglinde invited the Amazon to sit at the Royal table, and as soon as Cynna sat down, she begged for Athena and Sieglinde’s forgiveness for her past deeds and thanked them for the great honor they’d bestowed upon her.

The festivities continued. All who were present congratulated the Royals and presented them with gifts, including the Queen’s sister Lila and her family, Cyrene and Toris.

When the Conqueror left the table to dance with Princess Terreis and Princess Athena with Princess Seiglinde, the Queen beckoned Cynna to sit by her.

“I wish to thank you for the great service you’ve done my family.”

“It was my honor and duty, my Queen,” Cynna replied.

“Now, you must tell me what the ingredients of your special potion were exactly, for I wish to learn.”

After some hesitation, Cynna revealed her secret. “I must confess my Queen that my potion contained olive oil and some seasoning herbs. Nothing more. I heard of what had happened and I suspected that fear and reservations thwarted her Grace Princess Sieglinde’s efforts to conceive. And so I’ve created a miraculous potion and a tale to go with it that would make her believe in her ability to conceive again. I thought… If she had faith… children will soon follow.”

The Queen smiled.

“How very clever,” she said. “You have come a long way, Cynna, and I know now you will one day make a wonderful shamaness to my tribe.”

“Thank you, my Queen,” Cynna replied. “I have already requested her Grace Princess Athena and her noble Wife’s forgiveness, but I also wish to apologize to you as well for all the troubles I’ve caused you and the Lord Conqueror.”

“Your actions speak louder than your words, Cynna. You have redeemed yourself. All is forgiven.”

After the celebrations were over, Cyrene remained in the Corinthian palace, wanting to stay close to her great-grandchildren.

***

As the seasons came and went, Princess Athena and Princess Sieglinde took pride and joy in raising their children. Athena could not get enough of them and neither could Sieglinde. The Conqueror often warned her eldest against spoiling them, especially Alexia, since she was born to rule and so in need of a strict hand, but she found it difficult beyond measure to abide by her own words.

Sieglinde took it upon herself to teach her children her native tongue and the Queen taught them Latin. The twins were bright and quick to learn. They both absorbed Greek from their Sire and Grandsire. With Cyrene it was nothing but cuddling.

They were inseparable and took great joy in playing with their young aunt Terreis, who watched over them constantly when she wasn’t being tutored. Being highborn and therefore differentiated and isolated from others of her age and being coupled with having a sibling who was significantly older than her, Terreis felt fortunate for the companionship of her niece and nephew. For better or worse, she was no longer the youngest. She was now looked up to.

The Corinthian Palace was filled with children’s unremitting laughter and all its residents adored them to no end. Many were in the belief that those were the happiest days in the Realm.

Although twins, it was obvious to all that Alexia and Lyceus were quite different from one another. Alexia was stronger and quicker than Lyceus. She was also taller than he was. He took more after his Mother and grandmother, the late Queen Ortlinde, where she took more after her Sire and Grandsire. She was strong headed where he was more amiable; she was willful where he was softer. Both were fearless and bold, but she was more so than he was. She exuded power and he exuded cordiality. Alexia conducted herself with supremacy and confidence and Lyceus was somewhat diffident.

Therefore, she was the first to hold a practicing sword in her hand and the first to be taught to spar, both by her Sire and Grandsire.

During springtime the Conqueror made it a habit to take her family on an excursion to the lake and taught the younglings to fish and swim at least once a fortnight, and when the sea was kind and time allowed her, the Conqueror took Terreis, Alexia and Lyceus to sail on her favorite ship.

During wintertime, the Conqueror taught them all about her military campaigns, all the strategies she employed and the forces she deployed, and everything about her command. Princess Athena taught them to ride and purchased for them the best stallions to ride on and took them with the Conqueror to the best hunting grounds and taught them how to hunt. Terreis proved to be a natural born tracker and hunter, as was Alexia. The Conqueror could swear Terreis was born with a bow and arrow in her hands. Her aims were masterful and admirably precise. Lyceus, however, excelled in fishing and swam like a fish himself. The boy adored the sea above all else and was as good as his sister and even better than Terreis navigating through the waves, currents and tides.

Five turns of the season passed and an act of aggression in the east forced Athena further east then any warrior of the Realm had ever ventured to the land of Japan , and she conquered it in the name of the Realm. Their warriors were fierce to be sure, but what Athena suffered the most from the terrible, relentless longings for her wife and children. She realized she was now in the position to know how hard it must have been for her Sire to be torn away from her wife and children by war and she grew to appreciate her Sire’s sacrifices. Now, all known lands under the heavens were ruled by the Lord Conqueror.

Soon after the return of Athena to Corinth , Cyrene took ill. Her entire family stood around her bed when she was beyond the Queen’s and the healers’ skills and death was near.

Her breath was shallow and quick and yet she was able to speak.

When Lyceus kissed her cold, wrinkled hand, she said to him: “I have loved you as much as my son you were named after. Never be swayed away from the kindness and goodness in your heart, and never envy your sister the burden she will one day carry.”

Alexia wiped a tear from her great-grandmother with her thumb while shedding boiling tears of her own.

“My little Conqueror,” Cyrene used her nickname for her great-granddaughter, “Let truth and justice guide your rule and forever be true to your heart. Know that you will have my love even after I am gone.”

Terreis climbed onto Cyrene ‘s bed and held her tightly in her arms.

“Sweet Terreis,” Cyrene said and smiled a faint smile, “the miracle child… You have a beautiful spirit and you will make a great leader to the Amazon Nation one day. Whenever you think of me I will hear your thoughts.”

When it was time to part with Athena and Sieglinde, the old woman took their hands in hers with the last shred of strength she possessed.

“My first grandchild… I never dreamed you would come to be. I know you would lead the world to another golden age. Constantly bear in mind that the bond between your compassionate wife and you is the foundations to everything, just as the bond between your Sire and your Mother is.”

With tears in her eyes, the Queen signaled all but her Lord to leave Cyrene ‘s chamber and allow them to bid farewell in private.

When the Conqueror and the Queen remained alone in Cyrene ‘s chamber, the older woman extended her arm to the Conqueror.

“Mother,” the Conqueror sighed and her voice was laden with profound sorrow as a large lump choked her throat.

“Xena,” Cyrene said feeling her strength leaving her body, “I leave this earth knowing that I have given birth to the world’s Ruler who is not only powerful but just and benevolent, as well. And you, Gabrielle,” Cyrene reached her hand to the Queen.

The Queen embraced the dying woman and her hot tears dropped on Cyrene ‘s pale cheeks. “You were always a second daughter to me and I have thanked the Gods daily for putting you in Xena’s path. It was your love for her that has delivered this world. You’ve made it possible for me to say that I am proud of her… for the family she has created with you above all things.”

And with that she was gone.

When Cyrene passed away, the Conqueror was inconsolable. A grand funeral made with much lamentation and with an Imperial cavalcade took place in Amphipolis, where Cyrene has always wished to be buried – next to her youngest. The Royals were dressed in full regalia. Even the children of the Royal family were dressed in light armor with golden plates over their chests with a lion’s head etched in the metal and ceremonial swords on their thighs.

When the funeral was over, the Conqueror chose to spend the night in the chamber she had grown up in, in her late mother’s old, somewhat dilapidated tavern.

In her wife’s comforting bosom she wept bitter tears. She cried for all the times she hadn’t treated her mother with the respect she deserved. She cried for all the harsh words she had ever spoken to her and regretted the time she wasted without spending it with her. She knew she would forever miss her mother’s uncalled-for meddling in her affairs. In her wife’s bosom the Conqueror confessed her sins freely, honestly and without restraints.

The Queen held the Conqueror tightly in her arms and stroked her long, dark tresses. She offered her beloved Lord her warmth and her comfort wholeheartedly and without judgment.

On route back to Corinth all were quiet and immersed in deep thoughts. The Conqueror and the Queen rode at the head of the convoy; Athena and Sieglinde right behind them. Alexia was perched on her Sire’s horse with her Sire’s arms holding the reins and encompassing her. Lyceus rode with his mother. Terreis rode on her own horse behind her sister and their servant rode at the back. To each side of the Royals rode a row of Imperial Guardsmen on horseback, carrying with them the Conqueror’s banners.

The villagers who chanced their Sovereigns along the way bowed and curtsied before them and decorously and demurely murmured their Sovereigns’ honorifics without the customary excitement and cheer with which they had usually greeted them, on account of the Lord Conqueror’s mourning.

Death had finally touched one of their own, and so Alexia was the first to break the silence. She turned her head back and looked up to meet her Sire’s gaze, and asked, “Is the Lord Conqueror sad?”

“The Lord Conqueror is powerful and takes grief in her stride,” Princess Athena’s answer was stern. She meant to imply that they are all ought to govern their emotions.

“Do all people die, your Grace?” Alexia insisted, not yet satisfied.

“Yes,” Princess Athena replied with a flat tone of voice.

“Will the Lord Conqueror die?… will her Majesty the Queen!?” Alexia asked with a mixture of dread and disbelief. The concept of death was foreign to her. She had been told from birth that she would one day rule, to be sure, but she was not aware of the fact that her reign would begin only after her Sire and Grandsire’s final departure from the world.

From behind her, the Conqueror heard her granddaughter’s question as did the Queen, but neither turned around – just listened in on the conversation.

Princess Athena grabbed her firstborn’s chin and forced her to look up and into her angry eyes. “Have you lost your senses, child!?”

Alexia did not understand what provoked her Sire’s rage. She only knew that she had never seen such wrath about her Sire before.

“But,” she began to say and the angles of her mouth began to quiver.

“Hold you tongue!” Athena raised her voice, “How dare you speak of the Lord Conqueror’s death!? Or the Queen Majesty’s!?”

Alexia was scared mute.

“Heed my words – Never again will you bring this subject up if you ever wish to succeed me,” Athena waved a threatening forefinger at her eldest and her eyes were wild with ire.

Alexia could hold back her tears no longer and she began to cry for her mother.

Sieglinde’s heart churned in her chest but she knew better than to intervene when her Lord was disciplining her Heir.

“You will cease crying this instant or I shall give you a good reason to shed tears. Control and harden yourself as a proper future Ruler!”

Alexia did as her Sire bid her and clamped her mouth shut.

The sky was red with the setting sun and the Royal convoy prepared to spend the night in a lodge on the road. When they were all settled in their chambers after a quiet supper, the Conqueror ordered Alexia to be brought to her chamber. A short while later came a knock on the door.

“Enter,” the Queen said while rubbing her scented oils over her body.

“Majesties,” Alexia’s nurse curtsied before the Conqueror and the Queen and sent the child in.

“Majesties,” Alexia bowed before them, as well.

“Come here, sweetheart,” the Conqueror spoke softly after the door had been closed.

Alexia ran to the Conqueror, who was sitting in an armchair by the burning fire in the hearth dressed in her evening attire and a robe with thick grey fur along the neckline over her shoulders. The Conqueror picked up her granddaughter and seated her on her lap.

“I heard all that transpired between you and your Sire on the road today,” the Conqueror said.

The Queen finished brushing her hair and joined her granddaughter on the Conqueror’s other, vacant thigh.

“My Sire was displeased with me for asking a question,” Alexia protested and held her head down.

“Let me tell you something about us Conquerors, present and future,” the Conqueror spoke in a waggish manner in order to uplift her granddaughter’s spirit, and made the Queen smile widely and her heart overflow with love for her Lord. “We are fearless. Do you know what it means?”

“We are without fear,” Alexia replied.

“Quite the sage, you are!” the Conqueror said and rained three kisses on Alexia’s head, “We fear no man. We fear no enemy. We fear no army and we fear no god. We do not fear death, either. There is but one thing and one thing only that us Conquerors do fear. Can you guess what it is?”

The clever child thought for a moment and quickly realized she needn’t search far for the answer for it was within her. “Losing our loved ones,” she answered.

The Conqueror and the Queen were very pleased with their granddaughter’s answer.

“That is correct,” the Conqueror confirmed and kissed Alexia’s nose.

“I fear losing your Grandmother, and your Sire and your aunt and your brother and you, precious.”

“And my Sire fears losing us, you and Grandmother,” Alexia quickly deduced.

“And us Conquerors do not fancy being frightened and so when we fear, we tend to get angry. It is the fire in our powerful blood,” the Conqueror explained.

“So when I asked whether you were going to die, my Sire became frightened and her fear turned into rage…?”

“Exactly so, sweetheart,” the Conqueror said.

The Queen observed her Lord and her grandchild and could not help but notice the distinction between her Lord as a Sire to a future Ruler and her Lord as a Grandsire to a future ruler.

“In the future,” the Queen said to the child, “refrain from speaking about private matters when our subjects are in our presence.”

“Yes, Grandmother.”

The Conqueror fondly removed a strand of hair from Alexia’s features. “The moon is high and we have a long journey ahead of us come morning. You must go to sleep now.”

“Thank you, Grandsire,” Alexia said and pulled the Conqueror down to kiss her cheek. She slid down the Conqueror’s leg and when she reached the ground she decided to tell her brother all that the Conqueror had told her, for he was in deep distress ever since she’d first presented the disturbing question to their Sire.

“Rest well, Alexia. On your way to your chamber tell your Sire that I wish to see her.”

“I will, Sire,” she replied and left.

Alone once again in their chamber, the Queen wrapped her arms around her Lord’s neck and kissed her lips.

“Had I known I would receive kisses from you for being gentle with little Conquerors, I might have considered being gentler with Athena when she was at that age, my Lady,” the Conqueror teased her Queen.

The Conqueror’s remark loosened a chuckle from her wife.

“You are too wicked, my Lord.” the Queen feigned a frown and touched her lips to her Lord’s for another kiss.

The Conqueror engulfed the Queen in her arms and deepened the kiss, sending a caressing tongue into her wife’s pining hot mouth.

The Queen sucked the wriggling tongue in her mouth, eliciting deep groans from her Lord. “Being a parent and being a grandparent are different roles and different responsibilities,” she moaned under labored breath as she felt the Conqueror’s hand cupping her breast and passionately arousing the nipple to a hard erection.

A clearing of the throat drew the Conqueror and the Queen out of their rapidly brewing desire. Panting, they detached and turned their heads to the door.

“Shall I return when you’re done in about a candlemark or so or shall I…”

The Conqueror cut through her speech. “You insolent brat…” she scolded her eldest. “A candlemark…!?” she scoffed in good humor, “We copulate all night and we are not sated before first light!”

The Queen found her Lord’s boasting endearing. Athena knew it was just another verbal sparing she would have in the never-ending war between her Lord and herself.

“Come in, Athena. Your Sire wishes to speak with you.” With a gesture of her hand, the Queen invited the Heir to occupy the empty armchair next to the Conqueror.

Once Athena settled in the armchair, she immediately emitted, “Is this about what happened on the road, Sire?”

“It is,” the Conqueror replied.

Athena prepared herself for the berating she was convinced would soon follow. “With respect, Sire, how I discipline my child is my concern and no one else’s.”

“I did not summon you in order to admonish you. You were right to discipline your daughter. Nevertheless, I wish to offer you my wisdom.”

“Well, Sire… I doubt very much that if I was to speak of your death in public or Gods forbid, Mother’s death – you would not have been any less harsh than I was.”

“No, I would not have been any less harsh than you were. Nevertheless, the child was in a state of agitation. You should have put her mind at ease once in private.”

“As you’ve done?”

“As I have done.”

“And what did you tell her?”

“The truth, of course.”

“Which is?”

“That you were angry with her because you fear our death just as I fear losing any of you.”

Athena’s eyebrows rose in surprise.

“You admitted to her that you know fear!?”

“I did,” the Conqueror replied.

How relieving it would have been for her, Athena thought, had she known when she’d been a child that her Sire had possessed a mortal’s weakness and how easier it would have been if her Sire had shown better tenderness towards her as she had shown Alexia.

Athena rubbed the back of her head. Her Sire recognized the telltale and knew that her eldest was about to say something awfully irritating and reprehensible.

“Truly, Sire, you are getting softer in your old age,” Athena said in good spirit and guffawed.

“Mind who you are calling ‘old’,” the Conqueror laughed.

“Athena!” The Queen joined their laughter, but then her features turned serious. “I will have you know that your Sire still possesses the stamina and the strength of a dozen men and I can only hope that Sieglinde is as satisfied a wife as I am.”

Athena’s laughter stopped abruptly and her eyes became rounded with shock at her Mother’s brazen remark.

And that was the very last time that Princess Athena ever dared razz her Sire in her Mother’s presence.

The Conqueror thanked her wife with a minor nod of her head. “Parenthood,” she then said to her firstborn, “Is about guiding the next generation, and forgiving the last.”

Athena understood fully what her Sire meant and the significance and the magnitude of her words. It would be the closest her Sire would ever say to her in the way of an appoligy for all the times she had been generous with her sternness and stingy with her affections.

“Thank you, Sire,” she said and the Conqueror knew her eldest understood.

“There is as much harm in killing a man as there is in producing a child. Watch what kind of ruler you are unleashing onto the world.”

“I will, Sire,” Athena said.

Athena bid her parents goodnight and left their chambers.

As the Queen and the Conqueror entered their bed and dove beneath the covers, the Queen said to her Lord, “I am very pleased with what you said to Athena, my Lion.”

“I thought you would be,” the Conqueror was smug as she always was whenever she earned her wife’s approval.

The Queen took two of the Conqueror’s fingers and brought them to her mouth. Her tongue enticingly glided along their length and when it reached their top, slowly twirled around them, feeling on the tip of the sensitive organ the brutal history of the Conqueror’s hand and its intoxicating raggedness. The Queen inserted them sensuously deep into her mouth. While she suckled on the hard digits, driving her Lord mad with lust, she took her Lord’s other hand and guided it past the crumbling old collar around her thigh to her womanhood.

At the opening, the Conqueror was anticipated with hot moisture. The Conqueror savored the precious moment before delving inside and her breath was stolen away, and when she began teasing the slick, swollen gates to her wife’s core, another knock on the door obstructed them.

“This is unacceptable!” the Conqueror’s voice roared. “I wish to be left alone with her Majesty!”

No sound came from the other side of the door for a few long moments.

“Majesties,” finally came a hesitating cry.

The Conqueror and the Queen immediately recognized the voice of their grandson. They took a few moments to calm their breathing and suppress their desire.

“Enter Lyceus,” the Queen called out to him.

Just as the door was opened, the Conqueror whispered in her Queen’s ear, half amused, “And here I thought with our own children finally grown, I would suffer no interruptions before I am about to take you.”

“Let these be the only interruptions we would ever suffer, my Lord,” the Queen whispered back when in came Lyceus, Alexia and Terreis.

“What is this I see!?” the Conqueror was astounded by the sight of the precession of children walking into her chamber.

“What is the matter, children? Why are you not in bed?” the Queen asked.

“I was afraid,” Lyceus said.

“Hasn’t Alexia explained things to you?” The Conqueror sounded shorter than she intended to be. There was a special soft spot in her heart for him and her love for him was the tenderest.

“She did, Grandsire, but I am still frightened that you and Grandmother are going to die…” he said, distraught and about to cry.

The Conqueror looked at Terreis and Alexia and saw distress in them, too.

“Listen to me, and listen carefully,” the Conqueror said. “Your Grandmother and I have no intention of being late of this world anytime soon. We shall live to see you all grow up, marry and have children.”

“Do you promise, my Sire?” Terreis asked.

“You have my word,” the Conqueror promised.

The children began to jump up and down and cheer.

“There will be no further talks of death and dying. Now return to your chambers and go to sleep,” the Conqueror ordered.

But the children lingered.

“May we sleep in your bed tonight, Grandsire?” Lyceus asked.

The Conqueror took a few moments to think on the request and when her answer was slow in coming, the Queen prompted her, “My Lord?”

“What about our… conversation?” the Conqueror argued.

“Surely it can keep until tomorrow,” the Queen answered.

“Very well then,” the Conqueror was reconciled. “You must not mistake this gesture for any sort of precedent,” she made sure the children understood.

The children cheered again and climbed into bed with their Grandparents and lay between them. The Queen told them about the exciting adventures of the golden lass and the honorable lion in the great land of Chin and the children and the Conqueror all fell into a deep, serene sleep.

***

Soon after, the Royal twins were sent to the Military Academy in Athens to further supplement their education. The decision to send them to the Military Academy in Athens rather than the one in Rome , which was the superior and the more prestigious an institution of the two, was received both by the twins’ Parents and Grandparents. Of course none of the couples wished to part with the twins, but Athena had another reason for wishing her children would attend the Academy in Athens and not the one in Rome, where she had been schooled: she did not wish her children to experience the sharp pain of being torn from their family and the merciless sensation of isolation as she had.

Discontented by the idea that her grandchildren would be educated by a lesser institution, the Conqueror naturally seduced all the best tutors, including ones from the Roman Academy, by any of the extensive means she had at her disposal donated the best equipment she could get her hands. She thus turned the Military Academy in Athens into the leading institution, which drew to it only the finest of students from all around the many Provinces.

 

Part 5

Terreis grew up to become a beautiful, strong and conscientious lass. All that knew her adored and admired her, for she took much after her Mother not only in beauty, but in a kind, generous heart; her wise, peaceful ways; her moral stature and well-tempered nature. When she became of age, an ilk of suitors began circling around her.

She was not yet ready for courtship and somewhat naïve in these matters and so no overt overtures were made and no one approached the Conqueror in order to obtain permission.

One day, soon after she had become of age, she went hunting alone in the woods, not far from the lake where her Sire had been taking them for swimming and fishing, when a large grey wolf attacked her. It caught her off guard and pounced on her from behind a large rock, throwing her to the ground with it on top of her.

The wolf’s weight upon her nearly crushed her ribs and knocked the air out of her lung. She felt as close to death as she had felt during the night of the great fire, and when the animal growled at her and exposed its formidable canines, about to devour her, she felt a sudden rush of panic. Being her parents’ daughter, she gathered her wits about her in a blink of an eye and managed to shut the wolf’s jaw with one hand and with the other, drew her dagger from its sheath on her belt and drove it upwards, skewering the wolf’s mouth shut and piercing its brain.

As she felt the life leaving the slain animal, a shower of its warm blood rained all over her face, neck and torso. Terreis’s heart was pounding wildly in her chest still and her breath was quick and labored by the exertion. Her body was burning hot and she felt her blood boiling in her veins.

She pushed off of her the animal’s carcass with her dagger still sticking out of it and ran to the lake to wash off the wolf’s blood and cool her own.

The chilling water in the lake washed the animal’s blood away but it did not cool her own blood any. She could not understand what was happening to her body and her spirit. She thought she was running a fever but it could not account for the awakening, throbbing and unfamiliar ache of pressuring wanting between her legs and the predacious state she was in. At some point she was in the grip of the idea that upon death, the wolf’s spirit entered her and was punishing her for killing the body it had formally possessed.

Whatever the ailment that was attacking her, Terreis thought, her Mother would be able to identify it and have the remedy for it.

When she reached her Mother’s chambers, she entered it despite the Queen’s lady in waiting imploring her to wait, for the Queen was receiving audience with Princess Sieglinde.

When Princess Terreis stormed in, all the Queen’s lady in waiting could do was to announce her presence.

Lingering by the entrance rather than stepping in and approaching the Queen, Terreis bowed before her Mother from a distance and said, “Your Majesty.”

The Queen remained seated, dressed in regal attire, with her crown over her head. “Your Grace,” she greeted back and wondered with some alarm and concern for she didn’t know her youngest to be rude and so she had to surmise something must have happened.

The noblewoman who had been consulting with the Queen rose to her feet and along with the Queen and Princess Sieglinde’s ladies in waiting curtsied before Princess Terreis, greeting her with accordance to protocol.

“Pardon my intrusion, but I am in dire need to discuss a private matter with your Majesty,” Terreis’ voice was urgent and somewhat labored.

“Please leave us,” the Queen ordered her subjects and they all vacated the Queen’s antechamber.

When Princess Sieglinde, who often accompanied the Queen on her meetings to learn her role from her, remained sitting, Terreis looked at her with imploring eyes trying desperately to hide what she thought was the beast within her.

“Forgive me, sister, but it is private,” she said to her sister-in-law.

“Of course, sister,” Princess Sieglidne answered in kind and left the Queen’s antechamber, too.

Terreis began to walk towards her Mother, feeling like what ever it was that plagued her was becoming harder and harder to control.

As her youngest came closer, the Queen recognized immediately what it was that disturbed Terreis so profoundly. The heat emanating off her body, the voracious air about her, the ferocious look in her eyes that annunciated ‘danger’ as if to ward off any resistance – the Queen had seen it many times before and when she had seen it in her Lord it had made her take heel and succumb.

The Queen was almost too astonished to utter a single syllable. Since Terreis was the living image of her, it had never even crossed her mind that her youngest would experience battle-lust like her Sire and her sister.

“Tell me what happened,” the Queen requested. “Were you just now in danger? Were you violent when you repelled the threat?”

“A wolf attacked me by the lake. I had to kill it,” On account of her state, Terreis’ speech was concise even though she did not intend it to be. “So you know what it is that is ailing me, Mother,” she said, relieved.

“I do,” the Queen replied. “You should go at once and tell my Lord, your Sire.”

Terreis was confused. “You are the healer, are you not!? What can my Sire do for me that you cannot!? What is wrong with me!?” she asked as her hands clenched into fists and her voice trembled with the effort of controlling the furious darkness.

“There is no cause for alarm, my child. There is nothing wrong with you. We shall go see my Lord, your Sire,” was all the Queen thought she ought to say.

Wondering about her Mother’s evasive mannerism, Terreis strode down the corridor leading to the Imperial Chambers where the Conqueror had been preparing herself before going down to the Great Hall where her advisors were waiting for her. Her Mother the Queen nearly ran in order to keep up with her.

When they reached the Imperial Chambers, the Queen turned to her daughter and said, “Wait here in the antechamber for I wish to speak with my Lord first.”

The Queen entered the bedchamber.

“Finished so soon, my Lady?” The Conqueror was pleasantly surprised to see her Queen in their bedchamber at midday and rued the fact that her day’s obligations were far from being over.

“No, my Lord. I need to speak with you on an urgent matter,” the Queen explained.

“It sounds dire,” the Conqueror said, concerned.

“It would appear that Terreis has inherited my Lord’s battle-lust,” the Queen said.

The Conqueror beheld her wife with some measure of disbelief. “What happened? Has someone attacked her?”

“She went hunting in the woods near the lake and was attacked by a wolf.” The Queen regaled the events that had led to her conclusion.

“Was she injured?” asked Conqueror, alarmed.

“She killed the creature and was unscathed,” the Queen was quick to put her Lord’s mind at ease. “She came to my chambers not a few moments ago and I could see battle-lust glowing about her.”

“But,” the Conqueror was hard pressed to reconcile what she thought she knew about her daughter and her Queen’s almost wild accounts. “But she is you all over… How is it possible!? How convinced are you?” she asked. It wasn’t so much any mistrust in her wife’s assessment as it was her inability to fathom the reality in which her little Terreis had matured and had developed sexual proclivities and propensities that matched hers rather than her mother’s. Nevertheless, the Conqueror felt herself being somewhat relieved that in terms of sexual predilections the second in line for the succession took after her.

“She is waiting outside in the antechamber if you wish to examine her first-hand.” the Queen was just shy of being offended. “My Lord, I have been in the presence of the dark beast so many times that I would know it in my sleep.”

“Of course,” the Conqueror said and emitted a deep grunt, “Please, forgive me, Gabrielle .

It thrilled the Queen as always to hear her name pass the Conqueror’s lips, and she wondered whether her Lord was apologizing for what she had said or for what she was about to say.

“Is it your intention to edify her as you’ve edified Athena?” the Queen asked. The memory of the time when Athena had broached them with the awakening of her desires and how it had placed her and her Lord at variance came to the Queen’s mind.

“It is, my Love,” the Conqueror answered.

The Queen found her Lord’s reply most disconcerting, so much so that the Conqueror could read her wife’s state of mind clearly across her face.

“I know of no other method to… contain it,” the Conqueror attempted to appease the Queen.

“I have faith in you, my Lord,” the Queen finally said but she could not shake the foreboding feeling that was eating away at her in the far regions of her mind.

The Conqueror nodded her head. She leaned down and opened the chest at the foot of their bed and retrieved a velvet bag. The Queen knew immediately what was in it. Before the Conqueror had exited the chamber, the Queen rested her hand upon the Conqueror’s forearm and said: “I beseech you to be gentle with her, for I suspect Terreis will resent you for it.”

Without another word, the Conqueror left their bedchamber.

The moment she stepped into the antechamber, the Conqueror sensed the presence of a predator. She took one look at her daughter and knew all the way down to her very bones that she was riddled with battle-lust.

“My Sire,” Terreis’s voice was hoarse.

“Terreis,” the Conqueror returned her youngest’ greeting.

“What is this torment that has been blackening my soul?” the young lass demanded to know.

“Come with me and I shall explain on the way,” the Conqueror replied.

As they rode together to the center of the city of Corinth , the Conqueror broke her silence.

“You have become of age now, sweetheart, and are no longer a child,” the Conqueror said as her dark tresses were billowing in the wind. “With adulthood certain… changes occur in your body as you might have noticed.”

“I have, my Sire,” Terreis confirmed. “Mother has already explained to me about said changes a fortnight ago.”

The Conqueror was relieved to hear it, yet she knew that the harder explanations still rested on her shoulders.

“Mother said nothing about the searing darkness that spreads in me,” Terreis said.

The Conqueror exhaled. “It is most unfortunate that the first experience you have with sexual desire came to you in the form of battle-lust.”

“What is battle-lust, Sire?”

“Exactly what you are feeling now,” the Conqueror answered.

“What I feel now is an almost overpowering need to control and possess… an excruciating desire to conquer… physically conquer and own with my body… It is a lower need… a hunger… it is so very consuming … It cannot be merely sexual urges…”

“It is not. It is the dark beast that dwells in our blood, mine and Athena’s… and now yours.”

“Athena!?” Terreis asked, surprised.

The Conqueror nodded her head.

“Sire,” Terreis’ voice trembled, “for the first time in all my life I find myself terrified of my own power. I shall lock myself in a chamber and wait for it to abate on its own.”

“It is a misfortune for one to fear his own power. You should not fear yours especially since you possess a pure heart, like your Mother. As for battle-lust – It will not abate on its own, Terreis. It must be expelled… a certain way,” the Conqueror explained with severity about her countenance.

“I fear what I might do in this state, Sire,” Terreis shook her head.

“You must let it run its own course through carnal knowledge… there is no other way,” the Conqueror said gravely when they reached their destination.

The Conqueror and her youngest climbed down their horses and entered the brothel. It was the same establishment to which the Conqueror had taken her eldest some years ago when she had become of age.

The lewd murals over the walls did not alter over the years and Terreis stared at them with the same curiosity as Athena had stared at them back then when first she had laid her eyes on them.

“Your Majesty,” an old lady curtsied before the Conqueror and from the familiar tone of her voice, Terreis surmised the old lady had previous acquaintance with her Sire.

“Madam Atia,” the Conqueror greeted back.

“You have brought your youngest this time, I see,” Madam Atia pointed out as she beheld Princess Terreis. “Your Grace,” she curtsied before her.

“Madam,” Terreis greeted back and inwardly she had the sense as though she was pushed into a world that was as foreign to her as the Province of Chin – a world from which she would not return the way she would enter it. She ran her eyes over the old woman and thought she seemed shady to her. A nagging feeling began gnawing at her as to how her Sire came to know the woman and what sort of dealings they shared. Her Sire was honorable and that particular woman did not strike Terreis as honorable but rather disreputable. One thing was clear from Madam Atia’s words, however: her Sire had, at one point, brought Athena to that place, which Terreis thought was foul and vile.

“What will it be for her, a lad or a lass?” Madam Atia asked, for it was not as conspicuous or straightforward as it had been with Princess Athena, she thought.

“A lass,” the Conqueror answered determinably, without deferring the question to Terreis, despite the fact that it had been her appetite that required addressing. No daughter of mine shall be swived by a man.”

Terreis could not help but begrudge her Sire not letting her answer for herself despite the fact that she would have chosen a lass, as well. It was then that she suddenly realized what they were there for and what her Sire was doing – procuring a woman for her to lay with. Had she not been in the state she was in, she would have stopped her Sire and returned back to the palace. Things being as they were coupled with the fact that she trusted her Sire, she said nothing.

“Of course, Majesty,” Madam Atia confirmed.

“Madam,” the Conqueror continued, “This will not be a regular initiation session into the ways of the world. Her Grace has our darkness upon her. She would require a lass that is both trained and willing.”

Again it was all Terreis could do not to wear her astonishment on her features. By the way that her Sire presented her specifications, Terreis learned two things to be facts. The first, her Sire assumed that the Madam would know exactly what she was talking about in reference to their darkness and the second, that her Sire and Athena had let their darkness loose on the women inhabiting the establishment.

Many questions sprung into Terreis’ mind as she felt the earth beneath her feet vanish, but her mind became too addled by her needs to define them and much less to contemplate them.

“Then this one should do nicely, your Majesty,” Madam Atia said as she beckoned to approach them one of the young women who were sprawled all over, wearing garments that revealed more than they concealed.

“Very good,” the Conqueror said and placed a hefty pouch filled with silver coins in Madam Atia’s hands.

Terreis’ eyes stalked the young woman in her early twenties with the long, smooth black hair and ample figure, who passed by her and curtsied before her and her Sire.

Madam Atia whispered a few words in her ear, while the Conqueror showed Terreis into a nearby, unoccupied chamber.

Once alone in the chamber that had a large bed in the middle of it and not much else, the Conqueror was revisited by the memory of standing in the exact same chamber with her eldest.

“Before you go and sate yourself, I wish to say a few words to you,” the Conqueror said to her youngest. “You must never force yourself on a woman, Terreis.”

“Of course not, my Sire,” Terreis was appalled by the notion and wondered why her Sire felt behooved to warn her against something she would never dare do.

“I have obtained for you the lass’ consent to all acts that might please you, but know that in the future you yourself must always obtain a woman’s consent beforehand to any act you wish to commit upon her without exceptions and halt when she requests it, do you understand me?”

“Of course, my Sire,” Terreis reiterated.

“If your rent the services of a professional, always pay her twice her fee,” the Conqueror continued.

Terreis was too overwhelmed to entertain the concept of renting women in the future. Nevertheless she answered, “I will.”

“And most importantly, never treat any woman you take to your bed, be her a professional or a lady of the Realm, with anything but utter respect.”

Terreis was almost offended by her Sire’s last instruction, for how else could she ever treat women other than with perfect respect.


“That goes without saying, my Sire,”
Terreis assured her Sire.

The Conqueror then took a phallus out of the velvet bag that hung over her shoulder. The bag she discarded onto the bed and the phallus she handed over to Terreis.

“She will show you how to use it,” the Conqueror said and explained no further and Terreis took the instrument from her Sire’s hand and examined it with the bewildered eyes of a novice. “I will be in the tavern across the square when you are done.” The Conqueror placed a kiss on Terreis’ forehead. “Do not forget who you are,” were her final words to her youngest. Those were the same words she had spoken to Athena.

The Conqueror exited the chamber and the young woman that had been picked for the task entered.

***

While the Conqueror was sitting in the tavern over a mug of ale, much to the other patrons’ surprise, she recalled how she had instructed Athena when she’d taken her to a brothel for the first time, and thought how different her eldest’ reaction had been from that of her youngest’. She clearly remembered how Athena had made a jest when she had brought the issue of attaining a bedmate’s consent, where as for Terreis the issue had been both serious and obvious.

The mid afternoon shadows were beginning to fall across the ground. The doors to the dimly lit tavern were swung open, making sunlight invade in.

Princess Terreis stood at the entrance disheveled with the velvet bag hanging over her shoulder.

“Your Majesty,” Terreis bowed before her Sire, who turned her attention to the entrance.

“Your Grace,” the Conqueror answered and stayed in her seat.

“I need to have a word with you, Majesty,” Terreis asked but her tone of voice suggested something more in the way of a demand.

“We shall talk at the palace,” the Conqueror stated and stood up, throwing a few coins onto the bar to settle her tab.

“With respect, Majesty, what I have to say won’t keep till then.” Terreis fought to keep her distraught state from showing.

“Very well,” the Conqueror emitted. Not wishing to find herself in the center of a royal scandal, the Conqueror turned to the man behind the bar. “Innkeeper, a private chamber.”

“This way, your Majesty,” he said as he stepped out from behind the bar, happy and honored that the Lord Conqueror was spending her coins in his establishment.

He led the Conqueror and Princess Terreis to the most isolated chamber in his inn, reassuring them that no one was currently residing in the nearby chamber.

As soon as the door was closed, Terreis opened her mouth to speak but the Conqueror upheld her hand to shush her youngest, listening to the innkeeper’s footsteps furthering away down the hall. When she was sure he was far enough, she signaled Terreis to speak with a nod of her head.

“It was revolting!” the words simply burst out of Terreis’ mouth.

“Was the lass not to your liking?” the Conqueror inquired.

“The poor thing…” Terreis said with sorrow mixed with disgust, “the things I’ve done to her… The degrading words I spewed… It just came out of me… Evil…,” she grabbed her head with both hands and wide-eyed she shook it as if in disbelief of her own actions.

Though Terreis’ words were muddled the Conqueror comprehended her daughter’s mind.

“Calm down,” the Conqueror muttered and poured Terreis a fresh cup of water from the basin that stood on a table neneath the window.

At the sight of the offered cup, Terreis turned on the axis of her heels, bent over while supporting her weight with one hand against the wall and lost the content of her stomach on the wooden floorboards.

The Conqueror was clean amazed by Terreis’ violent reaction to the expulsion of her battle-lust. Concerned, she rested her hand on her youngest’ back, but Terreis shook it away as if she was neither able nor willing to bear her Sire’s touch.

“She fastened this thing to my crotch,” Terreis brandished the velvet bag before her Sire’s eyes, “And I shackled her to the wall… and I liked the sight of her… vulnerable… bound… completely at my mercy…” Terreis wiped her mouth and tears sprung from her eyes.

The Conqueror said nothing but listened.

“I whipped her with a crop… a riding crop, if you can believe it… the kind one uses on horses! What’s worse… it excited me… her tears excited me… the sight of her wriggling … trying to avoid the beating excited me… I pulled her hair like a savage and then… I penetrated her with this,” the Princess cried.

Terreis took out the phallus and threw it at her Sire’s feet. “Here, take it! I do not care for it,” she said defiantly. Her gaze tracked the trajectory of the phallus all the way to her Sire’s feet, and on the way back up she caught sight of the glaring bulge at her Sire’s loins. She suddenly realized what exactly that bulge was. Her Sire was wearing a phallus on her person constantly. She almost laughed at herself for her childish, naïve foolishness, for when she’d first noticed it when younger she’d thought it was some sort of protection equipment such as an armor. How silly of her, she thought, it was not a shield but a weapon.

“That’s enough!” the Conqueror warned her, torn between her impulse to comfort her beloved daughter and putting a stop to what she foresaw was quickly becoming a lashing out against her.

“The onslaught was too horrific for words, Sire. I left her black and blue.”

“She was well compensated for her service to you,” the Conqueror replied with some measure of sternness.

“Service…” Terreis scoffed. “You make it sound so harmless… so benign as if we were talking about cooking or tailoring.”

The Conqueror said nothing.

“So funds can buy you everything and power gains you all your heart’s desires!?”

The Conqueror’s eyes narrowed into thin slits. Was her youngest resenting all that she had worked so hard all her life to achieve? The Ruler became vexed.

“The woman knew what she was getting herself into,” was all the Conqueror had to say.

“I doubt that very much, Sire,” Terreis dismissed with a wave of her hand.

“You are young and do not know the ways of this world,” the Conqueror took a step towards her youngest. “The first bit of gossip these women exchange between them as soon as they begin plying their trade in brothels are their encounters with the Lord Conqueror and her progeny. They pass these stories between them like we pass war stories.”

“So you and Athena are frequenting brothels and do to these women what I’ve done today!” Terreis exclaimed, her strong suspicions now confirmed. Her sorrow and turmoil now turned into anger.She thought of her Mother and her sister-in-law. Try as she might she could not reconcile in her heart what she thought she knew about her parents and the bond between them and what she had come to learn that day.

The Conqueror remembered a time when she had welcomed the spreading of such salacious allegations. Now she was livid from being accused and rebuked by her daughter. “Lower your voice;” she hissed between clenched teeth. “I will not have the entire city of Corinth knowing our private business.” The Conqueror folded her arms over her chest and lifted her chin up. “Your Mother was right. I have spoiled you too much throughout your childhood. Had I disciplined you as she demanded, you would not have dared speaking to me with such extraordinary impudence.”

Terreis exhaled deeply and wiped away her tears.

“I used to in my youth before I met your Mother,” the Conuqeror said after a few moments passed between them in silence. “This is all you will hear from me on the matter. I will not be judged by my own child.”

Terreis felt betrayed. She regarded her Sire as though a complete and utter stranger stood before her.

“I shall never do that again,” she stated adamantly.

“Then hope battle-lust is never upon you, again. Alas, being that you are of my blood, I’d venture to say you should not count on it.”

“I would simply lock myself in the dungeons and wait for it to pass, then.”

“You would only drive yourself mad. Battle-lust is inexorable once it sets. I have explained all this to you, already.”

Terreis refused to accept it and could no longer bear listening to the one who had given her life. She stormed out of the chamber and rode back to the palace alone, leaving her Sire behind.

She found her Mother alone getting ready for bed in the Imperial Chambers.

“Do I still have the right of cast?” she asked. Her eyes were bloodshot and her demeanor wild.

It took the Queen all but one look to realize that something had gone terribly wrong, as she’d feared it would.

“Of course you do,” she replied, inwardly wondering where her Lord was and why she did not return home with Terreis, for surely she would have sought her out as soon as she could . “Now tell me what has brought this on?”

“I wish to leave Corinth and travel to the Amazon Lands and live in their midst. It is high time I trained to be their Queen.”

The Queen’s heart shrunk with concern.

“You need to secure my Lord’s permission for it, as well you know,” the Queen replied.

“I think I should find no difficulties securing my Sire’s permission after today,” Terreis spoke with an air of confidence and defiance about her that the Queen did not care for at all.

“Tell me everything that happened,” the Queen asked firmly.

“I shall spare you all the gory details, Mother. Suffice it to say that what I have learnt today I wish I would never have learnt.”

“Was the performance of your mate not to your satisfaction?”

Terreis looked at her Mother as if she could not grasp what was wrong with her.

“My victim,” Terreis pronounced her words in a manner which had a corrective quality to it, “I’m glad to say – survived my abhorrent and humiliating treatment of her.”

Upon hearing her daughter’s rhetoric, the Queen understood what was troubling her youngest.

“What makes you so convinced?”

“That the woman I brutally violated was a victim?” Terreis asked.

The Queen nodded her head.

“How could she not be!?”

“Different women have different appetites, child.”

But there was no persuading Terreis.

“I wish to go and live with the Amazons. I cannot stay in the palace a moment longer.”

“And why is that?”

“The world is ruled by a bloodline of depraved and insidious monsters and I do not wish to partake in it.”

The Queen understood the implication. Terreis was in the belief that her Sire was a monster and so much as said so. Hot, sizzling blood rushed to the Queen’s features, pounding in her ears, and without thought her hand rose in the air and she slapped Terreis hard across her face.

Terreis was stunned. A dull, pulsating ache began to spread over the right side of her face and she could not control the scorching tears from running down her face. She rubbed the place where her Mother’s hand had connected with her face.

“In all my years I have never raised my hand to you or to Athena no matter how much you deserved it, and trust me when I tell you I have had occasion to listen to some audacious words coming from both of you. Princess Gabrielle Terreis – You will disrespect my Lord, your Sire never again if you wish to keep the right of cast, which I have given you. Am I making myself clear!?”

Terreis had never seen her Mother more serious or more furious in all her years. Her mother meant every word she said, and for the first time in her life she feared her Mother.

“I shall leave immediately. I trust you will inform the acting queen of my imminent arrival and secure my Sire’s permission of my leaving.” And with her words still echoing in the chamber, Terreis turned and left without even looking back despite her Mother’s cries after her.

Some time later, the Conqueror entered the bedchamber. Her steps were heavy as was her heart. She never believed there could ever be a rift between her and Terreis. Terreis’ blind adoration towards her has lasted for far longer than Athena’s ever had.

The Queen was not in bed but pacing aimlessly to and fro across the chamber with her knuckles under her chin and her mind too preoccupied to notice her Lord’s presence.

“Gabrielle,” the Conqueror’s voice carried defeat in it.

The Queen was startled by the unexpected voice calling out to her.

“My Lord,” she sighed and by the expression on her face the Conqueror deduced that the Queen had spoken to Terreis, already.

“You’ve seen Terreis, I take it…” the Conqueror muttered and her tall body landed heavily into her armchair. She felt too tired to bend over in order to take her boots off and so halfway down she straightened back up again.

The Queen knelt at the Conqueror’s feet and carefully removed the boots off them.

“I have, my Lord,” she replied while her hands were toiling.

As the Queen helped her Lord out of her attire, they told each other all that had happened and everything that had been said that day. After some contemplations and despite her desire to spare her Lord grief, the Queen elected to tell her what she considered their youngest’ outlandish view of her Lord.

“I should go after her…” the Conqueror said and stood up purposeful-like, “If I leave now I could still catch…”

But the Queen cut through her speech. “You will do no such thing, my Lord,” she said determinably. “It is she who owes you awe and respect. She should crawl on her knees, kiss your feet and beg your forgivness and your mercy.”

The Conqueror said nothing and pondered over her wife’s words.

Eventually she said with a small voice laden with sadness, “It just breaks my heart that she thinks of me such awful things. The pain is so awesome I can heardly breathe.”

If there was one thing she could not forgive, the Queen knew, it was a slight against her Lord and it broke her own heart to bear witness to her mighty Lord’s agony.

“I know, my Lion,” the Queen said and caressed the Conqueror’s majestic features.

“My little princess has left me…” the Conqueror’s voice cracked.

“She will come to her senses, Love,” the Queen promised. “She was forced to receive hard lessons today and learn certain truths she did not expect to learn not just about us but about herself, as well.”

“I know,” said the Conqueror.

After a few quiet moments had gone by, the Queen said: “She seemed to struggle so hard to control it… So much effort she applied but I could see she was failing. You are always able to keep the darkness on a low simmer. I’ve seen you bridling it for a long time when the battlefield is moons away from home… from me.”

“She is very young and inexperienced. Mine is a bleak, raging ill-tempered nature where as hers is the opposite. I have had to learn to master my darkness and rage since childhood. She never had to before today,” the Conqueror explained. Mourning the loss of Terreis’ adoration, she whispered after awhile, “Do you think she loves me still?”

The Queen let out a deep sigh and engulfed her Lord’s head with her arms and pressed it against her breasts as close to her heart as she could. “She will never stop loving you. She is in a delicate state at the moment. Battle-lust is by no means an easy way to be ushered into the world of carnal pleasures, my Lord, especially for her.” She pressed her lips to her Lord’s temples and added,“Some distance between the two of you is a wise and blessed thing.”

 

Part 6

“I have forgotten how much I adore these quiet meals with no one but us, my Lord,” the Queen said as she sucked the marrow out of the bone of a tender pheasant.

No reply came from the Conqueror, who was across the table from her reclining over a few large pillows encased in fine silk and satin in the Imperial bedchamber, immersed in deep thoughts.

“Apparently, you are not enjoying my company as much as I enjoy yours tonight,” the Queen spoke her protest softly but her message was clear.

“Forgive me, my Lady. My mind was elsewhere,” said the Conqueror and poured wine into her gilded chalice.

“Are you thinking about Terreis?” the Queen asked and leaned backwards against the pillows.

“I was thinking about both of them…” the Conqueror replied and took a healthy gulp of wine and relished its rich texture rolling over her tongue, “Athena and Terreis.”

“You miss them…” the Queen stated and a gentle smile ornamented her lips. “Athena and Sieglinde will be back from Athens within a day or two at the most.”

“Good,” the Conqueror said in a manner that was particular enough to make the Queen suspect that there was something more than mere longing in her Lord’s heart and mind.

“And why is it so good, my Lion?” she inquired.

“There is something I wish to discuss with her,” the Conqueror deliberately delivered a vague answer.

The Queen tore another leg from the bird swimming in sauce on her plate and sunk her teeth into the succulent meat.

“You do look quite delicious when you are sucking on bones,” the Conqueror said suggestively and ran her tongue over her teeth as though she was preparing herself to take a bite.

“My Lord,” the Queen put down the meat, “Though I find your prurient compliments extremely endearing and stimulating, I also find them extremely distracting… I am sure I have told you several times in the past…” She brought the Conqueror’s hand to her mouth and placed a kiss on the Conqueror’s seal-ring. “Back to the matter at hand,” she continued. “I have already regaled all that had happened with Terreis in a letter to Athena.”

“That is not what I mean to discuss with her,” the Conqueror said, much to the Queen’s surprise.

“What is it, then?”

The Ruler took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. What she had to say to Athena concerned her wife, as well.

“Athena is now judicious, self-possessed and well matched.”

Although very pleased that her Lord had noticed their eldest’s advancement and was obviously proud of her, the Queen wondered what had brought her Lord to say it on that particular night, but she did not ask, not wishing to interrupted her Lord.

“She has reached full power,” the Conqueror said then paused for what she had to say next was of great importance and substantial repercussions, “and I am tired of the yoke of rule.”

The Queen almost did not believe her own ears. She straightened back up and both her brows were high above her green eyes. “My Lord,” she sighed, “If truly you love me,” she became short of breath and fanned her hand over her heart, as her breasts quickly rose and fell with her quick and shallow breathing, “I beseech you not to get my hopes high if you do not really mean what I suspect you are about to say.”

Upon seeing her wife’s excited reaction and listening to her words, a low-toned chuckle escaped from the Conqueror’s mouth. She tapped her knee, beckoning the Queen to come and sit in her lap. It was all the invitation the Queen needed. With a light heart and shimmering bright eyes, the Queen got up and threw herself at the Conqueror, cupping her strong features with both hands and showering countless vigorous kisses all over it.

“For the remainder of our lives, I wish to show you the world, Gabrielle,” the Conqueror finally said what her wife had yearned for years to hear.

The Queen closed her eyes when she heard her Lord fulfilling her deepest, most clandestine desire, and a single tear fell from her left eye.

Their embrace tightened and the Queen pressed her cheek against her Lord’s and whispered only three words:

“Thank you, Xena.”

They sealed the beginning of a new chapter in their lives with a tender yet passionate kiss. She knew that her Lord was not really relinquishing power, for her Lord’s power stemmed neither from the fortune she had garnered nor from the vast lands she had conquered – nor even from the millions of people under her rule. These were but mere symbols of her power. The Conqueror’s power came from within her and could not be relinquished. Nevertheless, her Lord was relinquishing control, which the Queen did not take lightly. She also knew that the grand gesture, perhaps the grandest of all past gestures that her Lord had paid her over their years together, was done for her, for them and for no other reason. Perhaps it had been Cyrene ‘s passing that had reminded her Lord of her own mortality. People such as her Lord were always in need of such reminders, for they were greater than life.

Her Lord simply did not wish to squander more valuable time on her Throne when she could spend it with her. It had nothing to do with the Conqueror’s weariness of rule. Her Lord only said so, so to diminish her grand gesture and not cause her any misgivings receiving it. It made the Conqueror’s gift to her all the more precious.

“So, when do we leave? What shall be our first destination?” the Queen exuberantly asked.

The Conqueror began to laugh. “First things first,” she said. “We must inform Athena of our decision then pass to her the reins of rule in an orderly fashion. A moon or so ought to suffice for the preparations of the coronation.”

“And then!?” the Queen anxiously goaded her Lord.

“Where do you wish to travel first, my Love?” the Conqueror relished her wife’s evident happiness.

“First, I think… The Nordic Lands , then Britannia and Germania… then Gaul and India …”

A wholehearted laughter erupted from the Conqueror’s mouth and she buried her face in the nook between her wife’s shoulder and neck and ran her tongue over the tender skin there. When her laughter subsided, she said: “Perhaps we could make a stop at the Amazon Lands…”

The Queen ran the tip of her finger over her Lord’s hard jaw line. “Pray heed my advice to you,” she said ardently. “My Lord does not go and grovel before those who displease or disrespect her but rather summons them to appear before her and demands their capitulation before her will and power. Going to the Amazon Lands will not benefit you, my Lion.”

The Conqueror knew that her wife was right.

“If only to ease your mind and cleanse your heart of any doubt or worry,” the Queen continued, “I shall travel to the Amazon Lands myself and apply my best efforts to resolve the discord between you and Terreis,” she suggested much to her Lord’s relief and delight.

“Will you!?”

“Of course, I will. I shall leave as soon as Athena is back.”

***

The following day, Athena and Sieglinde returned from their visit to Athens and before they even had a chance to wash their feet from the dust of the roads, they were summoned to the Great Hall to appear before the Conqueror and the Queen.

The somewhat urgent summons gave Athena and Sieglinde pause. It could not have been simply for the purpose of greeting them back home, for there would not have been any reason for the formal summon for that. It could not have been for the discord between the Conqueror and Princess Terreis either, for the Conqueror would not have related to that matter in a public forum. Nevertheless, they complied of course with the Conqueror’s will and headed straight to the Great Hall. After their arrival was announced and they strode towards the Throne, observing their subjects bow and curtsy before them, they could not help but notice the unusual large number of courtiers present that day.

“Majesties,” they muttered, bowing and curtsying before the Conqueror and the Queen.

The Conqueror and the Queen, dressed in their regal attire and with their crowns on their heads, greeted Princess Athena and Princess Sieglinde back.

The Conqueror could see puzzlement clear across her eldest’ features.

“It is my desire and pleasure,” the Conqueror stated with sonorous voice while her arms were resting on the armrests of her Throne, “that you should ascend to the Throne and proceed to claim my crown and rule over this great Realm.”

No one in the Great Hall was more astounded and more dumbfounded than Princess Athena and had it not been for the official occasion, she would not have bitten the inside of her cheeks and would not have concealed her befuddlement. Nothing could have prepared her for such an announcement. Her legs nearly trembled, she was not entirely sure whether from the awesome responsibility about to befall her or the great trust her Sire was about to place in her. Her Sire, a thought passed through her mind, against her very nature was releasing her iron grip from her regime. It was inconceivable.

“My Sovereign Lord Conqueror,” Athena replied, mastering her voice to keep it steady, though her heart was pounding wildly in her chest, “it is with great reverence, awe and tribulation that I shall receive your Throne. I shall aspire to your Majesty’s greatness and continue your rule on the path which you have beset this great Empire upon.”

The Conqueror acknowledged her Heir’s words with a nod of her head.

The Queen regarded her daughter-in-law, intently. “It is my desire and pleasure,” she said to her, “that you should ascend to my Throne and proceed to claim my crown and rule alongside your Lord as Queen of the Realm.”

When first she had heard the Conqueror’s words to Athena, Sieglinde had surmised that the Queen would similarly address her so she had ample time to get over her initial shock. Yet still, she had to maintain a stoic exterior.

“My Sovereign Queen,” she exclaimed and her voice nearly betrayed her. She felt heavy on her feet and her mind was racing. “Thank you for the great honor your Majesty has bestowed upon me. I shall do all that I can to prove worthy of your Majesty’s trust.”

The Queen nodded her head and the Conqueror concluded: “The coronation ceremony will take place within a moon.”

Later that day, in the privacy of the Imperial Chambers, the Royals celebrated till the wee hours of the night and spoke of their future plans. The shadow of the incident with Terreis hovered over them still and so none mentioned her name.

All throughout the Realm, beckons were burning high, delivering the message to all corners of the world.

Two days later the Queen left for the Amazon Lands.

***

The Queen, accompanied by her ladies in waiting and a few soldiers of the Imperial Guard, reached the outer borders of the Amazon Lands. The Queen ordered her entourage to make camp and wait for her return.

She proceeded to ride alone into the woods, taking into her lung the fresh scent of the dense forest laced with touches of trails of the impending spring. When she reached the edge of the clearing she was accosted by two Amazon guards, who immediately recognized her and bowed before her. No longer their tribe’s Queen, they each greeted her with a warm, ‘Your Majesty’.

They escorted her to the center of the village where her daughter Princess Terreis, now holding the right of cast, was vigorously training to become Queen of the Amazons.

As soon as the Queen’s presence was noticed, all training immediately stopped and all bowed before her.

Terreis, dressed in Amazon attire and holding a staff in her hands, was surprised to say the least to see her Mother. As she bowed before her, she wondered whether her Sire was soon to follow and when she straightened back up she threw a few quick glances at all directions. However, there was no sign of the Conqueror anywhere.

All waited for the Queen to speak but long moments passed in silence. The Queen’s decision to pass her queenhood to her youngest hadn’t been unexpected. Many believed that it had been the Queen’s wish that Terreis would be sent to their lands to join their tribe, learn their ways and begin her training as their future queen.

“It warms my heart to see you all again, sisters,” the Queen said and her green eyes shone with soft warmth. She was genuinely happy to see all their familiar faces. Her eyes perused around, examining the huts and the high podium. It took her back in her mind’s eye to the time when she had lived amongst them before Terreis was born.

They all smiled back at her but no smile was wider or brighter than that of Mysia , the Amazon who has been acting as queen until Terreis’ arrival. It seemed as though regardless of the time that had gone by, Mysia still held a torch for the Queen and her tender sentiments toward her hadn’t abated at all.

The Queen was even happy to see Molpadia, who, when last the Conqueror had visited there, had all but offered herself to her.

“Your Majesty is always welcome in her tribe,” Shamaness Smirna said and Cynna nodded her head.

The Queen’s gaze returned to her youngest. Seeing her out of her regal attire and in Amazon garments made her look older than her years, she thought. “I wish to speak to you,” she said to her.

They walked side by side together to the queen’s hut. Terreis braced herself for her Mother’s reproach, but it did not come.

Not yet, for the Queen waited for them to be in a private place and far from prying eyes.

“How do you like living with the Amazons?” the Queen asked and not a trace of any ill feelings could be detected in her voice.

“I like it very much,” Terreis replied. “Their ways are far different from ours in Corinth .”

“What do you like best?” the Queen asked.

“Their sisterhood… or should I say our sisterhood for I am a part of them, now.”

“How are they treating you?” the Queen inquired further.

“Very well. They treat me like an adult and with dignity. They look upon me as though I was their queen already, despite the fact that I have yet to finish my training.”

“I am pleased to hear this,” the Queen said as they reached the queen’s hut.

“Shamaness Smirna is a very wise woman. She has already begun preparing me for the role I was destined to fill.”

“Indeed, she is. Nevertheless, you should always remember you are a Princess of the Realm and that even as queen you owe allegiance to the Throne.”

“To the Throne…” Terreis emitted somewhat confrontationally. “To Sire, you mean…” she wanted to expose her Mother’s true meaning behind her last words.

“The queen of the Amazons is the Lord Conqueror’s governor to the Amazon Lands.” the Queen stated matter-of-factly as they walked into the hut.

Terreis did not care for the reminder.

Once behind the closed door, the Queen ran a quick look around the hut she had occupied some years ago when she’d joined the Amazon tribe. She remembered the heartache she had felt on account of her quarrel with her Lord and how she had cried herself to sleep each and every night. There was something sweet about it now, she thought.

“Sire has ordered you here, I take it,” Terreis’ voice pulled the Queen out of her stroll down memory lane.

“My Lord does not order me, child, and had my Lord any desire to speak with you my Lord would have summoned you to Corinth herself,” the Queen was quick to clarify any misconceptions, though she suspected her daughter had only said it to spite her. “I am here to ask you to return with me to Corinth to beg your Sire’s forgiveness for your inexcusable behavior toward her and for the audacious words you’ve dared say to her.”

“I have nothing to say to Sire. It is Sire who ought to beg my forgiveness for giving me this wretched curse that runs in my veins.”

“In all my life I have never dreamed that one day I would hear you speak such vile words. You are ungrateful, Terreis. Your Sire has given you life and has risked her life in order to save yours more than once since you were born. Your Sire has showered you with love and affections since the moment you came out of my womb and this is how you repay her?!”

“Any of my sisters would risk their lives to save mine,” Terreis spat back.

“Perhaps,” the Queen replied. “But none would do it as gladly as your Sire has.”

Terreis had nothing to say to that. She knew that her Mother was right.

“Be that as it may,” she said after awhile, “what I know now about Sire… and the darkness she instilled in me… I want nothing to do with any of it.”

“You are willing to cut your Sire out of your life… Do you not bear any love in you heart for your Sire?”

“It has no bearing on the matter!”

“Hasn’t it?!”

Terreis did not answer.

“Then know this,” the Queen spoke deliberately, inwardly thinking she had never thought she would ever hear herself say what she was about to, “I am ashamed of you.”

Though her Mother’s words scathed her beyond measure, Terreis swallowed the insult and raised her chin defiantly, which only aggravated her Mother’s ire further.

“You are but a spoiled child and not fit to be queen of the Amazons,” she said and her fists trembled.

Awash with turbulent feelings of rage, odd excitement and thrilling trepidation, Terreis hissed between gritting teeth, “Are you challenging me, Mother?”

“I am, child,” the Queen replied and her insides were turning with pain.

Terreis’ nostrils were wide and a storm was rising in her eyes. “So you’ve come all this way to hit me again, have you?!”

It was now the Queen that beheld the young lass standing before her, who was her living image, as if she was a stranger.

“Afraid, are you?” the Queen did not recognize herself as she heard the words that came streaming out of her mouth. To her it sounded more like something her Lord might say.

“Don’t you know by now, Mother…” Terreis retorted and absentmindedly placed her hand over her Labrys, “We do not know fear.”

“So you are aware of the fact that your Sire’s blood has its advantages, I see,” the Queen murmured.

It did not escape the Queen’s mind that following the challenge, whether Terreis would win or lose, battle-lust would be upon her and she would be forced to deal with it – only this time, it would not be in an understanding and accommodating place like a brothel but in an Amazon village were the women were proud.

She considered the possibility that she might be placing her sister Amazons in jeopardy but further contemplations convinced her that Terreis would eventually go to a neighboring village in one of the three Provinces that surrounded the Amazon Lands and sate herself in a local brothel.

“Let us go, then,” the Queen concluded.

The Royals strode out of the hut. When they’ve reached the square, Terreis addressed the women standing there: “Her Majesty has issued a challenge to me.”

Gasps of shock followed by immediate murmurs could be heard. It was as if sudden unrest roved through the village and touched each and every one present. Shamaness Smirna hobbled towards the Queen and all but pulled her aside for a few much needed words in private.

“What has happened?” she asked, alarmed.

“You have a way of teaching lessons, my friend and I have mine,” was all the Queen was willing to say. “I need to change my clothes. I cannot fight in this dress,” she said.

“Of course,” the Shamaness replied, “I shall have Cynna attend to you in my hut.”

“Thank you, dear friend,” the Queen said and before she turned to leave she added, “And watch over Terreis after the fight is over for she has my Lord’s darkness inside of her.”

It was as if a cloud settled over the old woman at the very mention of the Conqueror’s darkness. She immediately understood what the Queen had told her. It was a dire concept to grasp that there was a predator in their midst in a shape of such a young lass who appeared as innocent and as pure-hearted as her Mother.

“I will,” the older woman eventually said.

“You must promise me,” the Queen insisted.

“I promise you, Majesty,” the Shamaness assured her and called out to Cynna to attend to the Queen.

***

A large circle was formed around the practice field. Every single one of the Amazons came to witness the challenge.

“Choose the weapon,” the Queen said to her daughter who stood opposite her. ‘A show of generosity before a battle undermines the opponent’s confidence’, she remembered what her Lord had taught her once.

As Terreis beheld her Mother, she did not view her as such but as an opponent to be subdued in combat, otherwise, she thought, she would not be able to bring herself to strike the woman who had given birth to her no matter how angry she was with her.

“I choose the staff,” she answered and two Amazons handed the Queen and Terreis a staff each.

It did not take the Queen too long to overpower and subdue her youngest. She had years of practice on her and the wisdom that comes with age and experience.

With her foot over Terreis’ throat and the staff aimed at her face, Terreis gave in.

Both women were panting heavily and were holding each other’s glares.

It took the Queen a few moments before she backed away. As she did, she caught a flicker of the beast glowering back at her.

Terreis stood up as soon as her Mother backed away from her. Angrily, she threw her staff to the ground and dusted the dirt from her garments.

“I will not return to Corinth , Majesty,” Terreis exclaimed.

“I shall not take the right of cast from you. You need to learn that being queen has more to it than excelling in combat. Being a worthy queen has nothing to do with being able to claim the title by force,” the Queen said and took out a scroll with the Conqueror’s seal on it and placed it in her daughter’s hand . “From the hand of our Sovereign Lord,” she stated, as Terreis took the scroll from her. “It is a summons to partake in the crowning of her Grace Princess Athena .”

“Crowning?!” Terreis was baffled.

“My Lord decided to resign and pass her rule over the Realm to her Heir,” the Queen explained but the expression across Terreis’ features told her that her youngest could hardly believe it. “You will do well to attend,” the Queen said before she turned to leave.

After her Mother had disappeared into the woods, the darkness began to consume young Terreis. She could hear her searing blood pounding in her ears along with a deep, hollow growl. Her stalking, hunting eyes scoured the village and devoured the women in it. Every shred of self she tried to hold on to was quickly dissipating away. She tried to order her legs to walk towards her stallion but the beast desired to stay where the women were.

The Shamaness noticed the bleak change in Terreis’ demeanor before anyone else did but she was not the only one. Another Amazon, a tall woman named Aella who was a couple of years older than Terreis with long, smooth, raven-black hair and deep blue eyes, noticed it, too, and felt a sudden jolt of sexual awakening at the mere sight of it.

The Shamaness covered the distance between them and lightly touched her elbow to draw her attention.

“How may I assist you, my queen?”

Savage rage gripped Terreis. Rage towards her Mother and rage towards her Sire and the Realm. She ignored the Shamaness and cried out to her sister Amazons.

“When I leave for Corinth to attend the coronation, the Amazons will cease to pay taxes to the Realm!” she ordered them.

If they did not already suspect a rift between their acting queen and the Queen of the Realm, now the Amazons were left without a doubt.

Mysia ‘s face showed concern as she exchanged looks with the Shamaness.

“My queen, you might wish to reconsider,” she pleaded with Terreis. “You must not make such decisions in your state.”

“And what do you know of my state?” Terreis asked.

“All that your Mother has told me about the Lord Conqueror’s darkness… Everyone in the Realm knows about it. All have heard the stories which have made the Lord Conqueror a formidable legend.”

“This despicable and horrid darkness is nothing to be admired.”

“Some dread it, some envy it… others are in awe of it… and some admire and crave it,” the Shamaness said.

“Well, I think it should be detested.”

“Regardless, any personal resentment you might feel towards your parents cannot dictate your decisions as queen. It affects us all.”

But Terreis refused to waver.

“We cannot survive against the mighty force of the Realm,” the Shamaness tried once more to appeal to Terreis’ reason.

“And what can the Lord Conqueror, be it my Sire or my Sister, do? Kill me?! As long as I am queen no harm shall befall us. We have bent before the Lord Conqueror for long enough. No more.”

Mustering every smidgen of will power she still possessed, Terreis walked into the woods, planning to spend the night there and away from her sisters for their protection. Close to midnight, when she could not stand the overwhelming, unspent lust any longer and when tying herself against a tree proved futile, she gave up and rode to the nearest village outside the Amazon Lands that was large enough to host a brothel and sated her need.

Come morning, she hated and loathed herself for what she had done.

***

Meanwhile, the feverish preparations were in full swing. The ladies of the Realm worked their seamstresses to exhaustion to create the perfect dresses for the auspicious and festive event. Governors of the Realm picked out the most glamorous gifts for their new Master. In the Corinthian palace, under the watchful eye of Lady Satrina, hands were hired to assist the regular staff with their labor.

Waiting for the Queen’s return, the Conqueror invited Athena for a stroll before supper in the Imperial Gardens near the lilly pond that her wife cherished dearly. The faint crimson rays of the sun accompanied them along with a warm spring breeze that whistled through the blossoming flowers and drew tiny ripples in the water.

“Is Mother coming home soon?” Athena asked the pensive looking Ruler.

“I hope so,” the Conqueror replied.

“If it is of any comfort to you, Sire… I’m confidant that she was successful in talking some sense into Terreis and building a bridge between you. Terreis will return to you in no time at all and seek your forgiveness.”

“I do not doubt your Mother’s extraordinary abilities to make peace, but rather the ability of my progeny to relent.”

“It is true that we are a stubborn breed but eventually we listen.”

“Eventually…?!” the Conqueror frowned, “Just wait till your children grow up!”

They both shared a hearty laugh.

“So where will you and Mother travel first?”

“We shall sail to the Nordic Lands first,” the Conqueror replied. “Your wife ignited your Mother’s imagination with fantastic tales of the Fjords.”

“A wise decision, Sire, for the Nordic Lands have some of the most magnificent landscapes you would ever see. I’m sure Sieglinde would be happy to knit some undergarments from fine wool to keep you warm, for even during summer the cold up there has a nasty bite to it.”

“It would be greatly appreciated,” the Conqueror said and fondly rested her hand on Athena’s shoulder.

After a few quiet moments, the Conqueror asked her firstborn, “So tell me, are you at all excited?”

“About ruling the world?!” Athena scoffed. “Not at all, Sire… There’s nothing to it,” she quipped.

The Conqueror jabbed her elbow into Athena’s ribs. “Always the jester,” she muttered but then her features turned serious. “You do realize they will test you. Do you know what they are looking to see?”

“If I am as ruthless and as callous as you are, Sire,” Athena replied, “I have already considered the possibility.”

“Then should the need arise… What must you do?”

“Be twice as ruthless and callous as you’ve ever been, Sire.”

“I have taught you well,” the Conqueror was pleased as she received another confirmation that her decision was sound.

***

As soon as she returned from the Amazon Lands, the Queen regaled all the events that had taken place there and the wound in the Conqueror’s heart was opened once more.

***

The day of the coronation arrived. The Great Hall was full to capacity. The noble men and women of the Realm who governed in the Lord Conqueror’s name those provinces that were a moon’s ride away from Corinth were all present in person. Those who governed provinces that were over a moon’s ride away from Corinth were represented by their emissaries to the Lord Conqueror’s court. Most of the highest ranking commanders in the Lord Conqueror’s army were present as well with their wives. Outside the palace, within its massive wall and outside of it, stood the masses.

On all the Corinthian style columns hung the Conqueror’s banners and a long red carpet was spread from the entrance and all the way up to the dais, which was ornamented with laurel leaves interlaced with golden pomegranates.

Rows of long, vast tables covered in white silk cloth stood to each side of the red carpet with gilded plates and goblets made of fine, shining glass, which were an extreme rarity, with gold intricate ornaments at the rims. At the middle of each table sat a platter in the image of the ships in the Conqueror’s fleet. Marble fountains stood between the tables with wine constantly springing out of it and with two bronze statues of lions roaring to each side of them.

Despite the fact that the sun was high in the sky, all the torches and oil lamps were burning as were the beacons throughout the Realm.

The Great Hall had never seemed as extravagant as it did that day.

As the esteemed guests were marveling at the exquisite sights, a procession of a detachment of the Imperial Guards in their ceremony military attire and full armor and spears in their hands came marching into the Great Hall and took their places—a guard between two columns and guards at the foot of the dais, a dozen to the left and a dozen to the right.

“Her Grace Princess Gabrielle Terreis, Queen of the Amazons,” the ceremony master announced and Princess Terreis dressed in her Amazon garments strode into the Great Hall on the red carpet. Only, she did not take her place at the Royals’ table but sat at the table closest to it with the new governor to Athens , Nobleman Timaeus’ son who inherited the position after his father had died.

After some restless wait, the ceremony master knocked on the ground with his staff and called out: “Be up standing to receive our Sovereigns.”

All present rose to their feet and faced the entrance.

“The Lord Conqueror and her Majesty the Queen,” the ceremony master exclaimed.

All in attendance bowed and curtsied as the Conqueror and the Queen walked together hand in hand dressed in white as the day of their wedding with long white robes over their shoulders and their sparkling crowns on their heads.

Next entered Princess Athena and Princess Sieglinde with their children walking behind them, they too dressed in regal white attire.

As they reached the dais, they climbed up the stairs and when they stood at the top, the Conqueror signaled Princess Athena to sit on the Throne.

Princess Athena turned to face the audience and sat on the Throne. She rested her arms over the large armrests and under her palms she felt the sculpted manes of the lions’ heads at the edge of each armrest. She held on to them, hoping no one would notice how excited she was.

The Conqueror took the heavy crown off her head and the gems glittered in the light like the night stars, and she held it in both hands.

“Subjects of the Realm,” the Conqueror’s alto voice echoed in the Hall, “I, Xena of Amphipolis, your Sovereign Lord Conqueror of the Realm, hereby solemnly crown Princess Xena Athena of Corinth , next in my bloodline as the Second Lord Conqueror of the Realm to rule our great Empire.”

The Conqueror approached the Throne with the crown in her outstretched arms and placed it on her firstborn’s head.

Athena stood up, feeling the substantial weight of the gold crown on her head.

“All hail the Second Lord Conqueror,” the First Conqueror exclaimed.

“Hail the Lord Conqueror,” the audience replied.

“Commanders and guardsmen,” the First Conqueror addressed the army men present, “Salute your Chief Commander,” she said and they raised their spears and saluted the Second Lord Conqueror.

The Queen removed her own crown from her head and handed it over to her eldest.

The Second Lord Conqueror took the Queen’s crown and raised it in the air. “I, Xena Athena of Corinth , Sovereign Lord Conqueror of the Realm, hereby solemnly crown you, Princess Sieglinde of the Nordic Lands, the Second Queen of the Realm to rule our great Empire.”

Athena placed the Queen’s crown on her wife’s head, over her silk white cap.

“All hail the Second Queen of the Realm,” she cried out and the audience answered her call: “Hail to the Second Queen of the Realm.”

“Now your Sovereign Lord – I shall make you, subjects of the Realm, this pledge my solemn oath to you, to be a just and honorable Ruler to you all as well as your supreme defender and benefactor. I shall lead you all as my Sire, the First Lord Conqueror has done before me,” Athena said to her subjects then turned to her Sire, and continued with a strong and solid tone of voice,“My Lord Conqueror, I thank you for giving me life and raising me into a powerful ruler and setting an example for me. I am standing here before you today proud to be flesh of your flesh and blood of your blood. The world has never known a greater more excellent Ruler than you.” As she finished her speech, her gaze rested on Terreis as if the praises she paid her Sire were meant for her ears.

The Rulers embraced to the sounds of the boisterous mirth and the cheering of the crowd.

When it was quiet again, Queen Sieglinde addressed the audience. “Now your Sovereign Queen – I shall make you, subjects of the Realm, this pledge my solemn oath to you, to be a benevolent, virtuous and kind Ruler to you all as well as your shield, and benefactor. I shall be a true Queen to you and guide you and comfort you all alongside our Sovereign Lord as my Mother-in-law, the First Queen of the Realm has done before me.” She turned to her Mother-in-law and said to her, “Queen Majesty, I thank you for passing your wisdom onto me and for being the image of generosity and kindness. I shall forever follow in your Majesty’s footsteps and aspire to be as great a Queen as you.”

Part 7

 

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