This is the first Conqueror story to appear in XWP fanfiction. The date was March 1998
The following is a bit of alternative fiction based on certain characters from the Xenaverse. It is not meant to infringe on anyone else’s rights. If you don’t agree or disapprove, please go read something else.
This story is based on ideas from Armageddon 2, a Hercules’ episode. You might want to watch that first for some background, although, I think it can be read without viewing the episode. In this universe, Hercules never existed.
Remember, this is all meant in fun!
The woman hung limply upon the rack of her suffering. She was one in a field of many. The crosses spanned acres and acres of the countryside. The kin of those who were dead or barely alive moved as silently amongst the awful crop as those who came to steal what small fortunes could be made upon the dead. Not all were innocent, who were hung up to suffer so, not all were guilty either. The sun shown upon them all equally, but it made the woman’s red hair sparkle almost golden. Too bad there was no one there to appreciate it, save the one who paused beneath her to tell her a small tale.
The cross is a fearsome way to die. It’s long, painful and crushing. A person suffocates and drowns upon their own life forces eventually. The broken legs are actually a mercy, for they sped up the process. Most people faint from the pain of it (though she was tough and remained conscious enough to hear the wretch talk). Such punishment was based on the whim of She Who Conquered. It was *her* version of justice that so many should be made to suffer. . .as she suffered.
It was said that, Caesar of Rome had betrayed the conqueror at one time. She’d captured him while sailing the high seas and he’d seduced her with promises of future glories and enduring friendship. He said it was destiny. She was young and had believed. So it was, that the conqueror let Caesar go for a goodly ransom and rejoiced, at first, upon his return.
But he betrayed her, slew her people and hung her out with the rest of the survivors, upon crosses like the one the woman occupied now. Caesar had the despot’s legs shattered, this was before she was a despot of course, so she would die a quicker death.
The pained questioning glance thrown his way made for his opening. He considered himself a fair teller after all. Ah, yes, the question. How did she survive? Well, Couldn’t let this one . .hang. .in suspense, now could he. He might lose his profit that way.
The sovereign was rescued, by a woman named M’Lila, (may her name be cursed) and taken to a high mountain. Upon Caesar’s order, his men followed. They were slaughtered to a man. No one knows what turned Xena, though perhaps it was madness from having her legs crushed so, but she declared death for everyone who opposed her that day and a new order for the world.
So she went, becoming more cruel as time went on. There are some from a far land who say *she* is given to the odd kindness or two. She wasn’t always this way, AND Her commands were always to spare the women and children (but the perhaps that was so her men could make sport with them. Most have seen more of her cruelty than her kindness, after all.) Somewhere she found someone to heal her legs, though the madness stayed.
One day, as she went conquering, she met Caesar again.
They say, Caesar cried out more loudly than the Conqueror when his legs were shattered in front of his men. Perhaps he cried out from the dying of his dream, for it is well known that under most circumstances he was a man of great courage. It hadn’t been enough for the Empress, however, his suffering had lasted too short a span.
One of his own had taken Caesar’s life for him, throwing a dagger into his breast.
Of course, that fool and his comrades had suffered the same fate as his liege, without the benefit of a knife to cure their ill. Now, because of his foolishness, everyone suffered for his kindness.
So much for destinies.
The story of Caesar’s martyrdom and his “rescue,” was often cited by the crosswalkers. For a fee they would end a body’s misery with a simple toss of the knife or jab of a spear. There was, however, no one present to pay her fee and there was nothing of worth that she could give him. She clung to what little life she had left.
The man had shrugged and walked off. Oh well, he’d come back later and get what was his when she was dead. He just liked to have a contract first. Made it feel less like stealing.
So she hung and endured all the rest of that long day, but as the walker told her the story she thought, “I’ve never heard that one before.” It was the first time she realized that the dictator might have a reason, a motivation for being the despot that she was. Her mind began spinning with the possibilities of what she could have done, if she’d known just that one bit of information before all of this had begun and in the whirl of her thoughts her soul briefly freed itself from the burden that was her pain.
A seering came upon her, (as it sometimes did when her consciousness started wandering) where she saw play out in her inner eye the wounds that had been Xena’s to suffer, even feeling, for a moment the shattering of her legs and the rough escape to a healer’s hut, all through the Conquerors eyes. For a moment she was one with the cause of Xena’s madness and she knew with a certainty what could have been done to change it all and that she was *not* alone in that failure. There had been another, more gracious and refined than she, who’d tried.
That was when she actually began to mourn her fate, for she realized, she’d gone about the matter of helping the people ALL wrong. Her failure weighed more upon her than her body upon her broken legs. Her wrenching cry shattered across the field and held more agony than when her legs had been smashed, for there was Nothing she could do about it now. There was no effort she could make. She would never get the chance to set things right.
The cry was so loud and so pained, it was heard in the castle and Xena actually lifted her head for a moment. She smiled with cold pleasure. That piercing noise was exactly the reason she had the crosses mounted just outside of Corinth. Then again, she’d never heard so desperate a cry since. . .Her mind traced back to one time. Caesar. A yes. She recognized that tone. Someone felt their destiny wasn’t met. Too bad. The conqueror went back to listening to yet another oaf who felt money was as important to her as it was to him.
Gabrielle had thought, with the final surrender of her consciousness, that she had seen her last sunset, so her awakening astonished her. Everything felt wrong. Her whole body ached. Though, she supposed, that made sense. She was, after all, suspended upon a cross. Hmph, she thought, it felt very comfortable for a cross.
A hand touched her face and she tried to open her eyes, but the lids felt too heavy. She murmured softly, talking more to herself than to her beneficent illusion. “There’s a way . . .a way. . .” Liquid, oh glorious moisture, poured upon her thirsty mouth and she drank the bitter concoction without flinching.
Then there was pain, excruciatingly vivid misery, the kind that sets one instantly to consciousness. She felt the pressure of hands upon her legs, then agonizing stretches and pulls. She screamed and screamed and her mind photographed the moment and compared with the images in the seering.
She’d been through this before.
Someone had rescued her.
A bliss, so complete, it overcame her agony filled her body and she laughed with the joy of it. Her peasant heart expanded with true hope. A chance had been provided.
Then she screamed again.
The blonde was lithe like a cat, almost skinny, and she listened quietly to the bitter arguments waged by her sisters. She leaned against the post by the door to the invalid’s room. No doubt the courageous woman was hearing every word, but she wasn’t of the tribe, so she couldn’t join in the conversation. Callisto, lover of Terreis, however, was Amazon and their ranks were slowly, quietly growing.
“She’s crazy. Can’t even walk and she wants us to take her into that viper’s nest?” Ephiny spat out bitterly. Her blonde curls bobbled with the vehemence of the statement.
Melosa’s reasoned voice interrupted, “The priestess was clear.” There was some groaning from the less worshipful of the sisters, “We must suffer under Xena’s rule as it stands or Xena must change. Her rule as is, is horrible enough, but If she is assassinated the world will fall into chaos and a dark age will come upon the world. There is none to take her place or who will rule,” Melosa’s face twisted at the irony,”as kindly,” She reminded, “Gabrielle has offered a new possibility. We can not deny her the path she must take if there is a chance it will work. Gabrielle spoke of a way, while she was visioning upon the cross. Our sister, who was besides her, heard all. That makes two witnesses. Our sister,” She winced in memory of Eponin’s anguished cry as her legs were set. At least hers would heal correctly. The other, Gabrielle,. . .had not been so fortunate. Melosa’s strong face turned sad, “who is yet healing, and the priestess.”
Terreis slipped an arm around Callisto’s waist and smiled reassuringly. Ephiny continued her bitter conversation. “She wants to ‘rescue’ that woman. She says the
Gods have shown her the way. We should just slit the cripple’s throat now and be done with it for her compassion will get her killed anyway.” Gods, she hated wasting their time. “There’s no rescuing Xena. No one can redeem her. It’s not possible.”
Callisto moved abruptly from Terreis’ grasp and into Ephiny’s space, “How do you know what’s possible?” she ground out. She was highly sensitive to this issue. But for chance, her own path would have been much different. Her heart still held the bitterness caused by the one who ruled the known world, but it was softened by the love of the Amazons who rescued her. “Who can say who can be saved and who can not? Only the Gods. Only the fates. If nothing else,” Ephiny looked like she was about to argue, but Callisto stalled her with a hand and continued on reasonably, “IF nothing else, Gabrielle has promised, if she survives and if Xena does not change, to serve our needs.”
“We’ll have a way in.” Ephiny clued and nodded, “Yes. A way.” Then she turned to Melosa, “But there must be a limit too.”
Melosa nodded wisely, “That is just. I will discuss it with the other leaders and let you know what is to be done.”
The pain in her legs made it almost unbearable to move, but Gabrielle hobbled forth with determination. They were barely healed, in fact, the healer was certain they were not. But, the healer had to acknowledge, this was probably as good as it was going to get. Gabrielle would live with the pain for the rest of her life.
The healer gave her draughts for the easing of her suffering, to be used as sparingly as she could. Gabrielle now knew more about herbs than she’d ever intended to learn. There were some things she could take that would help, but the hurt never went away. It sometimes got, to where she thought of leaving this life, but she had a goal in mind and set aside such impulses.
Another time, another place.
For now, she would live
An Amazon gave her a long thick staff to lean upon and she did, pausing often to rest and catch her breath. “It’s a war staff,” Callisto said, “used for defense.” Gabrielle didn’t think she would need much defending. She would either live or die in facing Xena and, truth be told, *if* she lived there would be nothing left for her to fear.
Though she couldn’t hide her lameness, she knew she must appear strong if her plan was to succeed. Xena respected strength and death. One only had to watch the gladiators for a bit. Gabrielle determined, that though she walked with halted labored step, she would be as strong as a gladiator and as brave as the Amazons who’d taken her in. So she walked slowly, hugging the staff to her and staying as upright as her legs would allow and with sheer force of will she made her destination.
An Amazon’s sister worked as a scullery maid within the estate. It was she who opened the doors to Gabrielle’s tortured entrance. “Thank you,” the seer had said, but there was no one to thank. The young woman had disappeared into the confines of the castle. It was up to the Gabrielle now.
Quietly she unfolded the map she’d been given. She scanned it for the umteenth time. Then, having found her bearings, she made her way through darkened hallways to find Xena’s inner rooms.
The bath had been refreshing. Her body felt clean. Her skin felt invigorated from the thorough toweling she’d received she’d received. The aura of flowers sweetened her own delicious scent. Her hair hung past her waist, neatly trimmed and finely combed. The robe swam silkenly about her legs and brushed against her the slope of her foot.
She knew something was out of place the moment she stepped into her bedroom. There was no need to call the guard. The intruder would be dead soon enough, then she’d find another room to sleep in while this one was aired out and the body removed. First, however, she wanted to see who dared enter.
The figure was hooded and cloaked. Female, by scent, which was surprisingly pleasant considering she was dressed as a peasant and they usually stank of too much life. She sat upon a stool in the middle of the floor. Soft red hair peeked out from the hood, though her face was hidden. A staff was embraced in both hands, it’s root was firmly planted upon the floor.
Xena kept it casual. “How did you get in here?” She wandered past the sitting figure to her bed. The figure turned, following her without moving from the stool. She unwrapped the robe and let it fall into a colorful heap at her feet. Even after all of those battles, her body was still beautiful. There were scars, but not that many, considering and she was lean and muscular. Olive skin contrasted with ebony curls and tresses. It was much easier to clean a body of blood, than clothes.
“I bribed someone.”
Oh, bonus, an honest one. Xena would make the woman’s death quick. Blue eyes flashed intelligently as she sat upon the bed and leaned back. “You didn’t happen to catch the name did you?”
There was a chuckle, “Of the one who let me in? No.” She answered the next question before it was even given. Her voice was sweet and it held a familiar ring, “It was dark.”
“Ah,” said the Empress knowingly, “I guess I’ll have to increase security.” The figure relaxed and moved the war staff to a more reclining position. Only one hand now. Oh good.
“You? The Warrior Princess, a one woman army” the cloaked one snorted, “Hardly.”
Xena smoothed a false bump on her quilt, “Then you know your fate?” the Conqueror asked.
The hooded one cocked her head to the side. The ambient light revealed pale skin and soft lips, “Know it? That depends. I know I am supposed to be here now and why, but not all of life’s mysteries get revealed to me.”
Xena smirked, “A prophet then. I’ve seen many those. They’re all fools. They either suck up to me or the prophesy doom and gloom.”
The empress could hear the smirk, “Then I prophesy for you. You’ll live if you don’t die.” The figure shifted and her skirts rustled pleasantly.
A joke. This one dared to joke with her. Oh, honest and brave, a rare combination in Xena’s world. The Empress actually laughed and when she stopped, she asked.
“So,” Xena sat up, preparing herself, “Why are you here?”
A hand lifted and grasped the hood. The woman’s face was revealed as she spoke her answer, “I am here to ease your suffering.”
The Tyrant stood up in shock, “YOU!” Then she her voice turned mocking, “You’ve come to kill me?” The purpose of the staff was suddenly clear. Xena had seen the blow herself after all.
Xena’s derision and accusation was turned back on her, “and how would I accomplish that?” The seer stood up on wobbly legs. Her back was straight, but it her green eyes held deep pain. She remained standing, “I’ve come to tell you a story Warrior Princess.”
The way she phrased the statement caught Xena’s attention and moved her from astonishment to curiosity. Usually, the name was said with asperity or in a kind of
awe. This one just said it as if it were her name. Xena jumped and flipped to the agitator’s side. “I remember you. I had you hung on the cross. You should be dead.” Her presence was menacing and she gazed at the woman with feral eyes.”
“I was rescued.” There was the tiniest of flinches.
Xena’s hand wrapped around the woman’s neck easily, “Tell me why I shouldn’t kill you.” She liked to ask this question, since it never stopped her from doing exactly what she wanted.
“You’re bored and not sleeping well.” It was a statement of fact, given as if from one who knows.
The Empress’ breath was violently hot against the woman’s ear. Her whisper was cold. Xena’s hand wrapped in red gold and pulled lightly. The woman trembled, “Did your dreams tell you that prophet?”
Where Gabrielle found her bravery, she didn’t know. But she felt the courage rise in her. There were only two options left and nothing left to fear. “Only the bored relish the pain of others and your eyes are blackened from lack of rest.” She turned, as much as she could to face the woman, “My stories would help, at least sometimes.”
“I’m not a child to be soothed by stories.” Xena groused, but her fingers loosened their grasp upon Gabrielle’s neck. Her breathing felt less harsh.
“Then I will tell you adult stories,” Gabrielle reasoned. She winced as her hair was pulled once more.
“Don’t mock me.”
“Never,” Gabrielle avowed.
There was sudden, vicious glint in Xena’s eyes. She roughly pushed the woman down upon the stool. “I’ll tell you what,” said the Empress, “I’ll give you a chance. You tell me a story. If I get bored, I’ll kill you. If I don’t, you’ll come see me tomorrow night and we’ll play the game again.” She kicked at the woman’s leg and she cried out with pain, even leaking tears. The agitator bent over and grasped her legs protectively, not that she could do much to defend them now. The staff clattered to the ground. “Oh? Did that hurt?”
“Yes,” the woman gasped through clenched teeth. It’s funny how one severe hurt can send every part of the body into an immediate ache.
Xena leaned down. Her teeth were white and her azure eyes sparkle evilly, “Well remember that the next time you’re up on a cross and decide to come down. You understand?” There was another gasp and a speechless nod.
Xena didn’t bother getting in the bed. She had no plan to fall asleep during the story. She was only listening to see if she how fast she got bored. She bored easily. The woman was already dead, this was just part of the game. Xena had even been “nice,” and had given the would be bard her staff back. Couldn’t have the storyteller falling.
Especially since Xena was going to make Gabrielle stand.
Gabrielle. It was a peasant’s name, but it had a nice ring to it. Xena waved the
woman to start and settled back upon the coverlet. “So,” she said, “Tell me a story.”
Gabrielle took a deep breath. She looked at the naked woman and quivered inside, but whether it was fear or her body’s instinctive acknowledgement of Xena’s seductive beauty the she did not know. Not that, with these legs, she would ever have to worry about it. She closed her eyes and composed herself, then opened them and was no longer present as the peasant or as the lame.
“I sing a song of a Hero,
Stronger than the strongest man
I sing of one whose mighty
Hand changed the course of a whole world.
I sing of Hercules, son of Zeus.”
It was fiction, pure fiction. She made it up entirely, the concept, the name, all of it, spur of the moment. It was a story of someone so heroic and so bold, it could only be told. It could never experienced. The story felt so real and was delivered so powerfully, however, that it captured the attention of one who was jaded and hardened to the world.
Xena lost herself in the story, forgetting for a moment that she was the Warrior Princess, Empress of all lands. For a moment, the weight of that responsibility, the WHOLE world, lifted off of her shoulders. The prophet weaved a tale of magic and of battle and monsters and Gods that was so colorful and complete Xena could almost see it. It was like being in a battle itself. The bard, for truly she was, brought the story to resounding impossible dramatic conclusion that just. . felt. .right. It took everything Xena had to maintain her neutral expression.
There was a long long silence after the story was completed. Gabrielle’s legs pulsated with pain, but she didn’t sit. Xena’s expression had been bored throughout the whole telling. The bard closed her eyes and bowed her head in defeat. She’d had her chance, and blown it, just as surely as the first time. She deserved the cross now and would go willingly.
Xena’s voice broke through the haze of self flagellation, “You’ll stay here tonight. I wouldn’t want you to miss our appointment.” The bard lifted her head in astonishment. Xena smirked, “I might be cruel, but I keep my promises.” The words made something flutter in Gabrielle’s belly. “Be here, same time, tomorrow. This time *I’ll* take care of the guards.” The bard nodded dumbly and sat abruptly on the stool with relief.
“Well?” Xena raised her eyebrows, and Gabrielle stared at her blankly. Then, the Empress’ smile turned seductive, “Oh, were you planning on sleeping with me too?” The purr in her voice indicated much more than sleeping, “Should I make that part of our bargain?”
Gabrielle was up and standing so abruptly that Xena wasn’t sure whether to be offended or to laugh. And the expression on her face . . .oh that was rich! Xena stood and turned away, another test, “Tell the guard I said to give you the room next to mine. The clean one. He’ll know which.”
Gabrielle nodded again, still blushing from Xena’s comment. As if! She watched, briefly as Xena picked up the corner of the bedspread and lifted it. She kneeled upon the mattress. Her breasts swayed gently. The sable color of Xena’s hair fanned downward. Gabrielle was suddenly aware of just how gorgeous this deadly woman was. “You *are* beautiful.” The words slipped out, unbidden.
Xena paused, then slid between the covers. “Thank you.” She nodded regally, but she was done with this, “Now go!” It was an order not to be defied and her expression said so. The bard had already pressed her luck. Gabrielle went, slowly and painfully.
It wasn’t until she was outside the room and safely behind a closed door that she realized.
She was still Alive!
Now it was time to prepare for tomorrow’s battle.
Gabrielle slept with her pain.
She’d learned how to do it. After all, the herbs didn’t always work to soothe her distress and she just didn’t trust that concoction that the healer had given her. It made her feel too. .too. .blurry, and though she’d had some available in her cloak, she just didn’t want to chance it this night. Not yet.
She’d learned to prop her legs on pillows. That sometimes helped and there were plenty available in the luxuriously provided room. One thing about being guested by the empress of the known world. She didn’t stint.
Gabrielle was on time for their next “appointment.” Xena had made sure of that.
The servants had arrived early. The agitator, turned seer, turned bard had found herself being washed and primped and perfumed by a man named Vidalis. He’d had, at first, some silly notion about creating a beautiful presentation of Gabrielle, but when he saw her walk on those tortured legs. . .he’d made some adjustments.
“Beauty is in the mind,” he’d said. “We’ll just work around it.” Then, his efforts, though touched with acerbic and wry wit, had been driving, yet compassionate. He was adamant that those “fishwives'” manners of hers disappear. . .all within the span of the day.
It was, Vidalis admitted later, an impossible task. “Well,” he’d puffed, “We’ll try again tomorrow.” He then proceeded to call in some very muscular guards, “take her to Our Sovereign’s bedroom.” He wasn’t going to judge her majesty’s tastes, but really. . .They grabbed her arms and started to pull her roughly. He slapped a muscular arm, “ooh.” he’d said, losing track for a moment then remembering what he was going to say, “NOT that way. Lift Gabrielle up, gently.” He handed one of them the staff, “and take this with you. Give it to her,” he pointed at Gabrielle, “when you arrive. She know what to do with it.”
He’d then gave her a genuine smile, “You know, I don’t know what you did last night,” He raised a hand, “and I don’t want to know, but whatever it was. . .Xena was in such a good mood she actually let the chef live this morning. We all thank you. This one at least has some sense of how to use spices. Now go. . .and do it again. I like the notion of having a decent set of meals for more than one day.”
Gabrielle waited, feeling more patient than she expected. Actually she took advantage of the moment to rest. Her legs weren’t quite so sore now, but she expected to be standing again. She fingered the robe she’d been given it was blue flowers on white silk. Quite lovely actually. It hid her legs efficiently and was soft to the touch. The fabric felt good against her skin and was soothing to more than her legs. Her nipples kept perking up, but she ignored that.
She was, as before, facing the door. Xena saw her immediately. Her eyes narrowed, “tired?”
“I have poor manners, but a good teacher.” The phrasing of the statement saved Vidalis’ life. Plus, it helped that Gabrielle smiled. She had a very nice one.
“Ah, yes.” Xena walked around the bard again, “Well, manners will keep you alive in strange places.” It was, Gabrielle, a very odd statement to make. Xena seemed to believe it however.
“I’ll remember that.” It occurred to Gabrielle that she’d already broken one of Vidalis’ rules about speaking before spoken to. Oh well, she couldn’t go back now. She broached the question she’d had on her mind since early that morning, “Xena?” That got the empress’ attention. No one called her by her first name anymore, save in chants. She debated lopping off the woman’s head, then decided to do it after the story. She wanted to see what Gabrielle would come up with.
Xena’s robe fell to the floor again. Gabrielle swallowed. Was the empress trying to drive her crazy? A dark eyebrow arched provocatively, “Yes?” she asked as she sat upon the bed’s surface. Gabrielle tried not to let her gaze lower and smiled deliberately.
“Is there any particular kind of story you’d like to hear?”
Xena grinned, “Give me something with blood and guts. I liked that Hercules guy. Tell me another one.”
Gabrielle’s eyelid twitched. Then she nodded, “As you wish.” She deliberately left out the honorific. Xena had too many people who were more interested in her title, than in her person and besides, story telling was kind of a personal art. The Warrior Princess didn’t seem to notice.
The red head stood up on crooked legs and proceed to tell a straightforward story. Her voice was mellifluous and she always paused at just the right moment. Her hand, the one that wasn’t gripped tightly around the staff, moved as part of the telling. She looked Xena in the eye, never flinching, save when the story called for it. The tale itself was engrossing and somewhat humorous. Cupid as jealous lover and green monster. Xena laughed, despite herself, and that cold face she’d put on at the start had dropped to that of . . .the person who was inside.
When the telling was done, Xena stood up. Gabrielle had managed never to look down. Xena turned away from her, “I will see you tomorrow night.” The bard was excused.
Gabrielle’s life in Xena’s castle became a routine.
She would get up, always earlier than she cared. They always seemed to show up at the crack of dawn. Apparently it had to do with Xena’s early to rise philosophy. Gabrielle only wished there was an early to bed philosophy to go with that.
The servants would bathe and dress her, though she tried to convince them that she was thoroughly capable of doing that herself. Vidalis, however, had made it quite clear that she would attend to her own hygiene only as soon as he felt it advisable. She was, according to him, still under his tutelage and as long as Xena had any sort of interest in her, she would be taught proper conduct in all things, His way.
It was hard to argue with the man when he set his mind to something.
So she cooperated. . .mostly. Vidalis would have been shocked at the lack of formality that occurred within the confines of Xena’s room. She learned, however, to mind her manners within the outer halls and domains of Xena’s realm. For all her savagery, Xena, the conqueror wanted the appearance of civilization. At least within the castle proper.
Gabrielle would spend some time with Vidalis, though not all of it. It was Xena’s idea to have the stories written down so she could read them later if she wanted to. So Gabrielle found a use for her literacy and wrote what she’d spoken. She also spent time researching. She didn’t want to chance the stories getting dull, or Xena catching her, again, in a detail. That one time had been embarrassing enough.
For part of that research she would don her peasant’s clothes again and go out among the people. There were always stories being told. She found a tavern that was suitably clean for her tastes and listened to the bards who passed by, or even to a stranger who spoke of the happenings of the world. She’d only been hit on once or twice, but as soon as she tried to stand the fellow would back off. She was pretty, but no one wanted to sleep with the infirm.
Then, again, it might have been the fact that she was constantly followed by one of Xena’s guards. Palimon was his name. He was Vidalis’ friend.
In the evenings, if she’d been out upon the streets, she would bathe and dress in a fine robe and make her way to Xena’s room. There she would wait, sometimes for a small amount of time, sometimes for candlemarks. But she was patient and had learned to use the time wisely, setting her mind upon a meditation of the story that was to come.
She told the warrior princess all sorts of stories. There were tales of adventure, of tragedy, romance, comedy and love and anything else she could think of. She told a LOT of Hercules stories. She even managed, sometimes, to slip in a moral tale. The one about the sculptor had been a particularly good one. The moanings from the field of crosses had been loud and constant that day and had flavored Gabrielle’s thoughts.
It was a story of a king who’d had a likeness made. He loved it so much that he praised the maker and then chopped the sculptor’s hands off so he couldn’t make a likeness of another, lest the king be jealous. A day came, however, when he wanted another piece made, but the sculptor was unable, so he sent his apprentice. The likeness was almost, but not quite as good. The apprentice’ hands were chopped off for the same reason. The king got another hankerin’ for a statue and the process was repeated until one day there was only a farmer to carve and a piece of rock that looked nothing like king.
Xena had sneered, “He was a fool to waste his resources.” It was said as if she had never done so. Gabrielle, who by this time, had taken to walking slowly, if painfully, around the room had stopped to look out of the sovereign’s window.
She turned to face the night sky and closed her eyes to the star’s twinkle. She leaned wearily against her staff. Her face pressed against it’s grainy surface, “Have you ever wondered what they might have done with their lives? What skills you could be losing? If your best builder or warrior is out there? ”
“What are you saying?” Xena had asked, her expression narrow and cold. Gabrielle had turned to look at her with those sparkling green eyes of hers. “They’re thieves, murderers, instigators,Ó Xena said. The list could go on and on, she was sure of it. She stood up threateningly. Her robe, which she now wore when sitting upon the bed, swirled around her feet. She no longer worried about getting blood upon the cloth and Gabrielle hadnÕt exactly been responsive.
Gabrielle had not dropped her gaze, but had turned away again, this time to look up at the stars. “I’m not saying anything, majesty,” It was a subtle reminder and would have gone unnoticed if anyone else had said it, but Gabrielle never called Xena by rank within her rooms. It was one of the things the Empress liked about the set up. For a few moments a day she was not ruler, she was person. The bard half turned, again, looking as tired as she felt. It was like throwing oneself against a brick wall sometimes and she despaired of ever being able to break through. “I’m weary Xena, may I be excused.”
Xena had cursed her, even pushed her a bit which caused her to stumble, but she’d let Gabrielle go, extracting a promise that bard would return on the morrow, to continue their game. It was reassuring in a way. At least the Warrior Queen hadn’t been bored.
Gabrielle was about to launch into yet another story about Hercules when she was interrupted by Xena. “All he ever faces is monsters or Gods. I bet he’d have more trouble if he faced me.” The warrior had smiled wickedly and Gabrielle had no doubt of the statement’s truth.
“Yes, I think that would be true.” Gabrielle grinned back. “That would be some story. Except, he would have to win.”
“What?” Xena said, “I don’t care how strong he is, I’m smarter. First, I’d find his weakness. . .” She began pacing, “ooh, I know. . .that friend of his. . .Iolaus. I’d do something with that. . .”
“But he’s the hero. . .”
“I . ..,” Xena stopped and turned. Her gaze flickered over Gabrielle’s face. “I’d seduce Iolaus and turn him against Hercules.” She nodded with satisfaction, “Yeah, that would work. Men are the same that way.”
“Hercules would figure it out. He’s a little slow, but he’d catch on,” Gabrielle affirmed. “Besides, Iolaus is a loyal friend. He’d eventually feel bad and try and figure out what the problem was himself.”
“Is he as good as I am with weapons?”
“No, but that’s only because he doesn’t really need them, and he’s quick as well as strong.”
“I’d think of something.”
Gabrielle couldn’t quite believe they were having this conversation, about a fictional character no less, but she saw an opening and an openness that hadn’t been there before. She took what the Gods offered, “Xena, can I ask you a question?”
Xena was still plotting against a fictional character. “Yeah? What?” She responded thoughtlessly.
“What would happen, say, if you were taking a village, if you found one of your men trying to kill a baby?” This was something she’d been wondering about since that horrible day upon the cross. She stepped closer to Xena and sat down on the mattress behind the woman. She had permission to rest whenever she needed, wherever she needed now.
“I’d kill the man and take the baby. Everyone in my army knows the rules. No women, no children. That’s the way it’s always been.” Xena turned to look at Gabrielle. Her eyes glimmered with a frightful will. Yep, thought Gabrielle, Not a woman to tangle with.
“What would you do, if the parents were dead, and there was no one you could trust in your camp?” Gabrielle was genuinely curious. “Would you take it in?”
“Me?! Oh pphff. .No way.” Xena said, “I don’t do babies.” She shook her head, “At least not yet. I’d find someone.” She sat down by Gabrielle, the silk thread of her robe reflected the light of the candles. Her dark hair wavered between colors of blue and blackest night. Her azure eyes captured Gabrielle, “Someone I could trust. . .” She laughed, almost to herself, and nodded, “I’d find someone like Hercules. Strong and honorable.”
“Really?” Gabrielle leaned against the bedpost. “You’d find someone like Hercules to take care of the baby?” Gabrielle looked up at the painted ceiling. It was the color of Xena’s eyes. She’d noticed that before. “Why?”
Some emotion flickered on Xena’s face. Gabrielle didn’t see it, “Because.”
“Because?” Gabrielle looked at Xena now, and greatly daring laid a hand upon the Empress’.
“Because,” Xena said firmly, without joking, “I wouldn’t want him to be like me.” Him, somewhere there was a him, “I’d want him raised right, given better choices. Ones that I never had.”
“You have choices now Xena.”
“Do I?” There was a vulnerability in the question, one that the bard had never heard before. Xena pulled her hand away, abruptly and stood up, “No. I don’t have a choice. It’s too late.”
“It’s never to late Xena.” Gabrielle said.
Xena growled at her. She was an evil vision. “It is for me.” The Empress stood up and marched to the door and opened it, “Get out. I want to be alone.”
Gabrielle stood up shakily. The sound of her staff could be heard upon the floor as she made her way towards Xena. She stopped and looked up at the woman. “Tomorrow?”
Xena looked away and sighed. Pride or no pride she’d slept better with the stories, just as Gabrielle had promised. It was like having a piece of the woman with her at night, a comforting presence in her thoughts. She was tough and tougher still, but not tonight.
“Tomorrow,” the monarch said as she closed the door behind the bard and went to her lonely bed. Funny, but she hadn’t taken a lover since Gabrielle’s arrival. Perhaps it was time to change that.
Xena never got around to it. Gabrielle started a new series of tales the next night, about a warrior woman plotting to defeat Hercules. Xena had another thought about head lopping, which for some reason stopped somewhere about the time she started focusing on Gabrielle’s lips, which made her focus on the words, especially when the bard had stopped and said, “Are you listening?”
The Warrior Queen had nodded firmly and picked up one of the leather straps she’d been using to create a new whip. She’d decided, since she was going to have some sitting still time, to keep her hands busy. She found Gabrielle’s presence calming, “I’m listening,” she’d replied.
And then she really was. She recognized the first part as what they’d talked about the night previous and and then she frowned through the second, “Where did you hear about the Gauntlet and that bastard,” There’d been one who’d tried to make a coup during (there was always one. . .) but he’d been most unsuccessful. She’d made him run it instead and then had his sorry carcass cut into small pieces and spread for the animals.
Gabrielle had looked at her in surprise, “I made it up,” She had a look of uncertainty, “Didn’t I? I thought I did?” She sounded a bit confused, “I must have heard a name from Palimon, but. . .we’re not talking about *you* right? This is about. . .”
“You were making up a story about Me, and I know it, Don’t try to weasel Gabrielle. On you, it’s unattractive. You might as well use my name, if you’re going to borrow me for your stories,” Xena smiled evilsweetly, “but if you tell tales about me, you might as well tell them about you too. I don’t want to have to go through this alone.” Her fingers nimbly twisted and folded the leather strips together.
Was that a backhanded compliment? Gabrielle looked like she’d swallowed a goat or something, but she eventually recovered her composure. “Well, uh. .okay. .I was going to anyway.” Xena smirked at the lie, but let it pass. She wanted to see where her bard was going with this.
So Gabrielle began telling the third part of the story. “There is a village called Potedia. That’s where I’m from. It’s . .quaint. .as Vidalis would say and made up mostly of farmers trying to make it day by day. One day, *Gabrielle,* was helping her sister with some household chores. . .” The way the bard said her name caused Xena to grin even more, but she listened and got caught up into the tale, almost feeling it, within her bones, as if it had happened.
It was a fairly long story, involving warlords, mayhem and the determination of a bard to follow a war weary “Xena.” They got into a small argument about that when Xena pointed out that Gabrielle had painted a really fair picture of herself. The Empress had been trying to be flattering. Gabrielle had taken a bit of offense saying that she’d exaggerated the qualities of the woman and she was supposed to be fictional.
“Well, she’s exactly like you.” Xena had said as she set aside her busywork.
“She is not.” Gabrielle had protested.
“Yes,” said Xena, “she is.”
Gabrielle opened her mouth and Xena lifted her hands, “No arguing. I’m the Empress, what I say is TRUE, got that?” Xena lifted an eyebrow as Gabrielle looked like she was about to protest. The fair woman’s mouth shut. “Besides, if I can listen to you spout this silliness of what you have to say about,” Her fingers made the quotation marks, ” ‘Xena,’ without cutting your life short, you can listen to what I have to say about you without arguing. Yes?” It was, actually, a reasonable thing to say. Gabrielle had to agree. “Good, then the discussion is over.”
She stood up and walked to where Gabrielle was standing. “You seem tired.” The statement was phrased as an observation and was almost solicitous. Gabrielle nearly fell for it.
“I . .,” no, Xena respected strength. That’s what she must show. But the truth was, she was tired. Too tired. It had been a long day. She’d spent hours with Vidalis and even more time on thinking on how to phrase this damn silly story. She’d wanted it to be perfect and had even practiced exactly where she was going to stand, how she was going to move. The addition of “Gabrielle” into the mix had thrown the timing off. .not that Xena had noticed. But her legs. .oh. .they throbbed. .and her feet felt swollen. She couldn’t hardly wait to get off of them. Her limping had been much worse tonight. “I’m fine.”
She felt Xena’s warm presence take up residence behind her and strong hands upon her shoulders. It was too tempting, gods help her. Gabrielle leaned into that warmth and was supported by the warrior’s supple body. “Vidalis told me you were practicing very hard today.” Vidalis had seen her? Oh Gods, “Why don’t you stay here tonight?” Now that surprised her.
“Where will you sleep?” the bard asked in tones that said she expected to sleep alone.
Xena’s answer sparked Gabrielle’s imagination, “If Gabrielle and Xena were sleeping in a camp with one coverlet between them, would they have to ask that question?”
“Oh.” The bard straightened up, “No. I guess not. Not unless Gabrielle wanted to be cold that night.” She didn’t have to see the smirk to know it was there. It made one thing sure. She would keep her robe ON.
Gabrielle didn’t expect to get much sleep that night. She was much more aware of Xena’s presence than she let on and like many others, she was affected on more than one level by the dynamism of Xena’s personality. She was charismatic and sexy as the Goddess of Love, there was no denying it. She was also dangerous. Really, truly dangerous.
Which was why Gabrielle was so surprised at how gently Xena treated her as they prepared for bed. The robe came off under Xena’s hands and slid to the floor. The redhead had to grasp Xena’s forearms for support as she stepped away from the silky folds. Her hands were strong from using the staff as her support and they pressed firmly into flesh that was unused to such handling. Xena made no remark, no sign that she felt anything, but guided the bard to the bed. Then, once the bard was safely tucked in, her legs carefully positioned for comfort’s sake (and had the Empress’ hands really been so tender?), Xena had taken “her” side, slid in besides the bard and rolled over.
Gabrielle, who really was tired, fell asleep quickly.
Palimon told the bard on one of her excursions of the changes that had been made. Not that she hadn’t noticed. The fields was mostly empty, save for a few lonely souls hanging for all to see. Oh, Xena’s punishments, when meted were still sharp and vicious. Her philosophy was there was no point in giving a punishment if it wasn’t going to hurt. But her judgment style had changed. She’d added a question to her usual “Are you Guilty?” Now she also asked, “What skills do you have?”
Thieves were put to work to pay for what they’d stolen, often for the very people they’d stolen from. Sometimes they were put to work for *her.* There were rumors of a new castle being built, one with a security so top secret that those who were assigned to build it were never seen again. It was said the King of Thieves had been contracted into service there.
Murderers, were pressed into her army or into becoming gladiators. She could always use a body who knew how to kill. If they were really bad she would give them the option of the cross or spiked pit. They were both ugly ways to die. One just took longer than the other.
With those who’d found their way into Xena’ courts simply because they’d looked wrong at a guard, had brawled in the wrong inn or what have you, she followed the process of making the inquiry, then setting them to work. It was always always Hard work, using the skills they’d declared they possessed. If she didn’t see the fruit of their efforts, they were given to the other option. The judged were always given the choice. Their task plus whatever else she might deem appropriate (the sounds of whips and screams were often heard outside the court now), or the cross.
Instigators, now they were the worst of the lot. They would mouth for rights for this and that. She would point out they had no rights, but what she gave them. They would more than likely mouth off again. So, she followed the same process of questioning, then she would cite damage to the city or the nation as their crime. For they were damaging. They incited to riot, which meant that property was destroyed, people were hurt. She’d let them vent as needed, but if they spoke treason, there were no other options given. They were out and out killed, according to her whim. She would tolerate many things, but treason was not one of them. If it was just bullheadedness, she sent them out on excursions with her troops, long tedious treks into the world, where they could see how easy or hard they really had it. If they came back alive, they were changed people. Often, with an evil smile, she would quote back some platitude she’d heard from Gabrielle about change starting from within. It never made them feel better.
Corinth, much to Xena’s astonishment, was being rebuilt from the decimated husk she’d claimed as victory, to a city of glory. The reason was simple. Many of those who were asked what skills they had, possessed only basic qualities. “I’m a farmer, my liege,” “I’m a carpenter, my liege.” “I am a good at carrying things, my liege.” Xena learned more about the occupations of the people than she cared to, but she set them to work for their time and for the city. She’d give the basic assignment, “YOU will help build Corinth for so much time and receive so many stripes,” “You will work my fields and grow my crops for two years.” “You will make roads for ten years and receive 20 stripes” “You will serve those you stole from and I will take a finger.” (She was getting quite a collection of those and there were some who never learned. There were men in Corinth who lacked a whole hand of fingers).
There specifics were usually nailed down by her public servants. The farmer, very possibly, could end up in the Northlands if that was where she needed farmers. The system of judging was adopted and adapted by her provinces. A money system started developing based on the new way punishing. It was slave labor, but it was labor with an out, and there was usually a small stipend for their time, or a new skill learned. They became profitable servants for her. She only judged the cases she wanted to. Once her method was set, it was followed, because she said so. She was, after all, Empress. There was a field for crosses near every city, but they were often left unfilled.
Of course, if someone welshed on their responsibility, they were killed. There was no slacking either. Xena never lost her reputation as a harsh and brutal ruler, but she began to be known as a fair one. The people were starting to thrive under her rule.
That’s when Gabrielle knew she was making a difference.
Gabrielle’s stories of Xena: Warrior Princess, as she liked to call them, began to take on a new depth. She gave Gabrielle qualities she Knew she didn’t have. The Gabrielle of her stories walked. Everywhere. She gave Xena qualities she knew Xena didn’t know she had. The Xena of her stories was a hero.
She would tell other stories to keep things interesting, but those sometimes made Xena fidget. Gabrielle hated it when Xena fidgeted. She couldn’t tell if the Empress was bored or not. Always in the back of the bard’s mind was the awareness that this could be her last night. Her last night to speak, her last night to counsel, her last night to be held in Xena’s arms. She had never quite made it back to the other room. Now they slept together, chastely, and she couldn’t imagine being any place else. She drew comfort from the Conqueror’s presence. Who knew?
It seemed to Gabrielle that there was a softening to Xena, though she never lost her battle edge. The warrior queen used those skills too much. Just because she’d conquered the known world didn’t mean everyone was thrilled about it and Xena liked battle too much to give it up. It was a part of her blood and there were rumors that Xena was Ares’ daughter. Gabrielle could never make up her mind about that, though she tended to believe it.
Nor could she make up her mind about the feelings she’d come to experience lately. She found them slipping into her stories more and more often. The Xena and Gabrielle of story were well on their way to becoming lovers, if they weren’t already. The bard simply couldn’t decide whether they were or weren’t, but she knew she had to keep her promise to tell “adult stories,” so she teased with the concept, drawing it out in text and mind.
It was kind of fun that way, actually.
One night she was telling a particularly harrowing tale of Xena: Warrior Princess, when the Sovereign interrupted. Xena looked particularly disturbed that evening and Gabrielle had immediately stopped talking. She’d come to know the signals. There were nights she’d tack on a “to be continued,” to the story and they would just pick up next night and fall into talking.
She walked carefully to the bed and sat down besides her. . .friend. Yes, this woman who had ordered the bard’s legs broken, hung her on a cross to die and could take her life with nearly a thought, was her friend. Now. Amazing that, “What?”
“You’ve been visiting those Amazons again.” Xena looked at Gabrielle intently, “Haven’t you?”
The bard blinked, feeling a little confused. “Yes. . .” she tested, “I’ve never hid that from you.” She hid nothing from Xena, feeling that the careful ground she was building needed the firm foundation of trust.
“Do you have a lover among them?” It was an abrupt, surprising question that astonished Gabrielle. But to Xena’s mind it was terribly logical. Gabrielle had expressed no interest in men, or so Palimon said. But he hadn’t been privy to her meetings with the Amazons, so he didn’t know and the bard had been visiting with them more and more often. So. . .
“Who me?” the bard responded. She shook her head in disbelief. “I. . .No. . I haven’t got a lover among them.” A vision of her legs, marred as they were, crawled through her mind. “I have friends though.” She’d clarified.
“Then why?” Xena started.
“For research. I’ve been grilling them about Amazon ways.” She didn’t’ quite glare at Xena, but her expression narrowed, “You’ve been listening to the storyline. Haven’t you?”
Xena gave her a sheepish look. “Yes, I just thought . . .”
“Xena.” The bard’s voice was soft, “There is none among them that I want. Not that way, They’re my friends, Callisto, Terreis. . my friends.” She touched the Empress’ face and she yearned, “I. . .”
Xena grabbed the bard’s hand as if it burned her skin and brought it away, “I can never be *her.*” They both knew of whom she spoke. “I’ve done so much. So much.” Her voice cracked. The tears began to fall. The seer would never know how much. . .how close the stories hit. . .”I’ll never make up for it all.”
“Xena. . .” Long streaks of water glazed Xena’s face and she gasped out in agonizing sobs. She was so clear on what she had done and what she could have been, if only. . .if only. . .she could have been like the other. . if only. . . Gabrielle pulled her close while the Empress could not resist and wrapped her arms around the grieving woman. “Xena. . .”
The Warrior Princess wrenched herself away. “How can you even bear to touch me? How can you?” She stood up angrily, her eyes wet and her manner wild. “I crushed your legs. Everyday I see you, I’m reminded that it was ME who did that, who crippled you and ordered your death.” It was an agony that she’d nearly lost someone. . .something. . . so precious for such a selfish folly. Xena’s hand moved so fast. Gabrielle had had no idea a sword could be hidden there. The warrior held up the blade. Her eyes glinted with madness, “I should fall on my sword now for the pain I’ve caused you. For the suffering I’ve caused everyone.”
“NO!” Gabrielle stood, a little faster than she should have. She stumbled forward and was caught in strong arms. She heard more than saw metal fall upon the ground. She looked up into a wretched face. “No.” she repeated, “You must not. Don’t you know? The world depends upon you now. You’ve brought us all together. If you go, there is no one else to do what you can do.” Xena lifted her during her speaking and Gabrielle held on for dear life. “There is no one to replace you Xena.”
“Did your dreams tell you that, Prophet?” The whisper was harsh and demanding. The words so familiar. On the answer lay all her hopes and fears.
“Every night, Warrior Princess, every night.” the seer responded. Her green eyes sparkled with their own tears. “Remember, Xena, you said you couldn’t change. Remember? But you did? Look out the window and tell me, how many crosses are there now?” She took a salty breath, “It’s the small changes that make the big ones. You’re right, you may never make up for it all, but do what you can. There’s only you to do it. Do what you must. If you aren’t that hero now, become her. She’s in you. I know it. I know it.” Gabrielle’s upper arms were gripped tightly, so tight she would bruise later.
She was desperate, more desperate than she’d ever been in any battle she’d ever fought, “I can not do this alone. I don’t know If . . .I might fall. . .I might go back. . .there’s nothing holding me to this but. . .” she looked straight into Gabrielle’s soul and saw only purity, “I can’t do this without you.” Xena’s voice cracked again.
“Xena?” The bard asked, “Haven’t you been listening to my stories, Warrior Princess? I go where you go.” Her heart beat with the truth of it.
“Even to Chin? I would take you to Chin.” If restoring must be done, then let it be with the ones she loved first. Lao Ma, who managed her lands in that wealthy far off country as repayment for a debt, would help. Gabrielle would like her. Then, they would go find her mother.
“Anywhere.” the bard promised sincerely. “I will go anywhere with you. If you’ll let me.” She really wasn’t like the character. Okay, so maybe she had sneaked into that campsite, but it was only to tell Xena that one story and she’d been planning on going home and she’d ridden a horse, but only because. . .Xena had been so angry, but she’d let Gabrielle tell her story, with a, “you are too,” statement. Gabrielle realized that she was scared, not of the future, but of the moment.
She forgot all about the fear. She had nothing to fear anymore, not death or life or the being strong. Their kiss was bitter with tears, but given with all of their souls. Gabrielle was lifted into strong arms, carried and then gently settled upon the bed. Her legs rested, bent, upon its light surface, covered by soft green cloth. She could forget for a moment by looking just at her feet. She watched with quiet eyes as blue silk slid away from taut dusky skin, past rosed nipples and raven colored curls. This time she didn’t fight the impulse to look down and saw, though she’d seen it almost every night, Xena’s perfect body with new eyes.
Gabrielle’s robe was drawn away with tender fingers. She helped extricate arms from the sleeves, then waited as Xena examined her form. Xena’s gaze stopped for a moment at the place Gabrielle most feared they would. The bard’s heart clenched in her chest. Her face froze in the pain of her fear. Rejection. Now there would be. . .
She never expected Xena’s lips to touch them, not even her hands. Not in all her imaginings. But the sovereign’s palms cupped the underside of Gabrielle’s calves and her salt bathed the bard’s pale legs, which she dried with her long dark hair. Each kiss was a benediction, each touch a prayer of worship, each tear a salve to the bard’s wounds. Then those lips delivered themselves upward claiming Gabrielle’s mouth in wet fire.
It was more than need she expressed with that kiss, more than love too. Xena’s lips and hands touched upon all the skin of the bard’s body. “Gabrielle,” she husked, “my Gabrielle,” she owned. Her tongue found the redhead’s secret places, delving into a sweet field of honey and supping, being nourished by the treasure found there. She suckled, eliciting cries of pleasure that she’d only dreamed about. Here was *her* prophecy come to life. Her fate. Her soul.
Please. . .
It was a whisper grown faint from desire. ..
“Please, Xena,” Gabrielle’s voice gathered Xena’s focused attention and brought it back up. “Please, let me taste . . .I’ve dreamed. . .” It was all that the warrior needed to hear. She couldn’t deny Gabrielle her desires. Xena was less graceful than she could ever remember being, but some how she found herself where she needed to be. She barely heard the thank you and then she felt everything, sweet everything. As Xena had claimed her lover, so was she claimed.
The bard’s release was no screaming measure. Almost no sound erupted from her lips, but that was only because she was too occupied with feeling the deep deep shudders of bliss that took over her body. Xena’s fingers were planted deeply within her and she held them tight to her, milking them with every shattering wave. Her joy brought about Xena’s.
The warrior cried out, filling Gabrielle with the noise of her pleasure. Her arm clamped tightly around one of the bard’s thighs. Xena’s hips bucked, then stopped and tightened and released in powerful flows of ecstasy.
They rested. Gabrielle’s head found it’s familiar location in the crook of Xena’s shoulder. Her body felt fluid, soft. She realized that for once, her legs truly rested from the pain. This was much better than the healer’s concoction. She breathed a contented sigh.
“What?” said the her lover, extending a lazy caress.
“Oh, I just got an answer.”
Xena smiled, not quite understanding. “An answer for what?”
“For Xena: Warrior Princess.” The bard was smiling deeply now and half turned on her side.
“Oh,” said the Empress, the Conqueror of all the known world, the woman with a conquered heart, “Could you expand on that?” she asked curiously.
Gabrielle’s hand drifted lovingly along Xena’s powerful belly. She smiled mischievously. “The are they or aren’t they question.”
Xena blinked. Now she knew she had no idea what Gabrielle was talking about. “Are they or aren’t they?” Xena asked, her tone confused.
The bard’s grinned widened then she leaned over Xena’s chest and kissed the woman, “Are Gabrielle and Xena lovers? Haven’t you been listening to the story, Xena?”
Strong arms came up around the seer’s waist, “Gabrielle,” said Xena, “I always listen to you and the answer was obvious from the start.”
“It was?” They Kissed soft and sweet.
“Definitely.” They Kissed long and hard.
“And what was it?” They Kissed as if they had all the time in the world and only they existed.
“They were destined to meet and they most certainly are.” Xena’s honest smile filled her eyes and Gabrielle’s laughter was loud enough to be heard out upon the field, where no one was there to listen.
To be continued in the 4 unfinished chapters of the sequel, The Healer