(and legal stuff): No, this isn't about someone overcoming a drug
habit. <G> Although I wish I could say Xena and Gabby are ours,
they are not. They belong to MCA/Universal last we heard. This story
however is ours and ours alone. There's a lot of violence but not too
graphic. Alt sex, you bet! If you are too young, read no further. If
you live some place where this may not be kosher, read no further.
However, if you are open-minded, old enough and live in a progressive
neighborhood . . .enjoy! Nothing poetic is ourís, belongs to unknown
author. Thanks to Kamouraskan, Jlynn, Mary and the Bardic Circle for
the beta. Email the author's at CNWinters@hotmail.com or MurphyCG881@aol.com
The sun shone bright in the arena - blindingly bright, in fact. It was difficult to watch match after match, waiting my turn. Callisto was the second to the last to compete today and like myself, she watched each match go by, occasionally looking my way. I didnít see her staring directly at me but I could feel her eyes upon me, examining me.
My eyes never rested. All afternoon I watched competitor after competitor fall. When I wasnít watching the matches, waiting for my place in line, my eyes weighed heavy on the Conqueror at her throne. Ephiny sat to her right, Najara to her left. It was as if, even in this life, Gabrielle could still sense me.
Whenever I looked at my bard, only a few seconds would pass before she would lock eyes with me. At one point I licked my lips in remembrance of our kiss and I watched a slight blush come over Gabrielle - her eyes quickly darting from mine. I noticed the reaction but I wasnít the only one. So did Najara. I knew she could see me smiling at her wife but I didnít care. The fact I didnít let her steely gaze make me flinch even once seemed to send her into a quiet rage. From across the courtyard I could see how red the fair skinned womanís face grew.
I watched as Najara tapped Gabrielleís arm and then pointed at me. Gabrielle shrugged her shoulders. The discussion that transpired became heated and I watched as Gabrielle threw her hands up in the air as Najara stomped away behind the royal curtains. Ephiny then leaned over and whispered something after Najaraís departure that earned her a smile and a nod. They looked so much like the pair I remembered from my world - conspiring sisters who could gossip and giggle into the early morning around an Amazon campfire.
But I realized these were not the same women and somehow, some way I had to unweave the tapestry that the war god had created. The more I thought the more I realized the opposite of war was love. And if Ares could create this world then perhaps . . .
"Now thatís usiní your noggin."
The voice startled me at first and I turned to face Aphrodite.
"You can fix this?" I asked her.
"Love can fix this," she answered. "Everything here is Aresí illusion. When I went to look for sweet pea and came up empty I knew Ares must have been up to something."
"And he just volunteered this information to you?" I asked skeptically.
"Oh no," Dite giggled. "But I threatened to put a spell on every animal over three feet tall that would make them Ďlove him deeplyí if you catch my drift. He was much more forthcoming at that point."
"You can be wicked," I grinned conspiratorially.
"Love hurts," she replied with a mischievous crinkle of her nose.
I had to chuckle. My faith in the gods was minimal at best but I had to admit - when it came to Aphrodite, she was different. Self-centered and totally absorbed most of the time, certainly. But she adored my bard almost as much as I did. She went against all of Olympus to see that Gabrielle was safe when they came down to strike out against my family. She begged for Gabrielleís well-being as the rest of them plotted. Yes, Aphrodite was different. And although I would never admit it openly to her, I felt forever indebted to her. One of which I didnít mind paying.
"So how do I get Ďsweet peaí as you call her, back to our world?" I asked.
"Love," Dite answered giving a solid nod. "Youíve won her lust - big time," Dite smirked. "But love . . . love isnít going to be easy and thatís what it will take to see that this world dissolves and everything goes back to Ďnormalí . . . But consider this Xena - in this world youíd never have to want for anything. The world would be yours as well. No one knows of the Ďdreaded Warrior Princessí in this life."
Perhaps it would be perfect but I knew that nothing is ever quite as it seems.
"Thatís true," she agreed, reading my thoughts again.
"But Gabrielle screams at night. Sheís tortured by her past - my past. Grant it, itís made her stronger that I ever imagined but itís also left her haunted . . . Sheís not your Ďsweet peaí in this life."
Dite gave a firm nod. "Point taken," she replied. "So for you the cons outweigh the pros, huh?"
"Yes," I replied. "She doesnít deserve my life. And itís fine to say that no one knows the Warrior Princess here. But itís not necessarily true because I still do. I have my demons. I know what Iím capable of doing - even if no one else does in this world. Itís not worth the trade off, Aphrodite."
"Then win her heart," the goddess told me confidently. "Win her over . . . and bring her back home to us. All the answers are within you Warrior Babe. "
Without another word, the goddess vanished. I turned back to the throne to see a sight that stopped her heart. Gabrielle was still there, Ephiny to her right. It was the sight to her left that knocked the wind out of me. It was Ares. His greasy smile sickened me as he chatted up my bard like they were old academy buddies. I watched him lean over and give her a light kiss on the cheek, which made my stomach turn. I closed my eyes and knew my time was running out. If Ares could win her over I wasnít sure if I could succeed.
The latest match had come to an opening and a close without my knowledge. Between my conversation with Aphrodite and watching Ares consort with Gabrielle I hadnít taken the time to notice that Callisto was gone. When I looked into the arena I watched her give a wicked smile to me as she stood over the dead body of Dagnine. Some things never changed in this other world and with that thought I had a new hope. If that really was the case then this Gabrielle could grow to love me as much as the one from my world.
"Youíre next," I heard one of the guards say as he pulled me to my feet and pushed me into the arena. The sound of the crowd was deafening but I wouldnít let it distract me. I had just one more battle to complete and then I could move on. I could get closer to Gabrielle and perhaps take Callisto out of the picture for good.
I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths to clear my mind, focus on my goal to gain Gabrielle back. I heard nothing until it was too late, I felt the sting of the dart grabbing my neck to find the blood.
'Son of a Bacchae!' I muttered while pulling the dart out then sniffing it. Benzodiazepine root, great just what I needed. The stuff would make my wits slower, maybe put me to sleep, but it wasnít not fatal. Unless I get stuck by a sword because of its effects.
Gothos wasted no time with his attack, now my main problem was; which one of the three I was seeing is attacking me? The middle one was able to slice my left shoulder. What is it with thugs and cutting that shoulder? I should know by now to protect that better.
I was doing my best to block each sword strike, but the kick to my stomach doubled me over. As I coiled up the beast within came out, my survival instincts kicked in.
"Don't worry lass, I'll make it quick." My body could sense the death blow and my sword arm on its own accord blocked it. I released my battle cry, pushing him out of my way.
"Fiesty one you are. I like that." Men like him have such arrogance, and I sneered as he started his attack once more. I caught him with a backhand to his face then kicked him in the stomach. I needed to finish this quickly; my vision was growing darker.
I turned my back to him trying to focus on where Gabrielle was, as my world became more dizzy. I let out a yell, twirling my sword while dropping to one knee, thrusting my blade behind me into Gothos's gut. After that everything went dark, the root taking its effect on me.
I awoke in a room, but it wasn't mine. A huge bed, fancy silk sheets with beautiful tapestry all around. It didn't take me long to understand I was in part of the Conqueror's chambers.
"I see you're awake." I looked to my right trying to focus, and met concerned green eyes.
"Water, please." The Conqueror poured some in a cup and supported me while I drink.
"How long was I out?" The cup was jerked from my lips and now the concerned eyes grew angry. I realized I was talking to Conqueror like she was my Gabrielle.
"Are you going to tell me who poisoned you, or shall we continue to play this game?" She asked, turning to set the cup on the table and pulling a chair to the bed.
"What game? I-." I tried to continue but I was halted again by her anger.
"Explain to me why you were calling out my name! No one, other then the few who are close to me, know my name, Warrior. You had better tell me the truth or I'll gut you where you lay."
Her eyes were so cold. I couldnít find my voice.
"My healer found the dart wound on your neck, but no dart nearby. Najara looked for one." I inwardly rolled my eyes while hers grew colder. Najara didnít find it. Thatís a shock.
"To answer your first question, I'm not sure who poisoned me but I have an idea." The same person who wants you dead, Lord Conqueror, I wanted to say but I held back. "Secondly, I heard your name spoken in error by Najara who quickly corrected herself afterward. As for why I spoke it while under the poisonís effects is because you have invaded my dreams ever since I arrived here."
My last statement seemed to have thrown her off, but not for long.
"If you're going to repeat your love speech for me you can save it." I closed my eyes unable to hold back how much that hurt. I opened my eyes to see the face of...'regret'? The Conqueror seemed off-balanced then ever.
"Rest now warrior, you'll need your strength since you now serve me in my royal guard." She turned for the door.
I'm not sure if it was the drug still in my system or I just gave up by throwing caution into the wind.
"I love you, Gabrielle." The words were out before I knew Iíd said them, but I meant them with all my heart. She paused and I closed my eyes once more making peace while preparing to meet Hades.
Nothing happened. The door closed and she didn't make a sound. I laid back against the bed in relief and exhaustion. Soon I fell into a deep fitful sleep. A knock brought me out of my slumber.
'What now?' I whispered. "Come in!"
Ephiny popped her head in, much to my surprise.
"How do you feel, Xena?" I stared at my now unfamilar friend of many years.
"I have my wits back, but the shoulderís a bit sore." She smiled and motioned for someone to come in. Cyrene appeared and smiled at me holding a beautiful red gown.
Ephiny spoke "If you're up to it, the Conqueror requests your presence at tonightís celebration." I would have bet dinars that Ephiny could feel the power between Gabrielle and I.
"I'm up for it, thank you."
Cyrene laid the gown across the chair and came over giving me a peck on the cheek before leaving.
"Dinner starts in a couple candle marks, I'll have a bath brought for you." Ephiny gave me a knowing smile and exited herself.
For the first time since this all had been going on, I felt a glimmer of hope.
The servants under Cyrene's supervision brought me a much needed bath with nice smelling soaps and oils. I slid my aching body into the hot water.
'Gods, this feels so good.' I moaned grabbing a bar of soap and started to scrub.
I stopped scrubbing, my hearing picked up the sounds of two women yelling. It was the Conqueror and Najara's voices.
"Why is that warrior in our chamber?" Gee, I guess her Djinn doesnít help her with jealousy.
"She's in MY chamber because she is part of my royal guard and someone has tried to poison her." I could imagine the look on Najara's face.
"There was no proof of that, Gabrielle."
"End of discussion, Najara!" There was a loud slamming of the door. I started to scrub once more, looking at my dress. Tonight just might be interesting, I chuckled. Time to seduce my wife.
As I entered the room in the red gown, my hair piled on my head with a few wisps hanging down, everything came to a momentary stop. All eyes seemed to turn to me in admiration. Even Callisto appeared to take an interest. But I knew there was only one set of eyes I was looking for in this room of strangers and Ďnot so strangersí.
Gabrielle was in the far corner chatting with Ephiny. Their conversation seemed to slip away and I watched Gabrielle clinch her goblet a little tighter so it didnít slip away as well. It looked like it might be very interesting indeed.
Quickly I scanned the room and I saw Najara with a not so pleased look on her face. Iíd deal with her soon enough. But for the moment I made my way over to the Conqueror. To pay my respects, of course.
As I started to walk, the conversations in the room picked back up and people went on about their business. Except for Gabrielle and Ephiny; they were talking softly as I approached and I thanked the Gods for my sensitive hearing as I picked up bits of the conversation.
"God I miss Amazonia," Ephiny sighed to her leader.
"I donít think anything looked that good in Amazonia, Ephiny. No offense."
I felt myself smile as a result of Gabrielleís words, and I closed the distance even more quickly. Once before them I gave a respectful nod to both of them - Gabrielle first and then Ephiny.
"Conqueror, Regent," I said politely before giving my full attention to Gabrielle.
"I wanted to thank you personally, Milady, for seeing to my bath and this beautiful gown."
"The gown looks like itís a perfect fit," Gabrielle answered. "I had to guess your size. Few women have your stature in my court. Actually I can only think of one before you."
"Oh yes," Ephiny nodded. "Alti. Pity she was so power hungry."
"We reap what we sow," Gabrielle grinned.
With the mention of that name I wondered if I had yet another stumbling block Ares tossed in my way. "Whoís Alti?" I asked politely.
"Was Alti," Ephiny corrected with a grin just as wicked as the conqueror.
"Sheís in Thebes now," Gabrielle replied.
"And Chin," Ephiny added.
"And a few parts in Britannia if Iím not mistaken."
The two shared a laugh and I give an uneasy smile. "I take it Alti wasnít a friend to the republic?"
"At one point she was my most trusted advisor," Gabrielle answered. "But her obsessive desire to rule my kingdom overpowered her good sense. Even her gift of prophecy couldnít foresee what I had in store for her."
"Destiny is a hard thing to fight," I added.
"If you believe in destiny perhaps," Gabrielle offered.
"So you didnít have plans of controlling the known world, my conqueror?"
"No, that was the God of Warís idea," she answered honestly.
I begin to wonder if perhaps Gabrielle was a tad intoxicated. It was the lowest I had seen her guard since we had met. Perhaps it was Ephiny, too. It was obvious the two of them had a close relationship and Gabrielle seemed quite at ease in her company.
Judging by the way Ephiny looked at Gabrielle I knew if I had any allies in this world - she would be one. She was an excellent choice as a right hand - loyal, giving, dependable. I felt mildly surprised that they werenít ruling together as bondmates.
Ephiny cleared her throat. "Well I should be heading to the gates. I want to be sure to greet Solari on her arrival this evening."
"I know you two have a lot of . . . catching up to do . . . but youíre invited back here of course," Gabrielle offered her Regent.
Ephiny chuckled. "Yes Milady. We will be returning here before retiring for the night. It would be impolite not to. However I canít say that it will last for more than a quick hello."
Gabrielle chuckled. She actually chuckled? Oh yes, it must be the wine.
"Take care, my friend," she told Ephiny. "Iíll see you later."
Ephiny gave me a polite nod, which I returned in kind as she slipped away.
I wanted to press her for information about Ares, but decided against it. Causal conversation was best. "I assume her lover lives away," I began.
"Yes. Amazonia. Sheís a guard in Queen Melosaís court," Gabrielle answered.
Now that was a name I hadnít heard in years. I wonder . . . "Have you heard of an Amazon named Velaska?"
"Yes, another power hungry female. How do you know of her?"
"I knew a few Amazons in my time," I answered vaguely. "I heard she could be a real troublemaker."
"She doesnít cause trouble any longer. Sheís deceased. My Regent took care of that matter years ago," her matter of fact statement left more questions in my head. "Care for some wine? Youíre not officially on duty yet," she grinned.
"That would be wonderful, my Conqueror," I answered respectfully.
"Garcon," she called out. A young man came over with a tray of goblets. She took one and handed it to me. Carefully I took the glass, making sure to let my fingers lingered against hers for a moment.
"Thank you, Milady," I nodded before taking a sip.
"Youíre very welcome," she replied before looking around the room.
I realized what she was doing - she was on edge, making sure everything was in its proper place with nothing suspicious going on. I remember what that felt like, to always be on guard. It could be maddening.
"May I ask you a question, Milady?"
"Certainly - I canít guarantee an answer but you may ask."
"Are you happy with your life?"
The question seemed to throw her off, as if it was something she hadnít considered for a very long time. She took a nervous drink and looked at her sandals. It was such a showing statement. The mighty conqueror feeling small with just a simple question. She raised her hand high as she addressed me.
"Well, our people are fed for the most part. The majority can read and write from statesmen to simple farmers-."
"No disrespect, Milady. Those are all wonderful things. Youíve accomplished quite a bit. But what about you? Are you happy?"
Gabrielle looked into her goblet. "Is this about your declaration earlier in my bed chamber? Realize your answer could cost you your life."
"If you had it in your heart to kill me, you could. But I donít believe you do."
Gabrielle raised her head giving me a feral grin. "You donít know me."
"Again with respect, Milady, I think there are places deep inside yourself that you donít know. Youíve had many chances to kill me already and havenít taken them."
"Are you pushing for yet another?" Her words were firm but I kept my cool and I found myself smiling against her frown.
"No milady," I answered honestly. "Iím just trying to figure out why a woman who feels itís important that her people be fed and educated has to put up such walls against those that would love her endlessly."
"As Iíve said, I have a bond-mate."
"And as Iíve said, I love you more." The words made Gabrielle take another nervous drink. "Someday Iím sure Iíll be tested in regard to my depths of love. And I will pass."
"Who are you?"
"I know you donít believe in the concept . . . but Iím your destiny. Our souls are joined and I traveled a great distance to be here."
"You speak the foolish words of poets and playwrights," she replied sarcastically.
"You speak the words of a woman whoís never truly been in love," I challenged.
The blaze in her eyes became an inferno. I know if sheíd had a sword on her back at that moment it would be taking residence in my gut at any moment. Before she could speak however, Najara slid up to her elbow, startling both of us.
"You look tense my dear," Najara said, pushing Gabrielleís hair behind her ear. The urge to reach out and slap Najaraís hand away was strong.
"Itís been a long day," Gabrielle answered with a grin for her bondmate. I could see through it. It was a grin strictly for show.
"Well, Iíll give you two your privacy," I told them, nodding to both. "Thank you again, my Conqueror, for your generosity today. Itís much appreciated."
Gabrielle gave me a nod and I slowly turned my back to face the room. In the other far corner I saw Callisto sitting at a small table, watching the room. I slow walked up to the table putting my palms flat on it. I leaned down to her, making sure I had her complete attention.
"Word to the wise. Donít try it tonight," I informed her. "Too many witnesses. And suggestion number two . . . when you try to kill me again. Make sure it works."
With that I struck out so quickly, she didnít see the jab coming to her nose. The blood started to gush even before her back slammed into the chair. Chatter in the room stopped again and just as before I quietly make my way through the room. Once I left the hall I could hear the party pick back up. If nothing else, I still knew how to make an entrance and an exit.
The images of Najara were strong in my mind as the hallway I walked down closed in. The air just seemed rather thin and I was about ready to jump out of my skin.
"What's wrong Xena? Looks like you swallowed your Chakram the wrong way."
"What now Ares? I'm just not in the mood for your crap." I turned and found him leaning against the wall.
"Tsk, Tsk, you thought you would be dressed like this and Gabrielle would hop right on you huh?" He sauntered closer to me with his hands behind his back, poking his bottom lip out. "Even though you're tempting eye candy, right now she's in her chamber giving her bedmate the ride of her life."
I heard Najara calling out Gabrielle's name. I growled and threw a punch at him but this time he caught it.
"Not this time Xena." He smiled, ready to pop out of there.
"You've never beaten me yet Ares, remember that."
"There's always the first time Xena." He blew me a kiss and vanished, laughing.
I hate his laugh.
I slammed my fist into the wall trying hard to tame the fire that was raging in my soul. Aresí words helped my mind play tricks on me, with visions of my wife and the nutcase.
"Xena?" A small voice brought me out of my torment. I looked into those pretty green eyes that were all too familiar. "Are you alright?" Hope poked her lip out, just like her mother.
"I'm fine." I stroked her precious head. What if I had given Hope half a chance in the beginning? She was half Gabrielle's...
My guilt was too much and I pick her up holding her close to me.
"You look pretty tonight."
"Thank you Hope." I gave her one more squeeze and set her down. "Why is a young one like yourself up so late?"
She gave me a cute dimpled smile. "Grandma lets me stay up on days when I have no schooling."
"Where's your grandmother now?"
"In the kitchen, like always." I followed the skipping youngster towards the kitchen. For some reason I just felt the need for my mother even though she had no idea who I really was.
She was bending over a pot stirring it, adding any spice that was in reach. In the background I could still hear the party in full swing.
"Grandma? Xena's here to see you." Mother set the spoon aside and smiled at us both. After drying her hands she grabbed her tablet and wrote something, handing it to Hope. The child got a pout and bowed her head.
"Yes, maíam," she said obediently, placing a kiss on my motherís cheek.
"Night Xena, I have to wash and go to bed." I had to chuckle at the seriousness of her tone.
"Night Hope." I waved as she skipped towards the sleeping area. Mother motioned for me to sit and started to write.
"I noticed you left the party early and the manner you left it in. Is everything alright?" I read her words.
"Yes, everythingís fine." I assured her. "I feel a bit closed in with crowds."
She wrote some more.
"Who was that blonde you flattened?" I had to grin at the smirk she gave me.
I hung my head in thought. "That's Callisto. The one I told you about. We just had a misunderstanding I had to settle." She looked at me and I knew my mother. She wasn't buying it.
She wrote. "You know Xena, ever since you arrived here, I just have this feeling that there's something more. Call it sixth sense or mother's intuition."
The last part made my chin hit the floor. I quickly recovered but I realized the time for games was over. "I canít explain it but . . . Iím Xena. Your Xena." She grabbed the tablet back, her fingers shaking.
"By the Gods! I felt it in my heart. But how? I placed your body in the tomb myself. Why would the Gods grace me with such a gift?" Her hands were trembling and I was not sure what to say.
"We can't have this conversation right now with a party going right outside the door." All I needed was for someone to overhear. Her eyes began to water and I felt myself slipping.
"I.... Listen, Cyrene." My voice was cut off by her hugging me tightly to her, crying, making gasping sounds. I broke down. All of this. Gabrielle. My mother weeping in my arms, it was too much.
I held her close to me and whispered what was going on. Between Callisto, the Conqueror, and the nutcase, the walls were sure to have ears.
"Do you understand?" I pulled back a bit to see her face, she nodded and I wiped the tears from her face.
She stood pulling a cloth out of her apron to clear her nose. For the first time in longer then I care to remember, my mother had a glimmer in her eye when she looked at me.
"I better get back to the barracks. It'll be a busy day for us Royal Guards." She cupped my face and brought it down for a quick peck to the cheek.
Before I headed off I turned and looked at her once more. Again she was stirring the pot shaking her head in disbelief. I just prayed I didn't put her in harmís way by telling her. One more problem to worry about.
Being in the barracks meant being close to the Conqueror's chambers. Having being born with sharp hearing, I picked up angry voice streaming from the Conqueror's main bed chamber. I had to smile, and I guessed all was not well with Narjara and Gabrielle this evening. I sneaked closer to listen.
"I told you Najara, I'm not in the mood!!" Gabrielle's voice boomed out.
"Well, it can't be because of your drinking, youíve preformed well before in spite of it." Najara bantered back. "Could it be that warrior slut you were eyeing tonight?"
"Get off my back." I could hear the tension in Gabrielle's voice.
"Bad enough she had to be in our guest bed...Thatís it isn't it? You want to bed that whore?" I heard a loud crashing sound and I could picture Gabrielle's face in rage.
"Get out of here before I break you in two." Her voice was low and cold. Next thing I heard was a door slamming.
This could either have been a blessing or a hindrance for me. Najara would be aiming for me with full force, and also put Gabrielle in harmís way even more.
I slipped more into the shadows as Najara stormed past me. She had no look of pain or sorrow, just utter anger. I followed her and to make my nightmare worse, she ended up right outside Callisto's barrack door.
'This is bad, this is really bad.' I muttered turning back, again hearing Gabrielle's voice and I drew near.
"I'm so sorry Lila." Oh Gods. The mead and fighting with the nut brought out her demons again tonight.
I stood there for a half of candle mark listening to her anguish. It tore at my heart. Once again I found myself in tears for causing my love pain.
'I'm the one who should be sorry, my bard. All I seem to do is cause you agony.'
As much as I fought it and saw my motherís words plain as day, I found myself closing in on her room. This would mean my death for sure. I stood frozen outside her chamber door trying to calm my pounding heart before making an entrance. Next thing I know the door opened and there was a sword at my throat with fiery green eyes burning through me.
"My Lord." I barely got out as she pushed the sword a bit more into me.
"My patience is wearing thin with you warrior," she hissed.
"I was on my way to my room and I heard you cry out."
She eased the sword a bit.
"Isn't it my duty to watch out for your safety?" She knew I was full of it, and I'm not sure if it was the mead or what, but she let the sword drop and walked back inside her chamber.
"You want a drink, warrior?" Why not? I considered as I felt my throat to be sure it was still intact.
"Close the door and have a seat, Xena." Making my way inside, I sat in the closest chair by the door and watched her pour us some wine.
"That was some display at the party." She handed me my glass and stayed standing in front of me. "Nice punch," she smirked. "Let me guess. She's the one who hit you with the dart?"
I swallowed the wine in one gulp. "I believe so."
She waved me over to get more wine. While I did, she took my seat. "Is this the same person you swear wants my head on a platter?" I stopped in mid pour and glanced at her.
"Seems to me sheíd much rather have your death then mine." In another reality truer words were never spoken. Hades in this reality truer words were never spoken.
"Sheís just feeling I'm a hurdle in her quest." I gulped another glass and poured more. "Would you like more wine?"
"Hurdle you say?" she laughed and held out her glass as I poured.
"Yes but I'm not aware that she knows of my love for you, Gabrielle. However she does know I'd rip her heart out if she laid a finger on you." I raised my glass and gulped down that one too.
I could see that made her nervous because she got up and went to peer out the balcony window. I retook my seat.
"Xena?" I snapped my head up fast. She sounded just like my Gabrielle, if only for a moment - the one who started out those introspective conversations by calling out my name with a subtle softness.
"You ever wish your life to be different?" She sounded so small.
"More then you know."
She looked at me briefly. She was silent for much too long and it was making the hairs on my neck stand. "Do you really believe in soul mates?"
She gave me an odd look then turned back to peer at the stars. My heart was breaking by her silence and I hung my head. Then she went on.
"Once, a long, long time ago, all people had four legs and two heads. Then the gods threw down thunderbolts and split everyone into two. Each half then had two legs, two arms and one head. But the separation left both sides with a desperate yearning to be reunited, because they each shared the same soul. Ever since then, all people have spent their lives searching for the other half of their soul."
I dropped the glass from my hand. The bard was inside the conqueror. She turned back to me at the sound of the fallen goblet.
"Close your mouth Xena. I might be the conquering bitch but an educated one at that." She walked over for another drink, but all I could do was watch. "At one time I wanted to be a bard, but that was torn away and this life was handed me instead." She sounded disgusted, drinking more.
"You are my soul, Gabrielle." I found my voice.
"Save it." She was beyond drunk and stumbled to the bed losing what drink she had left. She sprawled, almost falling over. "They killed her, you know?" I wasnít sure who Gabrielle was talking about but she continued without prompting. "Lila was so young. I was older; should've been me, not her. There wasn't anything I could do to stop it. So how can you love that couldnít save her family?" she spat.
My first thought was of Lyceus. I couldn't stop my little brotherís death. My whole village hated me and my own mother scorned that day I was born. More then anything, I hated myself. Like this Gabrielle I had many skills but I wasnít worth spit.
But this was not the time; I had to think of her. I clenched my jaw shut and walked to her on the bed. I could see that she was drunk, but she still could strike me if she felt threatened. So I knelt in front of her slowly.
"You like to play with death, don't you?" She looked me in the eyes.
I took her hand and placed in on my heart.
"Feel this? This is yours." I pushed her hand harder to my chest. "I am yours, heart, body and soul." My eyes never left hers. "I love you so much." I leaned in to kiss her. She didnít resist so I proceeded to her lips. It was a very tender kiss to let her know how fragile I thought she truly was but I didnít return it for a second.
Instead, I began to pull away. At least I tried to. Gabrielle snaked her arm out and her hand cupped the back of my head pulling me closer again. She kissed me with a great degree of passion. Much like my Gabrielle did after a battle.
Itís a wonderful feeling - knowing youíre alive and sharing that life with someone. But I knew now is not the time or the place. If I had allowed her to continue sheíd have me undressed and by morning it could mean my death sentence, especially if Najara happened into the room at the inopportune moment.
She issued a mumbled protest as I pulled back to stand beside the bed.
"I thought you loved me," she said in a drunken slur.
"I do," I told her. "And thatís why Iím leaving. Youíll have little memory of tonight, if any, with as much as wine youíve consumed. I want you to know the love we make together - not just bits and pieces."
"I order you back to this bed now!"
I had to make a decision. I knew I only had one in the end. "Iím sorry my Conqueror. My job is to protect you. And youíre not ready for me in your bed. It could be very dangerous for you and many people in your kingdom. I will not take that risk."
I knew I had to leave that instant. If I stayed any longer she would talk me into it. She always did. Against my better judgment, my Gabrielle had managed to seduce me in the most inappropriate of places - from the small kisses weíd shared I knew this one was no different.
"Xena?" The voice was small again and it made me stop. "Tell me the truth - why are you really here?"
I grinned. "Thatís simple. Iím gonna help you become the bard you always knew you should be. And Iíll take away your pain. Goodnight my Con- Gabrielle."
I sat in the banquet hall a few feet from the Conquerorís table occupied by her consort and her Regent. The morning meal was brought in to us and I could see the Amazons whispering conspiratorially just as they always did with small chuckles here and there.
Solari sat next to Ephiny and both women looked extremely happy, feeding each other from time to time. Najara for her part looked cold. Not a word between she and Gabrielle was exchanged. I listened close to try to hear the conversation between ruler and Regent, especially after Najara excused herself. Even more so when I saw Gabrielle and Ephiny both look in my direction.
"Sheís okay," I heard Ephiny remark.
"Okay? Just okay?" Gabrielle replied.
"Well as far as Iím concerned I already have the most beautiful woman in the known world on my arm." Solari smiled and slipped a grape into Ephinyís mouth, letting her finger linger. "Are you considering trading Consorts my queen?"
"No, I . . . I love Najara," Gabrielle answered.
"Najara is a beautiful woman - no doubt. But she doesnít have those killer blue eyes of the new protector. Najara never looked that damn good in the dress we saw last night either."
"Are you saying itís lust? What if I were in love with both of them?"
"What do you want me to say?"
"Youíre my Regent - advise me."
"Youíre the ruler of the world, Gabrielle. I think itís your call. Behead Najara or just shack up with the new warrior. Itís your choice."
Ephiny chuckled. "Ahh... now as your friend, Iíd tell you to keep the bondmate but fool around on the side with tall, dark and deadly."
Gabrielle chuckled. And that answer got a playful slap from Solari who joined the conversation. "Should I be worried while Iíve been away?"
Gabrielle immediately answered starting to rise. "Oh no Solari. Trust me. Thereís not a more pussy whipped woman in this kingdom than Ephiny."
"Heyyy," Ephiny whinnied in protest as her bond-mate laughed.
"Just telling it like it is Ephí."
Gabrielle locked eyes with me and I quickly went back to eating my goose eggs. I tried at least until I felt her at my side. Quickly I stood up and bowed respectfully to her.
"My Conqueror," I nodded. "How may I be of service?"
"I need to spar. After your meal make sure to join me on the practice field."
"Yes, my Conqueror." I nodded again. As she left, I wondered silently if sheíd take Ephinyís advice.
As I made my way to the practice field, the eggs I had eaten seemed like boulders in my quivering stomach. I had to wonder if the Conqueror would be impressed if I lost my breakfast on her boots.
"Hello Xena." I jumped slightly at the voice, too distracted to notice I was being followed. I turned to see Callisto leaning against the stone wall.
"Nice bruise," I taunted.
She had a great shiner on her face where my fist met it last night. I had to smile.
"Yes it is. I'll return the favor soon." She smirked "I've been watching you lately and you know what I've seen?"
I just raised an eyebrow.
"You drooling over the conqueror. How pathetic you are, or so I thought." She walked closer to me and tapped her finger to her chin. "I was wracking my brains wondering why a person from Amphipolis would go out of their way to kiss that bitchís ass, especially when she torched their whole village." She looked at me closer.
"Then is occurred to me, the reason why you want so badly in her britches is because she'll be more vulnerable to kill." She squealed and clapped. "Bravo, hitting the Conqueror right in the libido."
I got right in her face. "Let me tell you something. The Conqueror's men were responsible for razing both of our villages and the Conqueror handled those men. And if you think for an instant I'll let any harm come to her, you'll have a short life span. Got me?" I towered over the crazed blonde.
"Do you believe after the Conquerorís history, she really had no idea? If you do, you're a fool."
We were close to trading blows.
"Is there a problem here?" We jumped at her voice. We both looked and saw very cold, green eyes.
She was dressed in a white shirt with black pants. Two swords strapped to her hips. She was very impressive, though it was obvious she was not happy with either Callisto or myself.
"Do I have to make you two children stand in separate corners?" She circled us both. My eyes focused back on Callisto. You could tell by the way she was twitching she wanted to strike Gabrielle.
"No, my Lord." We said in unison.
"Good. Now isn't there some place you need to be Callisto?"
The glare Callisto gave Gabrielle was deadly. "Yes, I do Lord Conqueror," she said through clenched teeth, looking at me once more.
"Then I suggest you go." Gabrielle got in her face. I was ready for anything, but Callisto wisely bowed and turned to leave. I could still pick up her saying, "Your time is coming to an end."
I wonder if she meant mine or Gabrielle's? As I considered it, I was sure she was convinced to destroy both of us.
"Ready to spar warrior?"
I nodded letting her lead the way.
The field was set up for sparring. There were staves, chobos, and a variety of swords to choose from. I watched as she began to stretch and do a few defensive moves.
"Choose your weapon, Xena." I completed a couple stretches of my own walking towards the weapons. I grabbed a staff, throwing one towards her, and she snatched it smirking at me.
Then my chin nearly hit the dirt as she started a few staff drills. She was moving so fast, I couldn't see the damn wood. It was a blur. I was even more aware that this wasn't my Gabrielle; this was a lethal warrior.
We stood opposite from each other, until she bowed her head in signal for me to start. And start I did, not holding back in the least. She blocked each blow and kick I had to offer, then it was her turn to attack.
I was tiring, struggling to hold onto the piece of wood that was stung each time she struck it. My advantage was my height and power, she had speed with perfect center of gravity.
In a sick strange way, I found this arousing. Our movements were like a warrior's poetry, a perfect dance.
I was able to get a roundhouse kick to the side of her face and that pissed her off. When I looked into her eyes. I froze. The look she had made me shudder.
'Is this what I look like when the beast is free?' I had to wonder as she struck her staff into mine, shattering it. That threw me off balance and left my middle open to her kick. As I doubled over she brought her knee up to my face. I landed in a painful thud on my back.
She landed on top of me, snarling. I found my heart pounding, I was...scared but extremely turned on. I closed my eyes waiting for her next move, but nothing happened.
I opened them slightly, she was breathing hard. She then leaned over and gave me a kiss that melted me down to the bottom of my boots.
"If you love me as you say, warrior," she paused to catch her breath, "meet me by the southern gates tonight. I have a place to show you." She gave me one more kiss then got off of me.
As she walked away she turned. "Thanks for the best sparring I've had in ages." Then she was gone while I was still flat on my back.
'By the Gods, I'll never survive this.' My mind told me. I laid there, letting my brain catch up with my now aching body, when I heard chuckling.
Making their way towards me was Ephiny and her mate. "Sparred with staffs, huh?"
I sat up cracking my neck into place. "Yeah, how did you know." I groaned as I got up and the both laughed at me more.
"Because we all land like that after she kicks our asses with the staff." She and Solari laughed harder.
"Next time warn me, will ya?" I growled at them as me and my damaged warrior's pride limped off the field.
I recognized it as Ephinyís voice and turned around to face her. She and Solari close the distance between us. "I gotta say . . . Youíve lasted longer than anyone yet. I respect that. I think the conqueror might have met her match."
"Hopefully in more ways than one," I tell her with a slight grin before beginning my departure again.
My Ďwoundsí from earlier in the day were healed as I stood at the south gate with an over inquisitive guard. He was beginning to annoy me and I wondered how much longer I could manage to wait for Gabrielleís arrival.
"So where will you be going?" he asked.
"I donít know, and even if I did, being part of the royal guard, I could tell you but then Iíd have to kill you."
He began to chuckle. I didnít. And soon that chuckle became a nervous cough.
He knew I was very serious. I would kill him in a heartbeat to protect Gabrielle. When he finally shut up for a moment, my mind went back to the kiss of earlier in that day, as well as the ass kicking I had gotten. I had to admit; it was quite stimulating to see Gabrielle in action like that. I can only imagine what the battle lust would feel like if we ever had to engage anyone side by side in combat. Iím sure Iíd spontaneously combust from the magnitude of it.
At that moment, Gabrielle approached on horseback and reached out for me as the gates opened.
"Where are we going?" I asked.
"No questions," was the short retort.
I did as I was commanded and climbed behind her.
We left the safety of the city and traveled for what seemed like candle marks out of the kingdomís light, where the only thing we saw were the shadows of a few trees and the star light in the full moonís sky.
Soon we were by a river. One I knew very well. My Gabrielle always loved to stop here and make camp when we were in the area. I was a bit surprised to see that things hadnít changed.
"Itís lovely here," I told her.
She seems to avoid the comment and threw her leg over the horseís head and hopped down. "Grab the saddlebags."
I paused a moment. The sharpness of her words reminded me yet again that this was not my Gabrielle. Not wanting her to get out of sorts, I didnít dwell on it long. I pulled the saddlebags off as requested once I hopped down. She was sitting by the shore looking out at the water as I made my way over. She reached out and I handed her the bags as she moved to her feet.
I watched her reach inside and pull out a set of shackles. Those quick reflexes of hers returned and she fastened one on my hand while tossing the other one through the tree. On pure instinct I reached out and grabbed her by the throat to stop her but she used the opportunity to shackle my other wrist.
Son of a bitch.
She caught me.
And there wasnít a damn thing I could do about it.
She pulled away with a devilish laugh. She reached between her cleavage and pulled out a breast dagger, running it down my cheek and to my throat. I didnít move. I didnít even breathe.
"You said you loved me," she began. "And at the first opportunity you tried to strangle me?"
Oh shit. This is gonna take some explaining.
"It was a reaction. I thought you were going to try to kill me, my Conqueror."
"Although that wasnít my intention in bringing you out here . . . I just might."
"Honestly, Gabrielle." I felt the point of the knife press deeper into my throat at the use of her given name and quickly made up for it. "My Conqueror. Honest. I thought you brought me here to kill me."
"Then why come at all?"
"It wasnít until you shackled me, my Conqueror."
"Then why did you originally agree to come here?"
"Thatís it? I asked so you came?" She paused and put the knife back in her cleavage and I gave a sigh of relief but tried not to make it sound too loud. "Did you think I offered you the chance to steal away from the castle so we could spar some more?"
I saw where she was going. She wanted me to tell her why. She knew why already. I desired her beyond words. But she wanted to hear me say it.
"No, my Conqueror."
"Then tell me why."
"Because you are the sexist thing the gods ever put on this earth and Iíd forfeit my life for one night with you."
"You wouldnít be the first," she said casually, taking the sword off her back and letting it fall to the ground.
"But I hope to be the last."
Gabrielle gave a chuckle. "Yes well . . . Najara hoped to be the last. Turns out she was wrong."
Her lips seized mine and she pushed me against the rough tree bark. Her tongue broke through my lips and when I tried to return the gesture she pulled back and slapped me so hard my face stung.
"I kiss you. You donít kiss me. Understand?"
I would have rubbed my cheek to ease the pain if I could have, but I couldnít reach it. My hands were suspended too high above me. I could only give a nod, which she accepted. With that she stepped back and I watched as her armor and battledress fell to the ground. Sheís scarred in places I didnít recognize and I silently wondered what story each scar tells. I would have like to reach out and touch each one, memorizing the feel of her body. But despite the battle riddled body, there was a hunger there. Perhaps more now than ever and she could sense it.
"What you expected?"
The question almost went unanswered in my admiration of Gabrielle.
"No, my Conqueror - far more tantalizing. If you release me-."
"You might kill me. And I want to enjoy one evening with you before I die."
She returned and in a few minutes my armor was stripped away and britches pulled to my ankles. She stayed on her knees and pulled up my skirt. She studied me closely and licked her lips and I could feel myself grow wetter in response. My legs seemed to unconsciously part.
"I wouldnít kill you."
"This from a woman who just tried to choke me to death," she chuckled as she rubbed her hands up my legs, tantalizing me even further.
"Oh gods please," I found myself whispering and pulling on the shackles.
Gabrielle chuckled again at my reaction. "Be honest. You donít really want me to let you go. You love this." I watched her rise to her full height, her fingers immediately finding my soaked center. "Oh, you really love this. Not many people have bested you Xena, and you love the feel of it donít you? I know you do because weíre very much alike. No one has lasted that long on the practice field against me. And I must admit it excited me to no end. Almost as much as your excitement now."
Thatís it. Iím gonna die. Strung up in a tree and dripping wet. Her fingers toyed with me, brushing past the nub that desperately needed attention. I groaned my frustration.
"Are we having fun yet, Xena?"
"I want to taste you."
The words just spilled naturally from my mouth and she chuckled again. "Whereís the warrior focus Iíve seen you display so often, um?"
"All I can focus on is your hand, my Conqueror."
"You want the Conqueror to take you, do you?"
"Gods yes, please, Gabrielle."
I was so aroused at that point I didnít care what she might think or do. I grabbed the chains of the shackles and pulled myself up. My legs snaked out and grabbed her around the waist. I tried desperately to grind my sex into her hip. At first I saw anger in her eyes but I didnít care. I wanted her. I wanted her so badly I could taste it. A moment later however, she realized I was not a threat. I made no attempt to escape from her. In fact, I wanted her closer and I watched as desire glazed over in her own eyes.
She didnít remove me. Instead her hand came up and I felt three fingers plunge inside while her thumb found the nub aching for release.
"You like it hard and fast, huh warrior?"
All I could do was grunt out my approval. She was so warm and I was sure by the look in her eye she was totally wet too.
"Come on," she whispered as she got quicker. I watched her pause for a moment to pull her drenched finger out to suck on.
"Oh gods, please, Gabrielle."
"Conqueror! YOU are my guard. I OWN you. Body and soul."
"You own me. You own me. Do what you want with me."
She pulled out the breast dagger and held it to my throat again as her fingers went back to their earlier task.
"What if I wanted to kill you, huh?"
"Kill me, but let me come first."
I meant ever word. It didnít matter if I died in the end, as long as she took me over the top. I heard her chuckle.
"I believe you want it that bad."
"I want it. Please Iím begging. Donít . . . deny . . . me."
My passion overrode my ability to form words.
"Alright warrior. I'll give you what you want. Iíll give it to you. Hard and fast. Hard and fast."
Gabrielle voice echoed over and over. Her breathing was strained as well, and I felt myself slipping over the edge as my release gripped me. My hips shook and I howled out in my passion. Spent, she let my legs fall to the ground and I could barely stand. My arms were sore and my hands seemed to be locked around the chains. It was difficult to move my fingers, but I managed to let go.
She pulled away, licking her fingers and my arousal was renewed. I was not nearly as spent as I first thought. Suddenly, I couldnít help myself and the words slipped past my lips.
"Gods, I love you, Gabrielle."
She looked at me with bit of indifference. "Youíre a decent lay."
Carelessly, she turned her back to me. My head dropped. This wasnít want I wanted. I wanted to make love to her. In truth, I wanted her to love me. I realized in that instant. All we did was fuck and I felt shallow and hollow inside. She turned back to face me. My emotions must have been written on my face. Or maybe this Gabrielle, like the old one, could tell my moods.
Casually she walked up and unlocked the shackles. "Should I lie?" I didnít answer her and she continued. "I could appease you. I could tell you I love you too. That youíre everything to me. I could, if thatís what youíd like, Xena."
"I donít want you to appease me, my Conqueror. I realize my place."
Maybe if I turned the tables. Maybe I could get a reaction that way.
"And what place is that?"
"Iím nothing more than a royal guard. Here to serve you in anyway you see fit. As you said, you own me body and soul . . . I realize my place."
She looked . . . saddened? It was a new emotion - one I hadnít seen from this new Gabrielle. The desire to retract my words was strong but perhaps this was the push she needed. I said nothing. But neither did she and I knew one of us should speak.
"Speaking as your guard, we should return you soon. Iím sure your consort will be wondering where you are."
I handed her the shackles before I went to retrieve her clothing and her armor. I helped dress her in silence. I then handed her the sword, which she returned to her back. Only then did I reach for my own armor. She moved to help, but I respectfully declined.
"With all due respect, my Conqueror. You should not be doing a menial task like helping your guard with their armor. Thank you for the offer, but you are above such duties."
She was speechless. Wordless, she walked away and climbed upon the horse. Once I was set, I joined her, taking my place behind her. I realized I was spreading it on a bit thick and she might not return to me, so I gave her the option.
"Remember, my Conqueror - I am always available to serve you . . . day or night."
"Iíll remember Xena . . . and so should you."
"As you wish."
There was no need for further words . . . We traveled in silence for about a league when she brought her mare to a stop. We both heard it.
"Yes, two men talking back in the woods," I whispered. "They sound-"
"Roman," she answered. "Letís check it out."