© 2000 Dark
Disclaimer and warning: This story uses
characterizations shown in the Universal copyrighted crossover
between Xena and Hercules; Armageddon II. I am not keeping them and I
certainly won't be making any kind of profit while they're in my
care. All that aside, the interpretation of those characters here is
original and I as their creator maintain rights over their
"Ever After" is
the third and last installment in a series I started late September
1999. The two proceeding stories "Chattel" and
are essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the foundation
of this companion piece.
Please be warned that the two women
described are lovers. If you don't think reading about that or them
within a setting where the power dynamics of their relationship involve
S/m concepts, stop and go no further. Because we're talking adult
themes here, you also need to be of legal age as determined in your
state or country to consider proceeding.
It's going to rain. You can smell it in the
But it seems fitting enough, I suppose. It
rained the last time I stood aside this hill under this banyan she
loved so much. It hadn't been just some light sprinkle then either.
More like the kind of storm you could believe was conjured by Zeus
himself. It felt like the heavens had opened up on us that day,
drenching the countryside and lighting up the skies clear past the
My mother had been at my side then, and in a
way, I think the soaking and all its fury helped say what even then
she didn't dare. I remember reaching out to touch her, to let her
know I was there, to let her know she wasn't as alone as I thought
she felt. I don't know what I expected. Not the silence or the sense
I was still after all those years touching stone.
I told myself if it had been the other way
around and she'd been the one laying there in the soil, she would
have expected the same straight back and face from Gabrielle and just
because it hadn't worked out that way was no reason for her to break
her vows. Of course she didn't tell me that was what she was doing or
that they'd even talked about it. Looking back, it's hard to know how
much they really discussed anything. It is impossible now to know
whether what they shared required or permitted it.
From the very beginning, what I knew about
them and what I learned was purely from observation and instinct. I
had been made part of their world yet was expected for the most to
exist outside and separate to it. Certainly my mother would not have
viewed it that way, especially in the beginning. She would have said
loudly and with total conviction that I was the most important thing
in her life. As a child, I had no reason to question those beliefs
and no way of knowing that the one that said the least, who seemingly
counted for less than a stable hand, was actually the true holder of
By the time I arrived, my mother's hold on
Greece had been secured firmly long ago. Yes, there were minor
skirmishes as she described them about the far boarder, generated
mostly by those who had forgotten the might of her armies. She would
attend to them but they were always quickly quashed. She would settle
back and turn her focus and the time that permitted to me.
Thankfully, there was another, one who
seemed to know when to appear and too quickly disappear. A blonde
angel who used to lighten the considerable loneliness I experienced
when my mother was away.
I know I have memories that go back to when
I was just learning to walk of being rocked, of a spoon playing great
flying bird as I gulped down the contents it delivered. Others of a
compact woman playing at blocks with me on my nursery floor and a
tall raven haired goddess cheering with pride at my first time on a
But my first clear memory of seeing them
together was a swarm of confusion and childish fear, equivocal
feelings of a youngster's narrow perception of the world. There was
nothing that confirmed or denied what I sensed or had confirmed later
to be true, just ....Gabrielle always seemed to be a great deal more
comfortable out of my mother's presence than in it.
At three, I remember sitting in her lap
while she read to me. It was something of a treat because I never saw
enough of the fair haired lady, as I thought of her. I was growing
sleepy so I'd snuggled into her blouse, thinking she was warm and
soft and what a grand afternoon it was turning out to be. I lay there
pretending to be dozing so she wouldn't make me move when I heard the
door to my nursery open and my eyes drew level with my mother's
riding boots. Without a word exchanged between them, Gabrielle's body
went from being the most welcoming place in the world to stiff and
The arms that had been holding me so
lovingly came away and suddenly I was being lifted up and placed back
in my cot.
At five, I remember being so boisterous
wrestling with Gabrielle that I pulled her summer gown aside,
exposing the ugly mark that covered half of her right shoulder blade.
I remember being quite horrified and asking if it hurt, just as my
mother interrupted us. Gabrielle took my tiny hands away and as their
gazes found one another, whispered 'Not anymore'.
As I grew, the incidents and questions increased with equal
frequency but I was never offered any clearer insight.
At the age of seven, I had been playing hide and seek through the
many twist and turns of my mother's palace with the one of the young
women who cared for me in the afternoons. I guess I'd twisted when I
should have turned because I tried to retrace my steps from where I
had run and suddenly found myself lost. I was trying to build up
enough courage to tell one of the guards posted along my walk I
couldn't find my way. Then a door I was passing opened, and there
before me was my fair lady - my Gabrielle.
I can still recall the little sparkle that would cut like emerald
sunlight through night's curtain whenever she would first lay eyes on
me in those days. Of how she would bend down low so she could inspect
my growth as she called it. And how happy she would seem for that
split second before place and responsibility would pull her upright
However at that moment, all I was interested in was how exciting
it was to discover where she lived and so pleased it was she who'd
She invited me in to the her room with ease as if it was my habit
to come calling. And I, using my best manners, climbed up on her tiny
bed and told her what had brought me there. We'd only just started
our talk when the door that had been left slightly ajar opened,
admitting the Conqueror once again. Don't get me wrong, I loved my
mother. I loved the strength that allowed her to lift me high above
her head, the beauty that radiated and made everyone gasp for the
sheer sight of her. But as the child that as I was, I particularly
loved the way that the palace staff would trip over themselves to
attend to me whenever she was near. Still, it didn't ever completely
stop my mother's presence secretly unnerving me, particularly when
she shared it with Gabrielle.
Just as easily as Gabrielle had ushered me into her little room,
my mother was scooting me out, full of excuses that it was time I was
on my way and that I shouldn't be wandering around unescorted. Of
course I went without question as even a child knew better than to
argue with the Conqueror. The door was pushed closed behind me and I
stood there a moment trying to decide which way to go.
I heard my mother's voice to start and though I knew I shouldn't,
I pressed my body up close to the wall to listen.
"You know you shouldn't encourage this," she said. Her tone
wasn't harsh as it often was when she spoke to any of her guards but
it wasn't gentle like how she spoke to me either.
I peered through the crack left between the semi closed door and
its jamb to see Gabrielle sitting where I'd left her. Her head was
lowered and the smile that had warmed her face moments before had
"I wouldn't, my Lord, I promise you," she contended.
But my mother appeared unaffected. "The child was born to rule.
There is no room for a future sovereign to grow up soft."
"Never, my Lord." Gabrielle's own voice cut her off, almost
pleading in its tone. "But I can't send..."
"Can't?" Came the more familiar harshness.
I realized then my Gabrielle was crying and a fierce sense of
protectiveness came over me. I wanted to rush back in, to stand
between them and rescue Gabrielle from whatever it was she was trying
to defend. But I could also hear footsteps coming up behind me. I
snuck one last peek at my lady's seemingly shrunken frame and took
off down the halls until one of the guards finally pulled me up.
Still, I rarely saw them together and when I did it was usually
just in passing when I accompanied my mother on some official
engagement about the palace. On those occasions, though I had no
understanding of why, I was taught not to try and break away from my
mother and greet my friend. Gabrielle would lower her head and my
mother would simply tighten her hold on me, more times than not,
acting as if she hadn't seen her at all. Any questions I may have
asked about why my mother acted so strangely around a woman she must
have known I loved were met with resounding silence. Gabrielle too
offered no more than a cautionary 'it is the way of things'
and told me not to trouble myself about it.
My life went on and I remained blissfully ignorant to anything
more than my studies and what Cook was serving for dinner.
But at the age of nine, their public faces and private beings were
revealed to me in a way I could not have predicted nor, I believe,
they would have wished. Because of it, my whole perception of
them as individuals and role models altered irrevocably. I had until
that point accepted for the most that my life and both of theirs were
happy ones. All the silences aside, I believed my mother to be a
powerful but benevolent ruler. Paradoxical one might have thought in
their application but not to me. Her greatest qualities seemed to
exist in equal harmony within her and I never, not for one moment,
felt I needed to question them.
To be exact, it had been the celebration of my ninth birthday, and
to mark it my mother had taken me out of the palace to show off the
land that had been bestowed me. Mother led a small troop of a dozen
soldiers with me proudly riding up front by her side. We spent the
larger part of the day riding and devouring a picnic lunch full of
all my favorite things. My desire to have it to be us - just the
three of us - was keen.
But not to be.
The land was beautiful, though I don't think I truly appreciated
it then. I know I thought long and hard about why on a day that was
supposed to be so special for me, I hadn't seen Gabrielle. She had
not been there when I woke amongst the many well wishes or at the
grandiose breakfast held in the courtyard below my mother's window.
As our horses moved us further and further away from the palace, I
kept hoping she was going to somehow appear miraculously and spend
the day with us. But she didn't and I tried not to let my
disappointment show to those who had come along.
When we returned at sun down and after I was scrubbed and dressed
in something more befitting dinner with the Conqueror, we took our
evening meal together quietly in her chambers. I remember she smiled
a lot that night and silently indulged my habit of pushing my food
around my plate. Normally it would annoy her and make her short with
me. When it was time for me to leave, she carried me back to my own
room and waited while my evening maid made me ready for bed.
It wasn't until my mother had gone and I lay awake watching the
shadows cast by my night candle's glow that I spotted the gift left
propped up on my bedside table. Immediately I recognized the
embroidered lace that had been tied in a bow around the parchment as
being from one of Gabrielle's own hair bands.
My heart leaped - she hadn't forgotten me after all.
I scrambled out on to the cold tiles, quickly discarding the
ribbon and pulled both ends of the scroll apart. In the neatest of
hands, my Gabrielle had penned a tale illustrated in watercolors of a
noble young heir who would some day rule all of Greece. The story
made me roar with laughter and pride - the pictures stood me in awe.
Strewn throughout the tale and captured in exquisite detail were
images of my mother and I in regal dress, upon horses and strolling
It was by far the most wonderful gift I had ever received.
I should have been exhausted but by that time I was too wound up
to sleep. Instead I stood tracing the images and words with my
fingers and marveling at the likenesses she had created. But it only
took the first complete read to realize there was something missing.
Not that it made the gift any less perfect but somehow, I thought,
unfinished. Gabrielle was a prominent character in the tale she'd
weaved - described as the young heir 's closest friend - yet for
whatever reason there was not one illustration of herself.
My eyes darted back and forth from the parchment to the candle
stub I was using to admire my prize by, my thoughts reeling with my
mother's words as I was tucked into bed.
'By the time that flame has gone, it won't be your birthday any
longer.' She had told me in her most serious but affectionate
I don't know why, but I was convinced that my only chance of
persuading Gabrielle to add a picture or two of herself to my gift would
be to ask her on my birthday. And so it was with that conviction that I rerolled
the parchment, trying my best to replace the lace exactly how I had
found it and started off towards Gabrielle's quarters. Even though I
received a curt word from the guards every time, I still made it a
habit to find myself 'lost' near the tiny cell quite regularly. I
expected Gabrielle to be up reading as she told me was her habit, or
already asleep, so I was a little surprised when I arrived to find
the room empty. Then I seized upon another plan. I would show my
mother the fine artwork and ask her to hear my case. She was, after
all, the Conqueror, and could grant any and all requests.
It was only a short journey to my mother's chambers from there and
I remember feeling heartened to see there was still light coming from
under her door. I paid no attention to the noises coming from inside
as I eased the door open nor to the fact that my mother was clearly
What should have been my delight at finding Gabrielle was quickly
replaced with the horror of witnessing what until then had been kept
well hidden from me. The room was dimly lit but I could see clearly
enough. Gabrielle was completely naked, bent face down over my
mother's small serving table. My mother, also naked save for a robe
hanging lose about her, was on top of her, pushing and grunting.
Gabrielle was just laying there making whimpering noises while my
mother kept at her. I remember looking down to see Gabrielle's night
dress on the floor beside them and her skin spotted pink where she
was being held.
It took no more than an instant for her eyes to settle on mine or
for me to conclude that my mother's actions were hurting her. My tiny
hands curled themselves into fists as I lunged forward using the
wooden ends of the scroll I carried to land the first blow at my
"Stop it," I bellowed. "Stop hurting my Gabrielle."
My attack was short-lived. Mother stopped me cold, blocking my
innocuous attempts by stepping away from the table as she closed her
robe and using her sheer presence to maneuver me further from the
person I was trying to protect. Everything became very confusing
then, a mass of bodies and limbs flapping about me. Somehow Gabrielle
had managed to grab up her night gown and pull it over herself. And
before I could register fully, she was kneeling before me with her
hands covering my own.
My rage turned to tears.
"It's all right, little one," Gabrielle cooed anxiously,
trying to wipe my face and get me to breathe evenly all at once.
"I'm all right."
It didn't feel all right. In fact, at the time it was the worst
feeling I could ever remember having. I turned to my mother who at
that point had not uttered a word.
"Why were you hurting her?" I demanded.
She continued to stare at me without speaking as if I had accused
her of something so low it was unworthy of a defense. In her silence,
she convinced me then and there I was right. She had been hurting
Gabrielle and the only reason I could think of to why was because she
knew I loved Gabrielle too, that she was as special to me as the
Of course I know now my mother's steely gaze and her reasons for
not answering me had more to do with the shock of being discovered
than the foolishness of my wounded beliefs. Nonetheless, I held that
belief for years as I was years older before I realized what I had
actually seen that night. And by then, the deed of sneaking up and
watching them together had taken on new meanings …and feelings.
By the time I was twelve, my feelings for Gabrielle had developed
into a full blown crush coupled with an intense desire to free her
from her life as my mother's property.
Initially it had been no more than a prepubescent's harmless
fascination. I got into the habit of seeking her out at the livery or
in the library when I knew my mother was detained elsewhere. Or
simply watching her while she took her afternoon stroll in the
courtyard. It wasn't just because I thought she was beautiful or
because she would always answer me with a smile and a friendly word.
Everyone around me growing up behaved that way. But with Gabrielle
there had always been a certain something that set her a side from
the others who inhabited my mother's palace. Gabrielle was the one
who always applauded the loudest at any function where servants were
permitted. Gabrielle was the one who was most interested in my
childhood discoveries about life. Gabrielle was everything I longed
for in a parent.
In contrast, my mother never answered my question of why she was
'hurting' Gabrielle that night years before. Or why she continued to
do so in what I believed to be insurmountable ways. It wasn't just
the things I knew she required of her in her chambers or only the
marks Gabrielle always tried to keep covered that would come and fade
only to be replaced by new ones.
I am not saying that my mother didn't love me. That wouldn't be
true. My mother had this wall about her, an invisible armor that said
'don't touch'. In my early life, I somehow always managed to get
under that armor enough for her to take pity on a 'fair haired
sprout'. She would show me off to her allies, teach me how to wield a
sword and be there to say good night. Nonetheless, as I developed and
became a young adult we seemed at loggerheads. In her words, she was
keeping me tough. She said that for my own future and the future of
our empire, I needed to be more than strong. But to me our
relationship and our arguments were fraught with unspoken jealousy
and competition and at the center was always Gabrielle.
My mother was the most powerful woman in all of Greece who took to
her bed what I believed to be the most beautiful of all women
anywhere. Yet for all intent and purposes, that woman was nothing to
her. She had no position at my mother's table, no place at her side
publicly. It shouldn't have mattered. But ultimately I knew Gabrielle
went without the simple right of kindness, the one thing I knew my
mother could have easily have provided.
And as I grew, so did the gap between my mother and myself because
of it. It grew until my feelings, unaired and without actual form
even in my own head, became an obsession and the time I spent
watching Gabrielle at a distance or listening at my mother's door
could not quell my desire to free Gabrielle. I loved Gabrielle but
could not have her for my own. My mother possessed her without loving
her. The fact that I knew much more than a child my age should have
about what they did in my mother's chambers made it all the more
twisted and unthinkable in my mind.
Then once when I was feeling particularly brave, I followed Gabrielle
as she was escorted to the Conqueror's quarters for an evening of
'entertainment'. Gabrielle had been dressed in a low cut gown, her
hair left free and shining around bare shoulders. After the guards
left, I took myself to the second access point my mother often used
to enter her room. It opened up on to a small bathing chamber with
glass plated shutters that in turn opened onto the grandness of her
bedroom. I had the perfect view that would go undetected.
They ate dinner together, sitting at opposite sides of the
servery, each sipping wine. After they'd finished, Gabrielle cleared
the plates away, stacking them neatly on the trolley they'd been
My mother was lounging on a sofa watching as Gabrielle bent over
to perform her task. The look on my mother's face was clear unbridled
"You know," My mother stated as if savoring the very taste
of what was on offer before her. "That is
your best asset."
I expected Gabrielle not to answer, or if she did, with a certain
shame caused by the position my mother placed her in - an unwilling
participant in some weird sexual game. But no, she simply looked up,
smiling with unfamiliar commonness.
"Does that mean you wish to waylay your drink until after
you've enjoyed that asset?" She said, her
eyes holding not an ounce of regret.
I couldn't believe it. Gabrielle was flirting with my mother. I
watched as my mother lowered her head in agreement. Yes, she wanted
to forgo her evening spirit until after Gabrielle had serviced her
and indicated how she would have her by sitting up and beginning to
open her robe. In turn, Gabrielle ceased her activities with the
crockery and went to kneel before her.
The thought of Gabrielle naked and writhing had become agonizing
fuel to my adolescent fantasies long ago but it had also always been
accompanied with the belief she had no choice. The words and gestures
she supplied felt like an axe blade to my skull. For years, I had
fretted over Gabrielle's apparent poor treatment, while all along
she was reveling in her place in my mother's bed. She liked it, this
strange service that she provided. She encouraged and responded to it
and the realization infuriated me.
I didn't stay to watch my mother take her pleasure with Gabrielle.
I couldn't. Instead I withdrew hastily back the way I had come
without looking back or caring.
Gabrielle didn't need or deserve my pity.
I stopped sneaking up to watch them after that and sulked for
weeks, mentally berating myself for being sucked in by the petty
concerns of my mother's bed servant. Driven by puerile thoughts and
anger I tried everything to distract me from my feelings for
Gabrielle. I drove my horse as hard as my mother on our mornings
jaunts, I fought like an animal possessed at drill practice and took
as many of the harlots and young bucks that caught my eye.
None of it quenched my thirst for what Gabrielle had conjured in
me for years. Or stopped my dreams being filled with her body or my
mother's pressing down upon her.
Six months after seeing them together, of being finally privy to
Gabrielle's pretense, I decided what I must do to redeem myself.
Ignoring her existence had failed miserably. If Gabrielle wanted to
be no more than my mother's whore then I would treat her as such. I
too would take what she was given free reign in the Conqueror's
Why would she care? It was her function, after all.
The night my mother's army returned victorious from Mani, a
celebration to mark their grand success was held in the main dining
hall . As expected, their ruler presided over it all, drinking equal
portions of ale to men half her age and being just as captured by the
entertainments of dancing girls, jugglers and comical bards offered
as part of her faithfull's reward. For most of the celebration I sat
by my mother's side sharing the feast and joining in the general
discussions that passed around her table. Several, including my
mother had young courtesans perched on their laps, all the better to
boast their lurid humor with.
I alone sat unaccompanied choosing instead to let my gaze wander
about the room. I no longer bothered searching for Gabrielle amid the
many faces that shared in the merriment or felt disappointment at
realizing her absence. I knew now where she was, where she had always
been at the previous festivities. She would be reading quietly in her
cell for the most of it, then at sometime later into the evening, she
would be washing in a deep fragrant tub, oiling and pampering her
skin. Later still, she would be selecting and dressing in garments
that not more than a candle mark after stepping into them would be
torn from her shoulders. Or worse still, not removed, only pulled up
so my mother could access her without her disrobing at all.
I tried in vain to steer away from the images that plagued me of
the preparations Gabrielle would be making a few corridors away or of
what would ultimately transpire. But as the torches burned lower
around me, my mind left the party and stood specter to her ritual. In
my mind I imagined her skin, pink and sweet smelling from her bath,
her dress deep crimson and low cut, picked solely for its seductive
style. Of my lips pressed to hers when I joined her.
I don't know if my mother realized exactly when I made my retreat
from her party. At the time, I had only one thought and that was to
rid myself of her chains and restore my pride.
I found Gabrielle where I knew she would be by then, waiting in my
mother's quarters. Because of the hour and the celebrations taking
place elsewhere, she was alone as I had thought. At first she
appeared a mix of surprise and delight in seeing me, aware that
something had changed between us over the proceeding months yet
unsure precisely what. I bolted the door behind me. As I moved
closer, I know she could smell the liquor on my breath. She seemed to
get a sense of what was on my mind then and tried to act coy about
She tried avoiding me, moving about the sizable space like a
skittish horse as she aimed to talk me down. I thought at the time
she was making quite a show of it and wondered why she was bothering.
But as I caught her and finally forced her to the ground I realized
the one thing I had countered on was for her to fight me too. And she
did fight with everything she had in her, kicking and striking out at
me like a woman crazed.
At that point I didn't care and seeing her so worked up just fired
me on. She got a clear punch at me while I was trying to ready myself
and I had to stop to catch her wrists. It made me mad and almost ill
timing everything in my britches. So I struck her just so she'd be
quiet. I told her she needn't be pretending just laying their was
such a chore. She kept crying and continued thrashing at me. She
split my lip and I tore her blouse clean open, ruining what she'd so
I dragged her up and to the table top I'd seen her straddle years
before and with her face pushed into the wood I upturned her skirt,
wedging larger limbs between to keep hers apart. None of it had gone
how I imagined in my head and no matter what coaxing I used, she
didn't stop trying to fight.
The next thing I knew was being flung backwards, my pants about my
knees as my body became airborne before landing heavily on my ass. I
saw my mother's face. I swear in that moment I understood she
intended to kill me.
Something distracted her thankfully, Gabrielle pulling herself up
from her position over the servery and she turned to tend her. I
didn't wait to see or hear what would follow. Regaining sufficient
thinking, I took my cue and fled as fast as I could get to my feet.
Fleeing was pointless I realized and only delayed the inevitable. She
drew a halt to the celebrations and stalked me through all the turns
of the palace, finally catching up and cornering me in the stables.
"Never touch her!" She'd screamed at me. "Never ever
As I said, I was young and hurt by all the silences, betrayed by
the love I couldn't understand would never be returned in the way I
wanted and by the one who could have made all our lives so different.
"It's what you do to her!" I screamed right back along with
a stream of obscenities about how I knew she did that and more at any
given opportunity, so what was the difference. Wasn't the property of
the Conqueror also the property of the Conqueror's heir?
She masked her shock but only just. A shadow of something, I don't
know what, passed over the normally stoic features before she
regained her focus. She went on ranting then about how she'd been
responsible for the breath that gave me life but she'd squeeze it out
of me with her bare hands if I tried anything remotely similar with
At sixteen, I thought I knew and understood everything. Worse
still, I thought because I would take my mother's place one day as
ruler, I had a scratch of her dignity and sense of station.
"You can not. Ever," She kept bellowing. "Take any one
or all of the women or boys you wish, any but her."
I had nothing to lose. My life was over and I cared little what I
said or how deep it went. Words spilled out of me that had been left
to fester all my existence. Everything she said to me I threw right
back tenfold with a vengeance she herself had fashioned. Why was she
so possessive of Gabrielle if she was no more than a thing to her? I
had seen everything that went on between them - everything! I said
she didn't deserve Gabrielle and when I became ruler I would outlaw
slavery. No one had the right to own another human being - not even
her. And finally, that I loved Gabrielle and would do everything to
win her over.
The stony silence my mother was renowned for followed. In fact I
hadn't been sure that she had heard a word of what I said for quite
"Sometimes, life breath is shared..." She told me
eventually, failing to meet my eyes. "...You are my heir, borne
If I thought I had known hate for my mother before, it had been nothing, not
one iota to what I felt right then. After all she had done, there it
was, yet another twist of the dagger she had plunged into my heart
long ago. All the lies, the absolute mockery she made of me. Why had
she ever allowed my life at all? I knew what she meant immediately
but if my life was to end then and there I would take her too. I
wanted to hurt her in a way she would never recover from. But enraged
and grief-stricken by the obvious collaboration between them both, I
spat my last shred of venom at her, knowing it would rip her asunder.
"So I am the bastard of a peasant slut?"
The blow popped one of my teeth and smashed another. I couldn't
have cared if she smashed every last one of them. I stayed my place
as still and cold faced as she, waiting for her to take my head off.
I heard our breathing lock in a dangerous battle of who would die
there and who walk away. Except as my mouth filled with blood and
remnants of my shattered teeth and my mother drew back again about to
land a second, a shadow fell across the loft.
It was Gabrielle. She was dressed in fresh clothes and had fixed
her hair. My heart stopped. The words of what I had called her still
rung in my ears as her movements brought her nearer, bringing light
to the bruises forming on her face. Then with only the slightest
hesitation in her step, the woman I now knew to be my real mother
approached us, stopping short of me to fall on one knee at the
If I could have taken my mother's sword, I would have saved her
the trouble and fallen on it myself.
"It is late, my lord," Gabrielle told her, in a voice
confident and without regard to the fact she had an audience. She
leaned in closer, pressing the side of her face I hadn't marked
against my mother's ribbed trousers. "And if it pleases you..."
There was no pleading attached to the words nor attempts to hide
their full intent. Then to punctuate their meaning, she made a
pushing motioning against the muscled thigh she leaned against. It
seemed to speak volumes between them. My mother understood it, even
if I did not, and reached to stroke the upturned face, fingers
skirting delicately over where a graze had appeared.
"They will all heal with nothing more then air and ointment, my
lord," Gabrielle tendered gently, answering a question I had not
Without a word, my mother pulled her up to her feet. Then as they
stood toe to toe, she tilted Gabrielle's chin, running her thumb
along the fine cheekbone again speaking the silent language only they
"Return to my chambers." The Conqueror commanded in an even
Gabrielle nodded her accord and turned away without ever
acknowledging my presence, leaving me and 'her lord' to finish
whatever my mother intended to be my fate. I watched Gabrielle
disappear into the night shadows, totally enthralled by the modest
act of a slave relaying not only her readiness but willingness to
serve. Her unabashed display of exactly what she was to my mother, in
light of exactly what she was to my mother's heir, made her clearer
to me than she had ever been. I made no effort to hide the tears that
brimmed and spilled out so easily.
And the final piece I thought I needed to complete the puzzle was
suddenly in front of me.
My mother seemed to consider the matter closed and, casting away
the blade she'd drawn to use on me, turned to leave.
"Does Gabrielle know?" I called after her, thinking I would
still have the last say. I would finally know it all.
She stopped, not turning back.
"Does Gabrielle know what?" She inquired, finding the frequent
sarcasm in her voice in an attempt to warn me off.
She couldn't scare me anymore and she knew it.
"That you love her" I announced. "That you're in love with her."
I don't know what I
expected her to say. Certainly not what she did.
When she finally spoke, her words which barely registered above a
whisper were laced with a bitterness I'd never heard before or after.
"Masters can not love their slaves."
Then she too was gone, leaving me to my wounds and first real
taste of what it meant to rule.
As I said, my mother never did tell me that she loved Gabrielle.
And Gabrielle never did come right out and say that she loved her
back. Or that she was after all that time, content with what had
become of a slave girl purchased so many years before. I assumed it
and could be totally wrong in my conclusions. My perceptions of who
they were and what they were to one another could very well have been
twisted and construed to fit an image I wanted to see rather than
what was real. Contradictions between them abounded till the end.
But I'll tell you what I do know without a doubt as I stand here
I know whatever drove my mother the night I tried to force myself
on Gabrielle had little to do with simple retribution for potentially
I know on the eve we lost Gabrielle, I saw my mother - a woman
well into her 60's - pick Gabrielle up as if she was a sack of corn
and carry her from the servants' quarters to the palace tower just so
she could see out onto the fields that bordered the eastern gates.
She held her throughout the night and past the dawn. And when it was
over and Gabrielle was gone, I had to coax her fingers free so the
healers could take the body from her.
I know that after Gabrielle was laid to rest, my mother never
slept in her chambers again. And on the nights that brought me down
to check on her, I would often find her tucked up on the pallet still
left in the empty cell that had belonged to a slave.
I know a few nights ago when my mother was readying to leave us
too, she stayed sitting up in the same chair where they'd shared
their last moments together. She said it was to watch the sun come up
but I wasn't the only one who believed it was more likely she was
waiting for Gabrielle.
I never told Gabrielle that I knew she had been the one who
delivered me into the world. I realized after my mother's disclosure
when I pushed her to break her silence that it made no difference
which one of them had borne me. They were both my mother in their own
ways and I harbor little ill will for what they thought they had to
Last night as I was clearing away some of my mother's personal
things, I came across a chest that she'd had kept tucked away for
years. Inside I found countless scrolls, many gone yellow with age.
All of them were sealed with Gabrielle's mark and a thin strip of
lace about their center. At the time, I could only bring myself to
unravel one and read but a few lines of what lay set out in perfect
Perhaps one day, I will sit and take the time to open and read
them all. Perhaps, if you wish, I'll read them to you.
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