Disclaimer: Gabrielle and Xena belong to RenPics. However, Carola is the keeper of Gabrielle. *g* Honest! She is!

This is a conquerorfic, no other disclaimer is needed. How come? Read the first sentence and you'll have it all there. No PG13 here... -Thank the gods!

This story is unfinished. The webmistress practically begged Carola to put this baby on the net, because it's simply too damn good to miss! Read, enjoy and please, do feed the marvellous banshee bard!

Conquering Liaisons
by Carola

Chapter 1: The Less Evil Choice

She was already sitting on the bed, expensive clothing discarded haphazardly across the well-worn couch next to the warrior woman's weapons, when they showed the girl in.

Wearing the finest robe the brothel had to offer, besides the one currently worn by the woman on the bed, and nothing else, the young girl exuded fear. The warrior smirked slightly over the fact that the young girl's robe had no fastenings to keep it shut, and the trembling arms seemed to teeter between the desire to cover herself up, and the knowledge that pleasing her customer was imperative to her health.

With a softly spoken command and a simple gesture, the young girl was called upon to come closer to the bed and the figure on it.

The warrior must admit to herself that the brothel Madame had not been exaggerating the beauty of her new acquisition, this young woman was quite splendid. The redgold hair, green eyes, and much more the beautiful facial features that spoke of a gentle innocence very foreign to the warrior's world would have been more than sufficent for the older woman to bed this lovely creature, however that same gentleness stirred something else within the dark woman. Nothing concrete, but it was there.

Another soft command ordered the girl to let the robe fall to the floor, leaving her naked to her customer's eye.

The dark woman let her eyes slowly sweep the landscape revealed her, finding to her surprise it much more to her liking than she had any reason to hope.

"You are quite lovely, girl." The small smile turned wide and quite laviscious. "Indeed, much too perfect to be squandered on drunken soldiers and merchants."

"Come, sit."

The girl trembled but did not move. The warrior woman frowned slightly, and in a movement too quick for the young girl to follow, she had reached out and pulled her down into her own lap. The grip around her hips was deceptively gentle, yet unbreakable, and the young girl dared not truly attempt to break free.

"I will have you one way or the other, girl, which way it will be depends on you." The darkly velvet voice warned, but a small smile teased the edges of the woman's lips as she spoke.

The strong hands on the young woman's hips caressed the nicely shaped behind while the dark woman's eyes raked over her naked form, but other than that no further contact was forced with the warrior woman's own naked body. The younger woman tried to be as still as possible.

"Do you know who I am?" A frightened nod. "Good. And I suppose you have heard all about my many and various sexual perversions, haven't you girl?" Spoken with wry amusement.

The dark woman nodded as if she had received a response. "Yes indeed… to fine a filly to be squandered on oafs and drunks, I say" a smirk " and what I say is law."

"What is your name girl?"

"G-gabrielle, my Lord." The young woman stammered with wide eyes.

"Mmmm. And are you indeed as untouched as Madame Thora says, Gabrielle?" Something in that voice and the smirk that accompanied it was challenging, yet Gabrielle remembered the warning the Madame had given her prior to sending her into the room; always speak the truth, the Lord Conqueror will spot a lie faster than a fly farts, and you'll be the one to smart for it.

"I… have been kissed… once or twice." The fierce blushing that came with that statement made the Conqueror raise an eyebrow in surprise. A feral smile soon overtook her features.

"Ah. Well, like I said before Gabrielle, I will have you, one way or the other. But I give you a choice as to how." In a surprising gesture the Conqueror wrapped the edges of her crimson robe around their joined bodies, as if to keep Gabrielle warm.

"How did you come to be a slave at this brothel, Gabrielle?"

Blinking in surprise at the question, Gabrielle never the less took the opportunity to delay with her story what she feared would come only too soon. "My parents are farmers in Poteidaia. The latest handful of years have been very bad, and finally they had no choice but to sell either myself or my younger sister so that the rest of the family would be able to survive the winter… I volunteered because Lila is only thirteen, and Madame Thora paid my father in full… and I haven't heard from them since."

"I've been here at the brothel for little over two moons now, but Madame said she was saving me for…" Gabrielle's voice didn't quite carry to complete the sentence.

"Me." The purring voice seemed quite satisfied. "And when I've had my fill with you Gabrielle, do you know what your life will be like?"

The hands were back to caress Gabrielle's behind. "Thora is a very just and generous woman for a brothel Madam. Depending on the price she paid for you, you will live the life of an indentured brothel slave for some five years to come, taking on whatever customers she tells you to, in whatever manner you're told to. Then after that you'll be allowed a small percentage of the dinars you make and have the right to say no to a customer if you want to, and in time you might even, if you work hard and save your dinars wisely, earn enough money to buy your freedom from her. Thora is quite unusual like that."

"Of course, by then working the brothel will likely be the only thing you can do, and you may very well chose to stay on as a free woman… the older women here are usually the ones that has chosen that path." The blue eyes of the Conqueror pierced Gabrielle with their almost brutal honesty, there was no way she could doubt that the words spoken were the utter truth.

"By then Gabrielle, you will have been bedded by too many men and women to count, and perhaps you will long have ceased to care who does."

"B-but I had no choice! Lila…" Gabrielle could not keep from sobbing now.

"Hear me out girl, I was not finished. I have gotten it into my head that I will give you a choice." Smiling to herself when Gabrielle straightened and fastened teary green eyes on her again. 'That, and I already cannot bear to think of anyone else touching you.'

"I would offer you the position of my body slave. As such you would be my… lover, and serve me in a multitude of minor but important matters, most of them basically means serving me in my private chambers when other servants are not there to do so. You would be… a companion, of sorts, to ease some of the silence of my personal quarters. You would live in those quarters, at the palace, with me, and your position would be highly elevated from that of all other slaves in the Realm. Food, clothing and entertainment would be provided for you, as long as you serve me well."

The Conqueror's face darkened and her eyes hardened in warning. "Make no mistake Gabrielle, if you choose to be mine, then mine you will be. I will not share you with anyone, nor may you refuse me… If you are mine I will demand nothing other than your complete loyalty! I will not see a hair harmed upon your head if you serve me well, but do belive me when I say that should you betray me your punishment will be harsh."

The voice gentled once again, and she touched Gabrielle's face in a sensuous caress. "Serve me, and serve me well Gabrielle, and I swear to you that neither you nor your kin shall have need for anything dinars can buy. And more, should the day come that I have had my fill of you, of your companionship, then I will give you your freedom back." Gabrielles eyes were wide with chock. "But only if you are loyal to me."

The Conqueror was not entirely sure why she argued her case so passionately, either the girl would understand the value of her offer and take her up on it, or she was to ignorant to understand just how dark her future at the brothel would likely be, and refuse. The girl was attractive enough to turn Aphrodite's eye, that was for certain, but that was not reason enough to all but beg the girl to choose a life in the palace before a life at Thora's brothel. And what made her so certain she would even enjoy the company of the younger woman? She sat back a small space and awaited Gabrielle's decision.

A long moment of silence as they merely watched the other.

"…Yes, my Lord." Gabrielle's voice was quiet and trembling, but her eyes held something other than fear as they gazed at the Conqueror. "Thank you, my Lord."

Xena smiled then, and pulled Gabrielle fully into her arms. To Gabrielle's suddenly widened eyes she grinned and spoke in a husky timbre: "Oh fear not my sweet, I have no intention of laying with you here in this place now, when I know we will be completely undisturbed in our own bed not far from here."

"I will see to the details with Thora while you dress, but first… I will have a kiss from those inviting lips."

And then the wide-eyed young girl from Poteidaia discovered that she had been wrong… She had never truly been kissed at all.


Chapter 2: Learning The Lay Of The Land

It took not long at all for the Conqueror to settle matters with the brothel Madame. In fact Madame Thora was paid many times more the price she herself had paid for young Gabrielle, although she offered the girl as a gift to the dark ruler instead.

Indeed, although Gabrielle herself was not aware of this fact, and Thora would not likely reveal it to the Lord Conqueror, the Madame had bought this Poteidaian slave with the sole purpose of catching the Conqueror's eye - after many years observing the ruler's tastes, she knew this one would fit her well. She had perhaps not counted on that the slip of a girl would appeal to the Conqueror's taste quite so much that she would not wish to part with her, but the knowledge was even so a pleasing one.

In a spur of the moment decision, the Lord Conqueror asked Thora to personally travel back to Poteidaia and the girl's family with a rather large amount of money. Thora would be lent a royal carriage for this purpose, and for that experience, alone, the brothel Madame was more than eager to lend her assistance.

Gabrielle on the other hand had no possessions to collect, and her simple garments of homespun wool, pale and tattered by wear, took mere moments to put on. Before she had even had time to think more closely upon what fate would have in store for her, she was seated in front of the Ruler of the Known World atop a large warhorse, wrapped in the ruler's cloak.

One strong arm was wrapped around Gabrielle's waist and the Conqueror's lips was occasionally dipping in to explore an exposed ear or neck as they rode on, making Gabrielle's skin break out in goosebumps despite her thick covering.

Madame Thora's brothel lay on the outskirts of the city of Corinth, and so Gabrielle had never before seen the walls of the palace courtyard, much less the palace itself. Despite her nervousness and the bleak situation she was in, she could not help but stare awed at the sight before her.

"Home, Gabrielle." The velvety voice purred in her ear, clearly amused by the open mouthed gawking. "…be it ever so humble."

After crossing the courtyard the horses were left to servants, while they continued into the depths of the palace proper. Gabrielle was shocked at the size of the marble and granite passageways, gawked at the decorations she passed, and was terribly intimidated by the group of black, blue and silver-livery dressed guards that silently matched their pace.

More guards were passed occasionally, but wearing other colors, and the corridors seemed endless until one passageway at the end of a large hallway where two of the black-dressed guards stood at attention. Inside was a large hall with two other doors, one smaller where Gabrielle could hear loud voices emanate, and the other was a large, ornate oak door where another pair of guards were posted.

They opened the door for them, and the Conqueror dismissed the other guards with a wave.

Behind that door was a small antechamber, very sparsely decorated, and two more doors. The Conqueror steered Gabrielle to the right door, but paused before pulling it open.

"That door " indicating the left door "leads to what will be your own chamber."

Gabrielle's eyes widened even further, her own chamber? Not even at home, before the times went so bad, had she ever had her own room… but now as a slave she would? She was ushered through the doorway.

"It will have the bare necessities installed later, like your clothes, a chest and a bed. And whatever I'll deem that you need have there, I suppose."

Gabrielle found to her surprise that she was really truly frightened of the prospect of sleeping alone, but wasn't the alternative supposed to frighten her worse? Everything was just so confusing lately.

"Not that I expect you to actually sleep in there." The Conqueror's expression shifted from wry amusement to seriousness in a matter of heartbeats. "You will sleep with me, and you will live with me, in my chambers… That room is just so that you may have a small corner for yourself, where I shall try to interfere as little as I can." A sharp look. "Unless you give me reason to."

A fair warning, and Gabrielle had already decided to try to decipher exactly what rules there were for her new life, so that she would be able to make certain she stayed well within the limits put on her. She could already tell that she did not, under any circumstance, wish to anger or upset her new owner in the slightest.

Her new home proved to be elegant luxury in abundance for a young farmer's daughter's eyes. Everything seemed rich and splendid, yet not gaudy as things tended to be at the brothel. Only the finest materials could be found, that much was apparent even to her, and the best furniture, the lovliest decorations, rugs and tapestries that Gabrielle could have looked at for candlemarks in order to make up stories about. And yet it had a strangely homey feel to it.

With growing trepidation Gabrielle watched the Conqueror make her way across a grand rug near the large fireplace to get a decanter. The girl just knew she would stumble on the edge of that rug one day when she had something invaluable in her hands, and completely destroy something along the lines of a priceless Chin wase, after all her mother had always said she was clumsy.

The Conqueror noticed the fearful gaze directed at her thick persian rug, and wondered what about the warm, soft material could possibly inspire such a look. It didn't even feature her as the centrepiece, so surely it wasn't that offensive?

But ah, the rug must be easier to face than the Ruler of the Known World right now, especially for a brand new young bodyslave. The dark woman felt compassion, and thought of a way to put the girl a little more at ease.

"This is where I receive people if I grant them audience in private, and it also serves as my study." Pointing to a large oak desk littered with scrolls and a huge painting of the Known World mounted on the wall above it. "In that alcove over there is where we dine, unless we use one of the palace many dining rooms. In the room at the back there we have the bedroom."

Wineglasses in one hand and the decanter in the other, she indicated by the the toss of her head that Gabrielle should enter before her.

Gabrielle found herself thinking that the bedroom alone would be as large, if not larger, than her home in Poteidaia. Another large fireplace was in this room, and a large lounging area filled with divans and soft pillows, and an enormous black bearskin rug right in front of the fireplace. Then there was a few small steps up to the other part of the room, which held a huge beautiful canopied bed large enough to house all those blackdressed guards that was standing in the outer corridors.

She spotted yet another door, and felt quite dizzy with all the twisting and turning she had done so far. The other woman noticed her distressed look, and smirked.

"Don't worry, that one goes to the bath and toiletries. And on the other side of the bathroom is your chamber, so you see we've gone in a circle." She smiled more kindly at Gabrielle. "Don't worry about finding your way around, I won't be sending you off on your own until you're comfortable with your surroundings." A thoughtful look. "Actually, I may not wish to send you off anywhere unescorted at all… You may have to learn to live with having a member of the Royal Guard somewhere in the vicinity whenever you leave this area of the palace. I will have to give that some thought."

She would be allowed to move around at will? Had Gabrielle somehow misunderstood this concept of slavery? Because none of this sounded nearly as bad as the stories she had heard at home…

They moved on to a mass of large, comfortable looking pillows, and the dark woman indicated where Gabrielle should sit as she made herself comfortable. Gabrielle complied nervously, but was quickly lost in the intricate embroidery on one of the smaller pillows near her.

"That is supposed to be Zeus, seducing Leda in the form of a swan." Smirking at the obvious perusal, and handed over one of the glasses before pointing at another pillow. "Now that one is from a place called Japa, and it is about two lovers, Vega and Altair, that can only be together once every year when their stars meet."

The Conqueror smiled as she got Gabrielle's complete and undivided attention.

"I take it you like stories, Gabrielle?" Gabrielle nodded shyly in answer. "I'll have to show you my Royal Library then, it is quite extensive. But have a taste of your wine, it is quite sweet."

Gabrielle had caught sight of one pillow where the Conqueror rested her arm. She did not dare ask, but when she glanced at it once more the other woman realised what she wanted.

"This? Yes, that is me, when I killed the Nemeian lion." She smiled wryly and handed the pillow over to the curious young woman. "Do you know that story?"

"Yes… Yo-ah, err, I mean my Lord, my Lord strangled the beast with your own bare hands, even though it was the child of Echidna herself, and that is why my Lord is sometimes called the Lion of Amphipolis."

"Relax Gabrielle. When we are not in public I want you to call me Xena. " She smiled reassuringly at the wide-eyed girl. "When in public though, you'll do better to refer to me as 'My Lord', although you needn't bother with all those other cumbersome titles."

"And the story is true, as you will be able to tell for yourself sometime when I show you the trophy room, although I did have some help." Xena grinned mischievously. "I wore gauntlets with heavy spikes dipped in poison. The storytellers all seem to forget that part of the tale, just as they seem to forget that Echidna got rather upset with me beause of that, and that is the real reason I ended up killing all those other monsters."

"But enough about me. Tell me about you, Gabrielle."

"M-me? But I am nobody interesting…"

Xena reached out to take Gabrielle's hand, removed the wineglass and pulled her forward, patting at a spot between her own knees. "You are interesting enough to catch the eye of the Ruler of the Known World, Gabrielle… Or are you challenging my taste?"

Shaking her head empathically while blushing badly, Gabrielle anxiously knelt at the indicated spot.

Facing Xena.

Raising one eyebrow, Xena gave a delighted but amused smile at that. "Pleased though I am that you are that eager to serve me, my sweet, I nevertheless had something else in mind."

And turned Gabrielle around so that her back faced Xena, then she pulled the younger woman to rest upon her shoulder. "There, that is nice." Followed by a contented sigh.

Gabrielle was blushing furiously by now, and she was quite stiff in Xena's embrace. Xena smirked, and leaned in to a glowing red ear to whisper ardently. "I am sure that before too long there will be no nook or cranny in these chambers that does not speak to me of your sweet taste and the feel of your soft skin upon mine, that will not carry the echoes of the sounds of our ecstasy."

"These pillows will see us in levels of pleasure the likes of which Leda and Zeus never imagined, I'm sure." Xena turned Gabrielle's face so she could kiss her with barely controlled passion.

"But for now my sweet… Let's talk. Let me know the woman who will share my life and my bed."


Chapter 3: Gabrielle of Poteidaia

Gabrielle's story began haltingly, in a shy voice as the young woman sat stiffly, propped against the Ruler of the Known World.

But lifelong habit and only barely suppressed nature soon loosened Gabrielle to her audience of one, and the story itself, though simple, became her focus.

"I was born in the village of Poteidaia, and I have lived all my life there."

"Poteidaia is a small village where most people breed goats, that are sold in the market of the nearby villages. There lives a herbalist that serves as our healer, a blacksmith, and a seamstress, and the mayor is also the innkeeper. There is no school for the children, and we do not rate a village temple, although every family keeps a small shelf where we honour the gods in one way or the other."

"It is only a short distance away from the garrison at Amphipolis, since it lies a ways out from the village itself, so sometimes soldiers will come to Poteidaia to visit the inn, but it is not often."

"My father, Herodotus, inherited his land from his father, as his did in turn, and he has always regretted the fact that he has no son. He married my mother, Hecuba, while they were both young, but for a long time it seemed they would have no children at all. Then, after delivering first me, then my sister Lila, it turned out that mother could bear no more children, and father would not have a son."

"My parents are getting on in years, but they work hard tending the flock and the crops. I've helped with the chores since I was little, as all children do, but my foremost duty growing up was looking after my little sister. In fact, my first real memory is of Lila, and how mother tells me that it is my responsibility to take care of her. And I did."

"When I was too small to carry her myself, she was tied to my back while I did other chores, and when she got bigger I could keep her with me by telling her stories. She probably didn't understand much of my silly little stories to begin with, but she would listen to my voice and not cry or try to go play somewhere else. I can't remember a time when Lila wasn't there."

Xena was glad that Gabrielle was facing towards the fire, as too much of the girl's story cut too close to home for her, and filled her with the sadness from her own past. And sympathy for the diligent, hard working child who wasn't allowed to be a child for very long.

"Our family was not rich, but the land and the animals kept us well fed and clothed, and even allowed for a few extra things now and then. That is, until the goat plague stuck that year, killing nearly two thirds of all the goats in the village. My father lost nearly all his stock, and when the drought struck the year following that, we were ruined."

"Others did fare better, such as Perdicus' family. Father loaned some money in order to get himself back on his feet, but it was one setback after another, and soon he was too indebted even for them. They had loaned us the money in the first place basically because we would be family, and it would be better for Perdicus if father got the herd back and the land to work again before Perdicus would have to deal with it."

Xena frowned darkly, somehow she did not like the sound of this. "Who was this Perdicus?"

"Oh!" Gabrielle blushed again. "Perdicus is my childhood friend, and he is also the boy I was supposed to marry."

Gabrielle might not have seen the first startled, then murderous expression on Xena's face, but she did feel the woman give a start, and most certainly how the strong arms around her tightened uncomfortably.

"Uhh, umm, well it is the custom in Poteidaia that fathers agree upon arranging future marriages between their children while the children are quite young, especially the first born ones. It was that way with me, my father and Perdicus' father decided when we were very little that we would marry when we'd grown up, and Perdicus would become my father's heir. We knew we were betrothed, of course, but as children it only meant that our mothers approved of us playing together. Which meant that whenever we weren't working, me, Lila, Perdicus and our friend Seraphin would go and get into one mess or another."

"When we got older, things changed. There were…expectations." Gabrielle looked very uncomfortable at that, and Xena was thinking of a long list of things to do to hapless goat herders.

"That's where the, umm, kissing thing came into the picture. Anyway, the day that was decided upon to be Perdicus' and my wedding day was the first day of the harvest festival on the year that the drought struck, so by unspoken agreement it was postponed a year. Then Perdicus' family wanted us to wait until father got the farm back together, but when father kept failing… I was never told exactly what was said, only that father came back from a meeting with Perdicus' father and told me that the betrothal was off."

"Did it… bother you? That you would not marry this…" Xena was surprised to find that she could not make herself say the name. "goat herder?" Well he was, surely that can't be too offensive?

"No, not at all! You see, Perdicus and I, well, we…" Gabrielle was silent for a long while. "We were friends growing up. The man… wasn't even my friend, not really. But I was never asked what I wanted…"

"When the marriage would not happen, Perdicus' family wanted their money back, and we didn't have any. There were other offers for me, but none that father approved of, so I talked to the mayor and got his promise that I could work in the inn for him, that I could sleep in the kitchen and he would feed me, and I would give my earnings to father. I also got Lila an apprenticeship to the seamstress, and that would bring in some dinars too."

"I honestly thought father would approve, but that evening Madame Thora had approached him with her offer. Father made it clear to me that no matter what I said, either Lila or myself would be leaving with Madame Thora that evening…"

"He knew you would agree to spare your sister… the bastard! So, when he could weedle no more out of your would-be suitors, and rather than having to wait a while for the dinars you would manage to earn for him, he sold his oldest child as a slave. Not to a merchant or a farmer, but to a brothel! Like so much cattle!" Xena was truly enraged by Herodotus' behavior, but tried to control herself not to frighten the girl further. "Your mother, Gabrielle, what did she do during all this?"



"…she took the two dinars I had already earned at the inn from me, because she said I wouldn't need them anymore where I was going."

Xena opened her mouth to spout some kind of profanity over Gabirelle's parents, but was stopped short when the young woman started crying inconsolably in her arms. Heart wrenched by the pitiful sound, she did somewhat awkwardly try to hold Gabrielle close and offer her comfort.

'This was not quite what I had in mind when I thought she'd be more relaxed if I could get her to talk to me. I wanted her in my arms, yes, but somehow I had a more joyous experience in mind.'

But all the same Xena held Gabrielle quite gently as she wept, wishing only that she could think of something to make Gabrielle's sorrow go away.

Xena The Conqueror, Ruler of The Known World, and the most powerful and legendary woman in that world, sat holding her weeping young slave for a long time, until Gabrielle finally ran out of tears.

Cradling Gabrielle closer in her arms and burrowing her face into Gabrielle's hair, Xena sighed dejectedly. "Here I thought we would speak for a while, indulge in some sweet wine and maybe get to know one another a little, before ending the night with you in my arms, in bed, showing you the gift of Aphrodite. Instead I make you sad, and make you cry, and I would be a cad to do anything more than maybe hold you through the night. Simply an act of brilliance."

"I-I'm sorry My Lord." Gabrielle sniffled.

"No no, shh." Xena kissed her gently. "You have nothing to apologize for." Another kiss, deeper and longer this time. "Gods, but you have sweet lips Gabrielle! I could come to crave a daily dosage of these remarkable lips, quite easily."

Xena rested her forehead against the younger woman's, and wondered if there was any chance she truly could control her burning libido for another night. She allowed herself another kiss before pulling at Gabrielle, intending to stand them both up from their semi-reclined position.

But that last kiss did Gabrielle in, and the day's intense emotional upheaval left her inhibitions on too shaky grounds, allowing her to follow a more instinctive response. Moaning slightly Gabrielle used Xena's pull upward to search for another kiss, inadvertently toppling them both in the process.

What followed was far more intense, and infinitely more hot than previous kisses, as neither woman thought of a reason not to indulge in their passionate exchange. After long moments of heated kisses and touches, Xena finally moved back just a little.

Shaking her head slightly to clear it, Xena gazed into green eyes mere inches from her own, in a face flushed from their activity. She shivered slightly and growled deep in her throat as she could see a desire in those eyes that matched her own.

Unsteadily Xena got to her feet, bringing Gabrielle with her since she simply refused to let the other woman go for even a moment, and whispered huskily into her ear. "Bed?"

Gabrielle was beyond coherence at this point, but the eager clinging did not seem like a rejection, so Xena carried the now rather passionate young woman across the floor.

The worn peasant clothes did not survive Xena's frantic search for Gabrielle' skin, and her own fine garments caught a tear or two before they, too, were impatiently shed. Once naked, Gabrielle's ardour cooled ever so slightly, and anxiety moved back in place.

Xena noticed, and pulled Gabrielle back into her arms. With her lips agains Gabrielle's ear she asked "Do you wish to… deny me?"

Her voice was gentle, without malice or threat, but something Xena had said to her in the brothel suddenly sprung to Gabrielle's mind. 'Nor may you refuse me', that was what Xena had said at that time. So was she genuinely giving Gabrielle a choice now, or was she testing her? Was she free to actually say no?

And did it matter?

As she gazed into those incredibly blue eyes Gabrielle came to the conclusion that no, it didn't really matter. Because as frightening as it may be, 'no' was not what her heart was telling her right now.

She smiled shyly and shook her head emphatically. And got a startling reward in Xena's wide, delighted smile.

Soon, in the middle of that luxurious ocean of a bed, all wrapped in satin sheets and one most warm and hot-blooded warrior, the young woman from Poteidaia found myriads of sensations and feelings that not even her active mind had been able to imagine before.

Everything was new, unexpected and exciting. Lips and hands and even teeth, all traced a map of sensations that had Gabrielle breathless with desire. Then Xena dipped down to indulge in a different taste of Gabrielle's sweetness, and Gabrielle found her voice. With a vengeance.

Gabrielle came quite vocally from the diligence of Xena's lips, tounge and hands, and once her energy was spent, she lay back down trying to catch her breath. But when she heard Xena's growl she opened her eyes again, and was shocked to see a feline predator stalk its way back up her body.

"Gods woman, I could come just listening to you!" Xena's hungry look caused Gabrielle's heartbeat to speed right back up once more. And then Xena was upon her again.

"Spread your legs for me, my sweet."

Xena moved upon her, and gasping Gabrielle responded. Closing her eyes, Gabrielle moved with Xena as she, with firm hands and a mounting sense of urgency, ground her sex into Gabrielle's. Soon Gabrielle was approaching that pinnacle again, but Xena's shaking voice in her ear called her back from the brink.

"G-gabrielle? May I…?"

Gabrielle had no idea what the question was, and frankly didn't care as long as they just didn't stop quite yet. And she could not have answered Xena anyway. But silence apparently was answer enough, because Xena withdrew for a brief moment.

Gabrielle frowned and opened her eyes, just as Xena once again sought her lips in a hot exchange. But there was something down there that had not been there before, rubbing gently at Gabrielle.

Moving together again, Xena's arms gripped Gabrielle just a bit tighter, and in one, smooth motion, Gabrielle was entered.

Gabrielle cried out at the sudden pain, but Xena touched and kissed so gently and soothing, until the sting of pain was far less than the desire to continue, to reach that summit. Moving in unison, the held back desire was so great that it did not take them long to peak, Gabrielle's loud cry accompanied by Xena's low-pitched one.

Gabrielle had not the energy left in her to open her eyes when Xena gently withdrew from inside her and left the bed. She did begin to protest, however, when moments later she felt Xena reaching for her thighs.

"Sshh my sweet, I'm only going to clean you a little." Xena's voice was as gentle as her hands as she carefully wiped Gabrielle with a wet cloth.

That done, Xena laid down next to Gabrielle and wrapped her arms tenderly around the young woman, kissing and caressing her lovingly. Feeling a sense of contentment she never had experienced before, Gabrielle burrowed her head into a convenient shoulder, sighed softly, and went to sleep.

The last thing she heard of Xena's whispered endearments was a sleepy but still solemn oath.
"Oh my sweet Gabrielle, I promise I will never consciously hurt you when we make love ever again.
I swear it."


Chapter 4: Talking Things Through

Waking up in someone else's arms was another new sensation for Gabrielle, although in truth Xena was none to acustomed to it either, and it was found to be a very pleasant one. The dull ache and strain Gabrielle could feel from her lower body was equally a new sensation, but one she could do without in her opinion.

Xena, as if reading Gabrielle's mind, gently rubbed her lower back in soothing circles and told Gabrielle that the ache would soon be gone, and promised that Gabrielle would not need to do anything too stressful that day. It was a moment of utter sweetness, and Gabrielle once again wondered about the concept of slavery.

Xena sighed and shook her head ruefully. "I'm such a bastard. You cry you heart out in my arms and I promise not to push things, to leave you be for just one night. But instead I barely let you dry your eyes before I tear the clothes off your back and ravish you. So much for treating you gently."

Gabrielle blushed fiercely. "I… I think that was me that, um, started it… you know?" Peeking shyly at Xena's expression. "And I, I, umm… I… Ireallywantedyouto."

The confession earned her a soft kiss and a gloriously warm embrace. "I'm glad Gabrielle. I'm really glad. Did it hurt an awful lot?" Xena was gently cuddling Gabrielle to her. Gabrielle shook her head resolutely, it had definitely been worth that small bit of pain.

"Good, good. Well Gabrielle, as much as I would like to stay in bed with you all day, how about some breakfast?"

The answering rumble emanating from Gabrielle stomach caused the young girl to blush again and Xena to burst out laughing.

Before getting to enjoy their breakfast, Gabrielle was treated to a tour of the bath facilities. Xena took quite a delight in explaining in great detail how the warm and cold water was transported there through pipes, to both the huge sunken oriental-style bath, as well as to the spouts above porcelain bowls that was for washing hands and face. The lavatory in itself was a firmly closed off affair so that no unpleasant odour would escape, also in porcelain and more comfortable than most chairs Gabrielle had used in her young life. She was thankful that it did afford privacy for her visits, something the bath did not - giving herself a quick wash while Xena was right there doing the same was very awkward. Xena had promised her that Gabrielle could take a long soak in the luxurious tub later, but for now a quick wash with a washrag, a bit of soap and a bucket of water would do, much like back home - even if the bucket was fancy and the soap was purple and smelled like lavender.

Having no clothes left to wear did pose a bit of a problem. Xena solved it temporarily by having Gabrielle wear one of Xena's emboidered tunics together with a pair of breeches that was cut off at Gabrielle's ankles. She informed Gabrielle that she would order the seamstress to sow up an entirely new wardrobe for Gabrielle, so Gabrielle would have to take measurements later that day. When she told Gabrielle that she had gotten some really nice silk in her latest tribute from Chin that would look nice, Gabrielle choked on her honeyed roll.

"Easy now, it's not going anywhere." Xena smirked, and nudged Gabrielles tea closer. "Gods, but you look like such a child wearing that."

Xena was much surprised, and very amused, to see Gabrielle turn stubbornly defiant over that remark.
"I am not a child! In Poteidaia women my age would…"

"Peace, peace." Xena smirked. "I do not question that you are a woman, Gabrielle…" Xena's gaze raked lustfully over Gabrielle's form, even though it was covered in much to large clothing. "Far from it."

"I'm doing my best to be a good warrior here, and stay nibbling on my toast." Xena's voice pitched to a low sultry tone. "When I would much rather dine on a sweet breakfast of Gabrielle…" She leaned in to brush her hand up Gabrielle's thigh.

Gabrielle yelped, bug-eyed, and lunged for her tea, draining it in one long draught. Xena laughed.

As they continued to eat their breakfast, Xena with a small smile playing at the edges of her lips all the while, Gabrielle stole frequent glances at the darkhaired woman. Now, in the light of this morning, Gabrielle became aware of things she had been far to nervous to notice before.

Xena was, simply put, extraordinarily beautiful.

That face, those eyes, that smile… Gabrielle tried not to stare, and found her heartrate going up as Xena flashed her another bright smile. What was that all about?

That hair, those eyes again… Why would someone like this want someone like Gabrielle, for anything at all?

Those strong arms, that strong, beautiful body… She could have anyone at all in all the world, and yet Xena seemed to have picked her. Little Gabrielle from Poteidaia. And made her feel very desired, when they'd…

Gabrielle's thoughts sidetracked to the previous evening's events. They had. Oh gods, they really had! And how! Suddenly the strange conversations and supposedly good advice she'd gotten from the prostitutes at the brothel seemed to make perfect sense. Well, almost. Much more sense than her mother's advice regarding Perdicus, back when it was still presumed they would marry. 'Stay still, try to relax and think of something else, and with any luck he'll be done quickly.' her mother had said then.

A glance at Xena, remembering the touches and how they made her feel. 'Think of something else? Not a chance. You have no idea mother.'

'Oh Xena, I am quite sure I shouldn't be feeling this way, whatever this is. Gods, her hands, her _lips_…' Gabrielle was feeling decidedly dizzy just remembering. 'I'm going insane!' Another glance at Xena. 'But look at her! Gods, I hope she doesn't notice! If she touches me I'll die! If she _doesn't_ touch me I'll die!' Wasn't there any more tea? 'I want her to kiss me. Kiss me Xena! Kiss me now!'

Xena did notice Gabrielle's odd behaviour. The girl looked flushed and seemed to be breathing a bit more heavily. Was there anything… Ah. Xena smiled to herself. That slightly glazed look in Gabrielle's eyes…

She leaned in and purred into Gabrielle's ear. "Thinking of last night, are you my sweet?"

Gabrielle was very embarrassed to find that she moaned out loud and leaned into Xena.

"Me too." Xena whispered, and pulled Gabrielle into her lap and hungrily sought out her lips.

When after quite some time they finally separated they were both breathing heavily, and Xena was once again fighting the impulse to simply throw Gabrielle across the table and devour her. Considering that Gabrielle's lovely green eyes had gone dark with desire, it seemed likely that she would not particularly object, either. Unfortunately they did not quite have the time.

"As much as I would really like to continue this…" Xena said regretfully. "I'm expecting the Chamberlain here at virtually any moment. And I wouldn't let the old lecher lay as much as an eye on you." Grinning roguishly at a slightly embarrassed Gabrielle.

"I'll have to leave then, after going through a few things with him first, and it'll take me most of the day I'm afraid. We have a few things to go through before he gets here, then after I leave you can take that bath you wanted. The seamstress will be announced by the guards before she's let in, so you won't have to worry that she'll surprise you in the bath."

"Also, I'm going to send the Junior Chamberlain, or Chamberlain's Assistant as he prefer to call himself, to keep you company while I'm gone. His name is Jace, an agreeable young man who happens to be a true sodomite, unlike the old pervert. He'll show you around, maybe you'll want to go to the Royal Library if I'm gone long?"

"Oh… Don't look so sad Gabrielle. I do unfortunately have a score of tedious meetings I must attend to today, as much as I would prefer to spend the day with you instead. I'll try to keep the fools on a blabbering limit so I can come find you as soon as possible, allright?"

Xena sighed. "It's one of the many drawbacks of ruling the world, Gabrielle. Everyone comes to you with their problems, no matter how petty, and you're the one left to sort them out. Even when people know what they need to do, they want to come and take up my time telling their stories, and then hear me tell them to do what they already knew all along they had to."

"The General of Messini said his girlfriend is much more beautiful than the General of Parnassus' lover, and soon I had a dispute on my hands. Their neighbour throws his lot in, and suddenly all three are threatening to go to an all-out threeway war in that zone, all over male ego. So I must play their nursemaid, sit them down and tell them to play nice, or I'll give them a spanking." Giving Gabrielle a long-suffering look. "Imagine how tedious these things are to deal with all the time."

That got her Gabrielle's sympathy, and Gabrielle felt a bit sheepish that she had wanted Xena to stay with her. She opened her mouth to speak, but hesitantly closed it again.

"Yes? What were you going to say?"

"Nothing, really… It's just that, you describe those men as little boys, well… It seems like, if they can't play nice and not bother you, you should tell them someone else might get their toys." Gabrielle glanced up and saw Xena's amused expression. "Well that worked with the children in Poteidaia…" She muttered uncomfortably. "Silly me, huh?"

Xena just shook her head.

"But back to you Gabrielle. We need more time to go through things properly, but a few things should be mentioned before I go off for my meetings today. Do you remember what I told you I expected of you as my body slave?"

Gabrielle frowned, but recited Xena verbatim. Xena blinked. "I can be so charming when I put my mind to it." She muttered and scratched her chin. "Do you always remember everything people tells you, word for word?"

"Yes, mother used to put me in places to listen to what the other adults would talk about when I was little, then ask me to repeat it to her later. If I hear it I remember it, it's just the way it works."

"Interesting… can be a useful skill to have, Gabrielle. Anyway… There are a lot of do's and don't's for you to remember, most of them are about loyalty to me. You may not, for instance, reveal things I tell you that are important or might be used against me, or knowledge you will have of me. Do you understand why?"

Gabrielle looked uncertain, so Xena took time to think of something that might explain. "Say you would be overheard saying that when we are in bed I no longer notice the world around me. That bit of information gets around, and the next thing I know there's assassins taking pot-shots at me in bed with you."

"Oh!" Swallowing hard. "I promise, I won't reveal anything like that to anyone!" Shyly she continued. "Xena? Do you, really?"

"What?" Gabrielle blushed, and Xena caught a clue."Riiight. Why yes Gabrielle, when we are together…" She gave Gabrielle a sultry look. "…my senses are all filled with you. The castle could come tumbling down for all I'll notice."

She smirked at the shy but pleased little smile that graced Gabrielle's lips at her answer.

"You may not be unfaithful to me." Gabrielle looked quite offended by that, which endeared her all the more to Xena. "It might seem a natural course of action to you right now, but in time… Should you ever… I'm not adressing this right, am I? To put this in my most blunt fashion, though it makes me sound barbaric, here goes. If a man or woman by word or deed comes on to you Gabrielle, I will have them punished, and severly. You are _my_ woman Gabrielle! Would I find that you are the one to…"

Gabrielle's hand across her lips made Xena go quiet in surprise.

"May I say something? This might sound awfully silly to you, but… " Spoken with shy hesitation. "This is how I thought of it last night."

"I will act as though you are m-my husband." She was blushing furiously and avoiding to look at the astounded Xena, but bravely pressed on to get it all out before she thought better of it. "That way I can sort of figure out what will be expected of me… I'll serve you and obey you, we umm, ahmm, well… and keep you company when you want me to, try to anticipate your needs when I can, of course I'll never be unfaithful or disloyal, and I will try very hard to please you and make you happy." Gabrielle almost gasped, having gotten that out at last.

"You humble me." Xena's voice was soft and very gentle. Gabrielle looked up, finally, and saw a strange expression on Xena's face, one that seemed both sad, affectionate and… longing? "Allright, to hear you say that is actually far more reassurance than I would have asked for, so the other details can wait. But Gabrielle? You do know that I very much want to please you and make you happy, too, don't you?" Xena's voice was almost pleading.

Gabrielle smiled, a pretty smile that warmed Xena's heart. "I do now. Thank you."

Xena shook hear head and pulled Gabrielle back into her lap. "Although it sounds good in this respect, your definition of a wife's expectancy from married life is rather depressing. Is that what you would have had to expect from life married to… the goat farmer?" She kissed Gabrielle's brow.

"I am my father's property until he sells me to another for a price he chooses. It doesn't really matter if you call it marriage or slavery, does it? It's would still not have anything to do with freedom, or choice, and then I'd be my husband's property. He would be free to do whatever he pleases to me, and have me do whatever he pleases. Should I refuse, I would be punished. So, the difference, as I see it, is that maybe I get a slavebrand instead of a wedding band, and you have already treated me better than anybody ever did in my life." Quietly."You even listen when I speak, don't you?"

"Oh Gabrielle!" Xena's voice was choked, but she held Gabrielle so close that the young woman could not make out her expression as she spoke. "How could anyone treat you… And women's situation in Poteidaia is abhorrent! I will have to see to it that my laws are enforced better, that much is clear to me."

"And my sweet, there will be no marks put upon your lovely skin by me. I don't brand the slaves that work in the castle, they just wear the castle mark on their collars for the years they work for me. You will not even need to do that, I would not have you wear a slavecollar for any reason."

"You see, my sweet Gabrielle, while I can't outlaw slavery, I have made laws that protect even the rights of slaves. It will take a long time and a lot of enforcing of those laws before they are accepted, but in time the difference between slave and merely servant will be very small. And in my castles the slaves all live by my laws, and it has proven to be a working system."

Quietly. "You are the only personal slave I have had, Gabrielle, since I in my youth defeated a warlord who had the body slave Satrina. I gave her her freedom back at once, but she stayed with me, and now she's a general in my army in Africaans."

"Does it still ache much, Gabrielle?" Spoken softly, while she lightly rubbed the small of Gabrielle's back.

"No, it's allright, it's… not that… bad…" A strange expression passed over Gabrielles features.

"Xena? What was that you, umm, well, you used last night? I thought I felt…"

"Oh, that!" Xena grinned sheepishly. "Did I forget to tell you about that? Ooops."

"When I was considerably much younger than I am now, I sort of had this reputation among the Olympian gods. Well Aphrodite took a shine to me, and we were lovers for this very brief time." Gabrielle scowled. "Anyway, during that she gave me a gift that not a lot of people know about…" Xena almost looked shy.

"You mean, that was… you? But you're not a…" Staring inadvertently at Xena's crotch as if it would reveal anything. "Oh! Is that what you meant by showing me the 'gift of Aphrodite'?"

"No no, I'm not, I'm all woman, believe me. And I don't turn into a male with this gift, I just get something rather similar to a certain part of the male equipment. And no, that wasn't what I meant at all… Haven't you heard that people calls a woman's pleasure the gift of Aphrodite?" Gabrielle digested that.

"Can you… Is there any chance that I might… get pregnant?"

Xena's eyes got all round at this suggestion. "I suppose it might… It should be possible, actually. It's not like I have used it a lot so I would know, though."

"Tell you what though." Xena smiled brightly at Gabrielle. "Bear my child Gabrielle, and I will make you my Queen. That wouldn't be so bad, would it?"


Chapter 5: Distractions Most Deadly

Gabrielle was in the luxurious bath, thoroughly enjoying herself, and finding it quite a challenge to determine what the various bottles and condiments were that was stocked in the cupboards, as most of them had labels written in languages she did not understand.

The meeting with the palace Chief Chamberlain had been unpleasant in a difficult to define sort of way. There was just something cold in the old man's eyes that scared her, she supposed. That he had completely ignored her was something she didn't care about much, after all, she was a slave and he the highest ranking servant in the palace, so of course he wouldn't bother to acknowledge her. But one thing he said did rankle Gabrielle somewhat.

Xena had given him a number of instructions regarding her day, while Gabrielle was quietly munching on a piece of fruit, and the man had not acknowledged Gabrielle's existance with as much as a glance. Xena had turned and grinning leaned over to steal Gabrielle's fruit from her lips with Xena's own, taking a brief moment to exchange a few small kisses in the process. That had sparked a reaction from the old man, although Gabrielle doubted that Xena had truly noticed just how cold and angry his eyes had gotten.

With a surprisingly haughty air, Chamberlain Viceron had informed Xena that he had not known she would have entertainment that morning, and if she wished he could return later, when the 'entertainment' had gone. The words had stung surprisingly much.

Xena however had corrected him on his mistake, and with a gleam in her eye informed him that Gabrielle's presence in the castle was a permanent fixture, then proceeded to inform him of the changes Xena desired to be made to accommodate her new companion. The statement had been ended with a very sensuous kiss to Gabrielle's hand, Xena's entire posture challenging.

To his credit, Viceron had not taken the bait.

Nonetheless, Gabrielle had the unnerving feeling that she would have some trouble with that man eventually, but then again surely he wouldn't have any reason to be around a mere slave like her, and it could all just be Gabrielle's nerves. Couldn't it?

After her invigorating bath, and a rather giddy discovery of a diversity of 'mementos' from previous night, Gabrielle enjoyed an exploration of the space that apparently would be her home from now on.

Xena sure owned many beautiful and fascinating things. It saddened her to think that she, Gabrielle, was really supposed to be no more than Xena's possession now, too, much like the embroidered pillows or the stuffed chair in the corner.

But did it matter so much really? It didn't seem to be such a bad life, to be Xena's woman, as Xena herself had put it. Wasn't she already treated better than she had any reason to expect from life?

The answer was yes, of course, as she realized she had never really been free in the first place. But losing her little sister was harsh on Gabrielle, far too harsh to bear.

The guard knocking on the inner doors distrupted her brooding before she got too far. It was the seamstress that had arrived.

Xena decided that sometimes, sometimes being the Ruler of the Known World really sucked.
In fact, it could be a real hamper on one's personal life. Like now for example.

This was the third meeting in a row - or was that fourth? - and she had no idea what any of these fools was bothering her for. She had no patience for any of this today, and her concentration was… elsewhere.


Xena smiled as she let her thoughts spin away, remembering the night they spent together. Gods, but that girl was alluring! So sweet, so beautiful and oh so responsive… And even the sound of her voice awoke Xena's arousal, that had never happened before.

And more, Xena genuinely liked her, liked her company, liked holding her, liked spending time with her, liked… Hades, she even liked talking to her. Liked everything.

And everything was easy, if it was with Gabrielle. Almost too easy. Because Xena was never allowed to be really happy about anything, if she was something disastrous would soon occur.

Chief Chamberlain Viceron watched the proceedings with mounting irritation. She was doing it again!

This time Xena wasn't even bothering to look in the Roman emissary's general direction, she was quite busily staring at the canopy above her seat, while her half lidded gaze and sensual smile betrayed where her thoughts were at. He could throttle the woman!

The last three petitions had been disastrous, Xena had all but slept through them all. The first one she kept asking the petitioner, an emissary from egypth, to repeat himself over and over, until she suddenly dismissed him mid-sentence, saying he would have to rescedule an appointment with her Chamberlain. Viceron was appalled.

Then she had looked at the Lord Menos and the Lord Lycost and asked them why in Tartarus they had come to her for. Faced with her irritated gaze both the lords had quickly agreed to settle matters privately, and peacefully, which to Viceron's knowledge would be a first for both families. The Chamberlain had regretted the outcome, since both lords were easy to manipulate in various ways when he dangled the faint hope that he might be persuaded to see things from their perspective, or mention this and that to their preoccupied ruler. But now that particular tool would be no more, thanks to a… a hormonal Lord Conqueror!

The third meeting had ended with Xena yelling at the top of her lungs at the briton emissary, who in fear did wet himself as he was ordered out of Xena's sight. True, the man was an imbecile, pompous ass with delusions of religious superiority, but all the same he was a favoured cousin of the briton satrap Boadicea!

And now she was apparently finding much pleasure staring at the blue canopy above her seat. Fortunately, the otherwise so politically savvy merchant from Chin were so unnerved by the Lord Conqueror's behavior that he retracted his long-winded speech and meekly agreed to the terms as Viceron had previously written him.

This could not go on!

True, none of these petitioners were of a nature that required the Lord Conqueror's time, but they were a part of a long-term plan that Viceron deviced in order to convince his Lord to leave all such proceedings to him. By being the Conqueror's voice in all trade and civil dispute, he would be one more step closer to what Viceron truly desired. But not by running roughshod over all his glorious schemes first!

The list continued, and Xena bullied her way through one petition after another. Finally she came to the end of her fuse by the time the Chamberlain announced the three generals with allegedly beautiful women that Xena had told Gabrielle about earlier.

Lost for a moment in thoughts of Gabrielle, Xena did not pay attention to the generals as they shouted at one another. It wasn't until all three was standing facing each other, reaching for and drawing their weapons right there in front of her that Xena came back to her senses.

"ENOUGH!" The angry roar and the dull boom from Xena's fist as she slammed it into the sturdy oak table on her dais made all three men freeze.

Like lightning Xena was on her feet and looming over them as Hades himself on their day of judgement. She was deathly quiet for long agonizing moments, letting her ice cold gaze tear into the men and make them tremble in fear.


The voice was quiet, but it's intensity made it sound like a shout.


She stepped forward.

"draw your weapons"

The generals shrank back.

"in front of ME?!! "

Eyes as cold as ice narrowed as she faced them with the contempt apparent on her face. "You know what that will cost you, now don't you."

The generals paled.

"Now… BOYS… let me clarify something for you. Your small provinces are but squalid pebbles in the vast greatness of the Realm. And I… I AM the Realm!"

"Your petty squabbles mean nothing to me, yet you insist on wasting my time. Then let me tell you this. I do not need either of you. And perhaps I will now choose to have you replaced."

"You were fools to keep bringing yourselves to my attention, I would have let you be if you did not give me reason to focus my attention upon you. In other words, boys… since you cannot play nice, I will take your toys away."

She smiled slightly as she said this, further terrifying the three men in front of her.

"But I suppose I may yet choose to give you another chance if I feel lenient enough… We shall see."

"Now let's see… The matter you brought to my attention today was based upon whose woman was the more attractive, was it not? Fools!" They cringed as one at her harsh tone. "Very well, I shall give you my judgement."

"MY woman is far more beautiful than any of yours!" She leaned towards them with an evil gleam in her eyes. "Do you care to challenge that? No? Wise choice."

"Bottom line, boys… don't get me involved in a measuring contest, because I will always win."

She turned and gestured towards one of the soldiers standing at the doors. "Send in Meleager now." Meleager, the captain of the Royal Guard, entered flanked by four of the black and silver clad guards. The four drew their weapons and surrounded the three generals at once.

"Have these three served the traditional punishment for bringing weapons into an audience with me, then held in custody until I decide what to do with them next. Then find out how it was that they all managed to get past the Castle guard with weapons on them." Xena gave Viceron an evil glare, she had no doubt who was responsible for this oversight. Meleager would find out as much and they all knew it, nonetheless the Castle guard should know their orders better than that.

"Send the Junior Chamberlain to my quarters when I leave, and make certain all my appointments for today are cancelled." Viceron looked as if he was about to protest. Xena merely lifted one eyebrow maliciously, and he said nothing. She turned to leave.

"Oh, and Meleager? Make certain they know how good their fortunes are that I am so lenient." Spoken with dangerous casualness over her shoulder as she left the room.

"Leniency!" The General of Parnassus spat in disgust. "Why that unnatural…"

The back of Meleager's hand sent the man crashing to the floor. One of the soldiers hoisted him up roughly, preparing to drag him off by his arms.

Meleager spoke. "Our Lord showed you great mercy. The punishment for bringing a weapon within the presence of our Lord in an audience is thirty lashes."

"The punishment for baring a weapon in her presence is death by dismemberment."


Chapter 6: Learning To Dress The Part

Even without getting the information from Jace, the Junior Chamberlain, Xena would have realized where Gabrielle was rather quickly. The two Royal Guardsmen standing at the door was a fair indication, given that they previously only guarded Xena herself.

Xena noticed as she approached that both of the two men in question, Talus and Artus, were barely fighting back their smiles as they stood, apparently listening in on something spoken inside the seamstress working quarters. Intrigued, Xena motioned to them to remain quiet as she herself crept up to the door.

After listening a moment, she, too, was smiling, though probably for other reasons than her soldiers did. Or so she assumed.

Deftly she eased through the door without the occupants in the room noticing her presence. She casually leaned in the doorway and watched the proceedings, idly wondering how long it would take, and which of the women in front of her would notice her first.

The delighted smile that had sneaked its way to her lips she had expected, but the strong blast of emotion that coursed through her at the sight of her young lover, that Xena had not expected. It was strong, undeniable and completely foreign, giving Xena the sense of drowning in… what? She did not know. A fierce sense of longing was the closest she could come to define it, but still there was more.

It was… strange. And almost frightening, though she would never admit to as much.

"…are you sure? I still don't think I'm fit to wear something so, so… well fancy looking." Gabrielle's voice was soft and uncertain, as she stood in front of the large gilded mirror wearing nothing but a small set of forest green underclothes and fingering tentatively on the expanse of deep green silk that the seamstress was holding up against Gabrielle's body. The aged seamstress was clearly trying to impress upon the young woman how lovely the fabric would look on her, which appeared to conflict with Gabrielle's sense of modesty.

"Tsk child, I know me work. This here would make the most fetching evening gown, nicely matching them eyes." She made Gabrielle look at herself in the mirror, to prove her point. "Our Lord specifically told to use the latest and the finest, and that there Chin silk is it, dearie. Ye do want to look pretty for Our Lord, don't ye me dear?"

Gabrielle smiled shyly and nodded gently, blushing ever so slightly as she did so, and Xena could wait no more to hold her close.

"Now, me thought is that we do one like that red one ye tried on, but cut this part shorter like…"

"Do as many in as many styles as you wish, Myra, her wardrobe should be made to match mine." Xena interrupted from the door. "Be sure to use to use only the finest and the most complimentary to Gabrielle's beauty."

Gabrielle's head snapped around, and when she spotted Xena the delighted look in her eyes and brilliant smile made Xena swallow hard to get rid of a sudden lump in her throat. Xena pushed off from the doorframe and sauntered over to finally indulge herself in what she had thought of all day.

Gabrielle barely had time to register Xena's presence before she found herself tightly wrapped in a pair of strong arms and held closely against the taller form, with Xena's face buried in her hair. She closed her eyes and leaned back, enjoying the sensation.

After long moments of remaining that way, Xena finally lifted her head to look upon their reflection in the mirror. "Use this one, for certain." She let one hand caress where Gabrielle was wrapped in the material. "And something… in cream, I think."

The aged seamstress snapped out of her indulgent reverie, and brought a roll of thick cream colored silk up for Xena's perusal. Xena nodded her approval of the choice, indeed she trusted Myra's sense of fashion implicitly, and the old woman had been in Xena's service for so long she was more than well acquainted with Xena's tastes and quirks.

Myra took the fabrics from Xena's hands to fold an put away, and Xena raked her eyes lustfully over the near-naked body revealed in the mirror at the act.

Pretending to lick her lips as she met Gabrielle's eyes in the mirror, Xena was thrilled to feel a shudder go through the small form. She smirked wickedly. "And Myra? Make sure there will be a steady supply of enticing undergarments for Gabrielle, will you?" She had to bite her lip not to laugh when Gabrielle turned bright red and unnable to look at the old seamstress.

"Aye, ye naughty imp, I figured as much." Myra made a show of scoffing at her ruler. "Really, ruining perfectly good leggings like that, ye should be ashamed. And not a stitch of shift for the poor child to wear either. I would think ye'd have called to get some clothes that fit the child to wear for now, not let her go gallivanting around the castle and catch a cold like that."

"You're not ill, are you?" Xena murmured into Gabrielle's ear while Myra unfaltering continued her reproach. Gabrielle shook her head, or tried to, as she was shaking with silent giggles.

"Well, I got a set for the child to wear for now, and by morning I'll have something better sown up. Til then there's this set that'll fit, though hardly the kind I know ye to have in mind for the wee bit of a thing."

Xena stepped back as Myra helped Gabrielle back into the clothes that had been hung on a holder next to the mirror. It was not the pants and tunic that she had given Gabrielle to wear that morning, but rather a skirt and blouse set in muted greens and purple.

"The fabric is inferior of course, but the cut is nice Myra. Do a few in that sort of style too, won't you?" Xena said with appreciation, noticing how nice the snug wide girdle and low cut blouse looked on Gabrielle, making her look much older than the outfit Xena ruined the night before had.

"I have all the measurements needed for now, and we tried enough different styles to know about where to start. I will come tell ye when I need ye for fitting, dear." Myra told Gabrielle in her friendly fashion. "I'll have me assistants working hard to get ye some proper attire come morning."

"I'll make sure you get some new assistants soon, allright? Will I be forgiven then?" Xena teased goodnaturedly. Myra pretended to huff some more and shoo them to the door, but just as they were about to leave she halted Xena with a hand or her arm.

"It does this old heart good to see ye finally find someone to make ye happy. And this is a good child, too."

Xena looked quite surprised at that, and barely remembered to nod her acceptance of the well-wishes. Happy?

She glanced at Gabrielle at her side. Yes, happy. But she was surprised it was so obvious.

"Have you eaten yet?" She asked Gabrielle.

The answering howl from Gabrielle's midsection caused the entire hallway to go deafeningly quiet. Xena's eyebrow dissappeared beneath her bangs in surprise. "I'll take that as a 'no' then." She murmured slowly.

"Artus! Send word to my private kitchen that I want dinner for the both of us delivered to my chambers shortly. Whatever Ella comes up with is fine, just tell her to bring plenty of it. Also, I want a list drawn up on my schedule for the next fortnight, in details, within the candlemark." She spared a glance at Artus. "Have Jace do it and bring it to me. I think he won't mind that, will he?"

Artus, Jace's lover of some time, smiled at the prospect of telling his lover he was currently more in favour than his superior, the arrogant Viceron. He shared a knowing look with the Lord Conqueror before turning to carry out her orders.

Xena smiled at the lovely woman by her side. Quite uncaring that they were far from alone in the hallway, Xena pulled Gabrielle into her arms, dipped her down, and proceeded to kiss her senseless.

When she finally let the younger woman up for air, Xena was smiling contentedly and Gabrielle was clinging weakly to her for support. "Well well. Did you meet Jace earlier today Gabrielle? No? No, I suppose Myra was so appalled by what you wore that she dragged you here to get you dressed right away."

"I'll introduce you to him when he arrives. But first… let's get my woman fed!"

Grinning outrageously Xena steered Gabrielle through the hallways heading for the Royal private chambers.

Gabrielle silently took in the appearance of the Junior Chamberlain as she was busily feeding the noisy beast in her belly, while Xena ate at a more sedate pace, still able to hold a conversation with the man over dinner.

The sight of all the delicious food had nearly brought tears to Gabrielle's eyes, so she would have been hard pressed to tear her concentration away from stuffing herself even if it was asked of her. Fortunately enough, it was not. Xena merely smiled indulgently.

The Junior Chamberlain seemed in no manner similar to his superior Viceron, Gabrielle decided. There was nothing cold about this young man, for starters. Gabrielle tilted her head and considered.

Xena said he was a 'true sodomite', so she would trust him to behave around Gabrielle. Well, aside from the fact that Gabrielle wasn't at all comfortable with the underlying meaning in that consideration, she felt Jace would probably be a good friend to have. He was a pleasant fellow, not good looking by any stretch, rather looking slightly like a sad puppy with his sorrowful brown eyes. And quite effeminated, with newly coiffed brown curls and crisply pressed frills decorating his dark blue velvet vest.

From what she could tell he seemed a calm, gentle person, with a pleasant voice and a serious mindset. And, something which made Gabrielle relax considerably, he was not at all offended that Xena told him he was to spend time educating a person who, after all, was only a slave, in the ways of the palace.

At the present he was diligently scribbling down Xena's changes of the schedule for the next week, and Gabrielle smiled a little to see that despite the seriousness of his face, his hands kept fluttering about his face in tiny but rather feminine gestures as he spoke.

Suddenly he was looking right at Gabrielle. "Oh I'll be glad to show Lady Gabrielle the Royal Library." Gabrielle realised they were talking about her now. "Do you enjoy reading, Lady Gabrielle?" Jace inquired politely.

Gabrielle nearly choked on a mouthful of tea, and Xena's eyebrows lifted high in surprise. "W-what? I'm not a lady, I'm just plain Gabrielle." Gabrielle managed to squeeze out.

Xena turned to growl in a quiet voice. "There's nothing plain about you Gabrielle, and don't you forget it." She turned expectant eyes on Jace.

"Begging your pardon My Lord, but since My Lord has made it clear that Lady Gabrielle is My Lord's permanent companion for an unforeseeable amount of time, it seems prudent that she is addressed with the title Lady even though Lady Gabrielle is not truly of noble birth or even a free woman. It is a sign of respect for My Lord's position and choice, if not for Lady Gabrielle herself. In some courts it has been the custom to address the ruler's paramour with at least the honorific title of Lady or perchance Lord, as showing a small degree of respect for the person sharing the ruler's life is showing respect for the ruler itself."

"I know of these practises, Jace, and where they are still in use. And the thought is… commendable. However, you are well aware, I should think, that Gabrielle is a slave. What prompted this deduction on your part?" Xena's voice was turning slightly harsh, and her face was expressionless.

"My Lord, permission to speak quite boldly?" Jace was a careful politician, but not one to speak what he thought his ruler wanted to hear only. He received a curt nod to go on.

"My Lord has given orders regarding Lady Gabrielle that would indicate a far more elevated status than that of a mere body slave. It is a fair assumption by that act that Lady Gabrielle would either be My Lord's paramour or perhaps concubine. A body slave would not receive a royal wardrobe, be accompanied by members of the Royal Guard, be tutored in court etiquette, or provided entertainment." Jace was threading dangerous grounds and he knew it. "And may I remind My Lord that the biannual meeting of the satraps is approaching?"

Gabrielle looked disheartened down at her plate, her appetite had vanished all of a sudden.

In the silence that followed, Xena's face lightened slowly.

"Paramour, huh? Now why didn't I think of that?" Xena gave a wry half-smile. "Very well Jace, what you say makes good sense. Although usually no-one would ask their ruler to announce someone as their paramour within a day of the ruler meeting that person." She grinned at Jace, who ducked his head slightly in acknowledgment.

"I will not object to the usage of the honorific title of Lady for Gabrielle, and I wish it to be the rule for official occasions, however I cannot actually give her a title as she is not a free woman. Make certain all involved parties knows what they need."

"And as for the satraps… They will have enough to bicker about even without speculating about Gabrielle's position in my life, I'm sure."

There was silence for a moment.

"So, Gabrielle… Why don't you answer Jace's question then?" Xena grinned at Gabrielle's blank look. "Do you enjoy reading, Gabrielle?"

Gabrielle blinked slowly, then turned to Jace and tried to muster some kind of enthusiasm. "I l-love to read, sir, I always have."

The comical way Jace's eyes got big and round, and the way he waved his hands as if warding off something, made Gabrielle feel slightly more at ease. "No no no! I am simply Jace, My Lady!"

Before too long Jace had Gabrielle in a lively discussion about favorite bards and poets, and they passionatedly spoke of the skills of Sappho, discussed who had the finest rendition of the legends of Xena's great achievements, and got into a debate of the pros and cons of Eastern poetry. Jace even drew his chair up to Gabrielle's.

Xena was stunned.

What had just happened? She had assumed that Gabrielle was literate, but to find out that she was fluent in both Latin and Arabic in addition to her native Greek was more than she would ever have guessed. Had Gabrielle not said there were no schools in Poteidaia? And how had she come across all those stories in a place where travellers, and thus scrolls, were scarce?

Looking at them both Xena felt a sharp pang of jealousy. They were both deeply involved in their animated discussion, both using hand gestures in a similar fashion when they spoke, and wearing smiles. Gabrielle was smiling.

Xena wanted to be the one to make Gabrielle smile.

She coughed pointedly, and Jace snapped back from the conversation. He seemed surprised that he had gotten so lost in a conversation that he completely forgot the presence of his ruler. Xena indicated with a slight tilt of her head and a raised eyebrow that it was time for him to depart.

"Alas it must be time for me to continue my duties, Lady Gabrielle. I will be looking forward to debating court customs with you, and escorting you to the Royal Library when it is convenient." He smiled and bowed to them both, taking his papers with him as he left.

An awkward silence filled the room.

Xena watched Gabrielle looking forlornly at her plate, pushing things around but no longer eating. She cursed herself thinking she must have frightened the young woman, because mere moments ago Gabrielle had been relaxed in her company.

"Don't you… like the food?" Xena asked with some difficulty.

Gabrielle looked surprised. "Oh no, the food is delicious! I can't remember when I ate anything this good, really." Xena nodded, of course it was, Ella was the best cook Xena had. And the most reliable.

"So… What do you think of Jace?" A pointed quiestion, although Xena was careful not to let it show how much the answer meant to her right now.

Gabrielle smiled, and for a moment Xena wanted to stand up and scream at the top of her lungs 'NO!'.

"He seems very nice. And he is very fun to talk to. He… didn't seem to mind it so much."

"Mind what?" Xena edged closer.

"Well… Having to spend time with a mere slave." Gabrielle's smile died.

For a second Xena just sat there with large eyes, looking almost dumbstruck, then she exploded. Standing up she slammed her fists so hard into the tabletop that everything on it jumped into the air. Gabrielle yelped and stared anxiously at the angry woman in front of her.

"I. Gave. Him. An. Order!" She ground out between clenched teeth. "It is not up to his whim, his likes or dislikes is of no consequence, if I say he will spend time with you then he will without question, or he will suffer the consequences!"

Gabrielle did not just look frightened now, she looked downright depressed. Her posture was very much that of a scolded child who was fighting to hold back tears, and Xena's heart clenched at the sight. No no no no, this wasn't what she had meant to do!

Xena sighed and moved closer to Gabrielle. Since Gabrielle wouldn't lift her head to face her, Xena reached out and gently urged her until their eyes met.

"You do not understand, Gabrielle." She said gently. "It is not a matter of them minding to spend time with you…" She sat back down and pulled Gabrielle over into her lap, facing her. "… it is them being graced with a moment of your company"

"I rule the world, Gabrielle. Therefore I am above everyone else in it, and everyone else's position and rank is up to my whim. And I… " Xena pulled Gabrielle closer still and ardently breathed her words almost upon Gabrielle's lips.

"I desire you, I want you, I _hunger_ for you. Not only for the maddening feel of your skin against mine, the sweetness of your lips, your body moving under my touch. No, I have experienced a hunger also for your presence, with me, by my side, all the time today."

Xena could feel the rapid hot bursts of Gabrielle's breath agains her lips, and she would almost have sworn she could feel Gabrielle's heart beating in her own flesh as well, there could be nothing between them right now.

"So the time spent in your presence is a great gift I have bestowed upon Jace and the others you will meet, when there is nothing in this palace as precious to me as you are." She kissed Gabrielle with all the passion she could muster.

They continued their heated exchange until Xena, with both of them panting heavily, managed to regain some self control.

"Because you are precious to me Gabrielle, you are also above them. Do you understand?"

Gabrielle hid her face into Xena and mumbled faintly. "I just don't want to be an embarrassment to you."

"Never!" Xena swore fervently and kissed Gabrielle again. "I will be the envy of all…" Another ardent kiss "…to be the one that gets to wake with you in my arms."

A handfull of passionate kisses later, Xena drew back a little to meet Gabrielle's gaze. "How do you feel now, Gabrielle?" She asked somewhat out of breath.

Gabrielle looked strangely incredulous at first, then seemed to gather her courage, shyly bit her lip and leaned in to whisper in Xena's ear. Xena's eyes got huge, and she swallowed once, hard.

"That wasn't quite what I meant…" She husked, and let one hand slip under Gabrielle's skirt to find evidence of one of Gabrielle's statements, causing Gabrielle to whimper. "…but that works for me!" Xena gasped out.

No more words were exchanged as Xena stood and unsteadily carried Gabrielle with her into their bedroom.


Chapter 7: A Passionate Interlude

For several days the Lord Conqueror gave only scant appearances outside her private chambers. Audiences were cancelled or postponed, and smaller tasks were given to the Chamberlain and Junior Chamberlain to perform.

Viceron, of course, was livid. Not only did the Lord Conqueror so blatantly shirk all duties simply to indulge her baser self with a common body slave, but she had given the main responsibility for handling the day-to-day chores to that upstart Jace!

Unlike himself, who had worked his way up to his position by long hard years in service at one court or another, Jace had merely caught the Lord Conqueror's eye one day, and gotten the position handed to him. He was a direct threat to everything Viceron had built, and no matter how many times Viceron put him in his place, Jace bounced back undaunted. His favour with their ruler unwavering.

Oh, service to the ruler of the Known World had always had it's moments of frustration, but there were great rewards as well. Even should his long tedious planning to in all silence grasp the power behind the throne for himself fail in the end, to serve her would still be his choice.

Because the woman was his mad obsession.

But this latest affront! To dally around with some peasant harlot with no regard for their life's work… A slavewoman no less! It was totally unacceptible. Not even when parleying with the promiscuous Egyptian satrap, Cleopatra, had the Lord Conqueror ever let the Realm suffer, and she, at least, had been a dignitary!

Whatever dark and twisted sorcery this unworthy creature had cast over his Lord, he, Viceron would see it ended. No matter the cost.

Indeed Xena was spending her time enjoying her young lover, and forgoing matters of state in the process. She did, however, feel she had matters well in hand, and did not fear that a score of days putting the woman before the ruler would do any permanent harm to her Realm. After all, that was what all those bureaucrats and administrators were for.

Not that she trusted the lot further than she could throw them, but even so… She fully intended to enjoy a short vacation. And the young woman in her arms was a sweet intoxication she would not give up.

Chamberlain Viceron finally found a reason to enter the Royal chambers. Oh, as the Chief Chamberlain he was the only individual who could enter the Royal chambers at will, unannounced and unescorted, but for his own safety he had better have a good reason for doing so. Especially now.

He desperately wanted to speak with his Lord about certain changes she had made, and if he could not make her see the error in withdrawing from her duties like this, then at least make certain it was he, not that young pup Jace, that held the reins in her absence.

But it would not do to so openly come to her private chambers to suggest she change her orders, he had served her too long to make that mistake. No. But the seamstress had, without intending to, given him the excuse needed.

An entire cart filled with all manner of fancy clothing for the peasant harlot was ready, but since the Lord Conqueror had ordered them not to be disturbed, the seamstress had complained that she did not wish to intrude. And yet Lady Gabrielle needed the clothing.

'Lady' Gabrielle, as if she was some highborn woman his Lord had taken more than a mere passing fancy to. Regardless, bringing the clothing would suffice.

Naturally the guards at the doors let him in without question. But one of them, that upstart Jace's lover if Viceron was not mistaken, insisted upon pulling the pushcart to the slavegirl's door for him. He was forced to enter there lest his motives be questioned, much to his annoyance.

Very well, it was of no matter to him.

The room had been made up since the last time Viceron had seen it. A large intricately carved bed took up much of the free space of the room, easily as large and ornate as the one Viceron himself had in his private quarters. A large chest stood by the foot of the bed, waiting to be filled with a woman's unmentionables, and the large closets covered one wall completely. Under the only window there stood a large desk, filled with scrolls and ink, and a shelf by it on the wall awaited writings to fill it.

The peasant probably thought she was literate because she had managed to learn how to scribble her own name, Viceron thought with envious contempt. What bothered him more than the fancy furnishings was that not a single item looked as though it had ever been used. It was merely sitting there collecting dust.

Well. Let the hussy hang her own garments, he most certainly was not going to do it - although that was the finest silk from Chin, dresses made to be worn by a Queen, not a temporary bedwarmer - so the cart might remain where it was.

He was just about to open the door to the adjoining bathroom when he heard the sounds. His hand was in fact already turning the doorknob, and the door had tilted ajar ever so slightly.

A woman giggling, and the sound of splashing water. The unmistakable sound of his Lord's voice speaking, although he could not make out the words. More splashing.

He was just about to push the door open further, as his Lord had never been shy about her nudity before, when another sound stopped him.

A woman moaning. And again.

Viceron grew quite pale and trembling.

Another moan, and this time a deeper voice joined in. Then "Oh Xena!" cut into his ears.

Viceron hurried in almost blind panic towards the other door. He wasn't sure whether he was going to faint or throw up the way he was feeling, but he needed out, quick! He reached the door and slammed it shut behind him, with the sounds of the women's release still ringing in his ears.

As he stood there, struggling to put a proper mask in place, what was previously strong resentment grew and hardened into pure solid hate.

Xena did eventually return to at least partial duty, although those that were to petition her during this time did not particularly feel thankful for her time away from her blonde companion. Their time was limited, Xena's temper short and patience nonexistent, and she simply did not allow for any frivolus use of her time with petty concerns. Dealing with either of the Chamberlains was prefferred, as they at least were cordial, and somewhat less inclined to flat out deny requests, or worse, threaten petitioners with bodily harm.

Upon this particular day, Gabrielle would be visiting the Royal Library with Jace, and Xena's mood swung between feeling pleased that Gabrielle would be doing something she enjoyed, namely reading, while on the other hand Xena felt terribly agitated that her woman would be spending so much time alone with Jace. The fact that her fears were irrational did not improve Xena's mood much.

Finally she could take no more, and cut off the meeting she was in to go find Gabrielle.

She sneaked into the Lirbrary to surprise Gabrielle, motioning to the guards not to give her away. But it was Xena who would be the most surprised.

Giggling. Why was it that whenever Xena found Gabrielle and Jace together, there would always be much giggling going on? They sounded like a pair of schoolchildren.

Xena eased around the corner, with a perfect view of the large table and window seat that Gabrielle and Jace had chosen to occupy, yet still hidden from view herself. An eyebrow went up at the sight of the table, the librarians would not be thankful of this mess.

Among the piles of books and scrolls covering the table, Xena could make out her prized Sappho collection laying to one side together with a volume of romantic poetry from Japa.

Excellent choices in Xena's opinion, and smirking to herself she decided that she would try some choice recitals for Gabrielle sometime.

She could also spot a surprising ammount of renditions of the stories of her own exploits lying there. Perhaps her idea for the day was even better than she would have thought? She privately admitted that she was quite charmed that Gabrielle showed interest in things Xena had done in the past like this.

Her eyes tracked away from the table, to the source of the giggling.

There she was. The light from the large window turned Gabrielle's redblond hair to a burning white-gold, making her look almost ethereal in the light. The dark crème-colored dress she wore enhanced the visual, making Xena's heart ache. Jace's redbrown curls shone even more red than usual as he was caught by cast-off rays from Gabrielle, and he was making a big show out of pointing at something in the huge book they were reading together, and fanning himself with a lacy sleeve.

Xena's eyes narrowed. Gabrielle was blushing slightly and giggled again. She seemed to whisper something to Jace, to which he giggled even more before answering in that same almost-audible tone.

Then Xena recognised the book. It was the Kama Sutra!

"Oh my Artus!" Jace was saying, laying both hands crossed over his heart in a hopelessly smitten doe-eyed look. Playfully Gabrielle chucked his arm. "You make such a cute couple." She enthused, smiling benignly.

Jace smiled, charmed. "So do you two, Gabrielle, so do you." Gabrielle smiled shyly, her pleasure at the words adorably evident. "Really?" She breathed, then made a squealing little noise and threw herself back, further into the heart of the light.

"Really." Jace put his head in his hands in for him typically feminine-appearing gesture. "I've never seen her this happy. I really am glad you have one another, Gabrielle."

"So." A shrewd look."Are you going to show her the poems that you wrote?" The man was actually bouncing and clapping his hands. "Please? You just have to."

Gabrielle ducked her head. "Don't you think she'll think that they're silly? She's got all these " a hand indicating the piles on the table "writing grand poetry about her. Real bards and poets, not a naive girl like me."

"It's _not_silly! And I think she'll love your poems Gabrielle. Because it's you." Jace tried to convince. Gabrielle smiled and hugged him. "Thanks Jace, you are such a good friend."

The man beamed at her in response, and hugged her back.
"You too Gabrielle, you are a very good friend to have."

Leaning back agains the backrest again Gabrielle sighed softly. "Do you know what's even sillier though?"

"I get these feelings sometimes… Like right now. It feels like, almost like she's right here with me." Gazing dreamily into the high ceiling.

"Surprise." Xena said warmly, stepping into full view.

The expression on Gabrielles face was even more radiant than the rays of sunlight pouring through the window. When Xena opened her arms beckoning her, Gabrielle gave off a happy little shriek and rushed into her embrace.

Momentarily pulling back from their kiss, Xena spoke with just a tinge of embarrassment to the widely grinning Jace. "Why don't you, umm, go and tell Artus that he is relieved of duty for the rest of the day."

That's all she got out as a very amorous young woman could wait no more for the kisses she had been longing for. Jace grinned even more, and hummed a tune to himself as he happily bounced his way out of the library.

"So my sweet, why don't you show me what you found so interesting in the Kama Sutra?" Xena asked with a husky voice and pulled Gabrielle with her to the chaise longue underneath the window.