Shadows of the Soul

Part 9

Gabrielle slipped into her new cubbyhole, one ear cocked to hear Xena’s orders to the staff outside. She paused in the center of the room and looked around, surprised but pleased at the space around her. The ceiling was high, and the room, closet really she reckoned, was almost square and the walls had lots of little shelves and alcoves in them to put things in. Where her previous space had obviously just been a forgotten curve in the wall, this had light, and even a worn but respectable rug covering a good part of the stone floor.

Her cot was against the wall along with the small chest, and she went over to it and started stripping off her livery.

Her mind kept returning to dinner, though, and she found herself reliving the horrible moment that had ended it, not so much the vision of Xena killing the duke but the heart rending scream of the wife he’d left behind.   It resonated with her, and reminded her strongly of the moment when she’d seen the arrow pierce Lila’s chest and she was having a hard time getting past the image again despite the fact that she knew Xena had done what she’d thought she needed to.

Just like with Lila. Gabrielle smoothed her fingertips over the yellow hawk, caught again by the paradox her life was rapidly becoming.

By all rights, Xena’s nature, and her cold hearted willingness to slaughter should be repelling her. And yet Gabrielle felt herself being drawn closer and closer to the dangerous and deadly queen despite all logic to the contrary.  Even watching her dispatch the noble had only jolted her empathy for the man’s wife, rather than stirred up horror at the man’s death itself.  Was she starting to get used to it?  Gabrielle sat down and removed her boots. Was Xena right? Was she even getting a taste for the excitement of it all?

She stood up and removed her leggings, then slipped out of the buttery golden shirt, folding it neatly and laying it over the overtunic.  The stone walls held a chill that raised goosebumps on her bare skin and she rubbed her arms absently as she tried to make sense of it.

And realized there was none to be had, at least at the moment.  She hated the violence, and the deadly games of the court. But even though Xena was the core of it, Gabrielle knew it wasn’t in her heart to hate the queen.

Far from it. She closed her eyes in quiet confirmation. Could she hate everything Xena stood for, and love Xena herself?  Her ears caught the sound of Xena moving into the bathing room, and she felt her heart skip a beat.

Well. That wasn’t fear stirring in her guts, virgin or no she knew that much.

She sighed as she tucked her boots under the cot and stood up, running her fingers through her hair as she went to her little chest and removed a shift to sleep in. She pulled it over her head and put her livery away neatly folded, then paused as she started to stand up when she spotted a small, neglected looking box tucked back in the corner of the space.

Curious, she walked over and crouched next to it, lifting the latch and opening the top to peer inside.


For once,  she wanted hot water.  Xena dipped a finger into the gently steaming liquid, giving the two slaves who had brought the buckets and approving nod. “Great. Now get out.”  She told them, watching the guard herd them out the door and into the hallway.  She waited for the door to close then she wandered back into the bathing room and rested her forearms on the edge of the marble tub.

“Hm.” Xena regarded the water for a minute. Then she walked over to the stone alcove set into the wall and picked up a small jar, removing the top and sniffing warily.  “Eh.” She muttered. “It’s better than flowers.”  She walked over and sprinkled a bit of the bath salts into the water, releasing a light scent of sandalwood and nutty cinnamon into the air. Putting the jar back, she went to her closet and untied the ornate belt on her gown, noting the blood spatter that dotted the fabric in a swath from her shoulder to her hip.

With a grimace, she removed the gown and draped it over a wooden stand in the closet. Studying her choices, she selected a brief, silk robe and eased it over her shoulders, tying the thin woven cord loosely around her waist.  She studied her reflection in the mirror, then ran a hand through her hair to fluff it’s bangs a trifle.

One eyebrow lifted in dire sarcasm. “Ohhh… you’ve got it bad.” She accused her reflection. “Last time you primped it was for your horse.”

With a half disgusted shake of her head, she turned her back on the mirror. Barefoot, she stepped silently into the bedroom and leaned on a cornice outside the door to the space she’d had Gabrielle’s things put in.

It was a small cubby, a closet really she’d never used that the castle’s prior occupants had stored their volumes of rich clothing and personal trinkets in. It was larger than the alcove outside in the hall, though, and it had a wall sconce for a hanging oil lamp that lit the interior with a pleasing warm glow.

It was quiet inside. Xena unfolded her arms and walked to the door, peering inside.  Gabrielle was sitting on her cot, leaning back against the wall with her legs folded up under her. She had  piece of parchment in her hands and she was reading it, seemingly completely absorbed but it’s contents.

Xena smiled at the sight. Then she put her fingers between her teeth and let out a piercing whistle, causing Gabrielle to nearly levitate off the cot and onto the floor.

“Yow!” The slave yelped, grabbing her chest. “Oh!”

“Heh heh.” Xena entered and looked around, putting her hands on her scantily clad hips. “Well, it beats the broom closet out there.”

Gabrielle caught her breath, then lost it again as she caught a look at the darkened blue eyes watching her. “Uh… yes… it’s… I like it.”

“Do ya?” Xena strolled over and took a seat next to her on the cot, making the mattress rustle and the straps under it creak.  “What’s that?” She pointed at the parchment.

“Oh.” Gabrielle looked down at the writing. “I found it in that box over there. It’s a poem.” She offered it to Xena. “It’s beautiful. Did you write it?”

“Me?” The queen burst into a wry laugh. “Gabrielle, I’d sooner skin rats with my teeth than write poetry.” She mouthed the last word as thought it were a curse. “Poetry? Me?”

The slave put the parchment down on her lap and scratched her jaw. “I’m sorry.” She apologized in a soft voice. “It had an ‘X’ on the bottom so I thought…”

Xena snatched the parchment and examined it.  “X must be for unknown.”  She said finally, tossing the parchment back. “I’ve never seen it before.”

Gabrielle fingered the hide. “Is it okay if I keep it?”

The queen folded her arms over her chest, and eyed her. “It’s not mine. Why should I care if you do?”  She could see the smile starting on Gabrielle’s face and decided to change the subject. “I have a hot bath waiting.”

The slave folded the parchment carefully and put it into her trunk. “Would you like me to wash your shoulder?” She asked.

“I’d like you to get in the tub with me and wash me all over.” Xena answered, with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.  She watched the green eyes facing her widen to an almost comical degree and saw the muscles on either side of Gabrielle’s face relax as her jaw dropped.  With a smirk, she reached over and tipped the slave’s head to one side. “Think those are your brains dripping out. Careful.”

Gabrielle closed her jaw with a slight clicking sound as her teeth met. She remained silent, however, her eyes wide open and borderline fearful.

Not what Xena wanted. “Hey.” She patted Gabrielle’s cheek. “It’s been a long day, and I’m really too tired to sadistically rape you. Relax.”  She watched the girls’ expressive face. “Gabrielle?”

Gabrielle exhaled. “Um.. I’m.. sorry. That just.. sort of surprised me.”

Xena pursed her lips. “Come.” She got up off the cot and held her hand out. “I don’t ask for hot water often, and it’d be a crime to waste it.”

Shyly, Gabrielle stood and took her outstretched fingers, clasping them as she followed Xena out and through the bedroom into the bathing chamber.

Steam was rising faintly over the tub, and it smelled wonderful. Gabrielle felt scared, and excited and her heart started doing somersaults in her chest as she felt herself drawn towards the marble basin.

“It’s just a bath.” Xena cupped her cheek gently. “Don’t pass out when you get in there, or you’ll drown and it’ll just ruin my day, okay?”

The humor helped. Gabrielle dropped her eyes, knowing she was blushing, but nodded.

Xena held back a wry chuckle, as she untied the laces on her slave’s shirt, and tugged it over her head. A moment later, she added her own robe to it, and tossed them both to one side. Then she stepped over the edge of the tub into the pleasantly warm water and steered Gabrielle to do the same.

Which was hard, since the kid still had her eyes closed. Xena took the opportunity to study her bare body, noting the pleasant proportions as well as surprising, few scars in addition to the one on her leg. The girl took in a deep breath and her ribs expanded, easily visible under her pale skin.

Xena reached over and touched a faint bump on one of them, causing a slight gasp to escape from Gabrielle’s throat.  This was not, the queen decided, the time to probe for the pieces of this particular puzzle however.

There would be time for that.

“Hey.” Xena patted Gabrielle’s cheek, and watched the pale lashes flutter open. “I’m not a guide dog.” She pointed downward. “Sit.”

The tub was more than large enough for both of them, and once settled, Gabrielle seemed to relax a little. She looked around her, touching the side of the tub with a sense of wonder.

As well she might. It was rose marble, and admittedly the nicest bathtub this side of Rome. Xena leaned her shoulder against the stone and lifted the soap off it’s holder, releasing some lather into the water. Playfully, she blew some of the floating bubbles towards Gabrielle and as they reached her chest, the girl finally looked up and met her eyes. “So.”

Gabrielle had apparently moved past embarrassment. “So.” She responded, her voice slightly husky.

“Here we are. Naked, in a tub full of hot water, romantic candles burning nearby…” Xena remembered to grin so the kid would know she was playing with her.

“It’s beautiful.” Gabrielle answered softly. “I’ve never been in warm water like this. It feels great.” She lifted her hand out of the liquid and let it run through her fingers. “I was… in our family I was the oldest, so I ended up with pretty cold water, in a wooden trough and my sister to get cleaned up.”

“I ended up in ice cold streams most of the time.” Xena admitted, with a chuckle. “Until I conquered everyone and took over this place. Now I can have hot water whenever I want, and damned if I ever ask for it.” She reached out and captured Gabrielle’s hand, scrubbing it lightly with the soap. “Besides, it’s a boring tub to be in by yourself.”

Okay. Gabrielle felt her heart settling down to the business of actually moving her blood around inside her instead of trying to climb out of her throat. It’s just a bath, like she said Gabrielle.  You’re here, it’s nice, she’s just being playful… it’s okay.   Her body relaxed and she decided to try a little playfulness herself.

Gabrielle inched a little closer and took the soap, getting some lather on her fingers and cleaning Xena’s hand with it. “You have really nice hands.”

Xena’s eyebrows lifted. “I have paws the size of a bears that can break walnuts or choke a horse, Gabrielle.” She opened her palm, exposing the muscular palm and long fingers.

“But they’re pretty.” Gabrielle disregarded the words, running soap over the appendage in question. “They fit you.. they’re the right size for you. I remember this lady that lived in Potadeia.. she was kinda short.”

“Like you are.”


“Ah. A midget.” Xena’s eyes twinkled more brightly.

“Anyway, her hands were almost the same size as yours.” Gabrielle continued. “They looked really weird.” She examined her handiwork. “But yours are just right.”

Xena reached out and drew a soapy line down Gabrielle’s nose. “If you say so.” She watched the girl’s eyes almost cross watching her finger.  “Know what?”

“What?” Gabrielle blew a bit of bubbles across the water in idle delight.

“You’re cute.”

Green eyes gone round again blinked at her. “I am?”

Xena stroked her cheek, feeling the warmth erupt under her fingertips. “Yes, you are.” She answered seriously. “You’re adorable, and I really like that.”

Gabrielle went seriously tongue tied.

Xena’s lips quirked. “You’re supposed to say something nice back.” She instructed dryly. “And don’t mention my hands, that doesn’t count.”

The blond girl’s lips opened, then she paused and took a breath. “Um…”


“You’re the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen.”

Xena wiggled her brows. “Mm…. nice start.” She complimented her bath mate. “Now, let’s get washed up, so we can continue our discussion someplace drier.”

Gabrielle seriously wondered, after that, if she could possibly have floated out of the tub because she certainly didn’t remember climbing anywhere.


They ended up in front of the fire, sitting on the thick rug instead of on the chairs to spare Xena’s back the pressure.  Sitting there in her woven shift, long legs crossed under her, the queen presented a far less imposing sight as she cradled a cup of heated cider in her hands.

Gabrielle suspected she was just getting used to adjusting to the whirlwind she now lived in. Instead of worrying about what was happening, and more important, what was going to happen, she simply enjoyed the feel of the sheepskin rug against her skin, the taste of the cider and the sight of this beautiful intriguing woman almost knee to knee with her.

She likes me. Gabrielle could almost taste the sweetness of the words. She thinks I’m cute.  Even Perdicus, back home, who’d been the closest thing she’d had to a boyfriend hadn’t looked at her like Xena was right at that very moment.

Of course, Xena was way more gorgeous mussed and rumpled than Perdicus could have ever been on his best day and Gabrielle was pretty sure she hadn’t looked at Perdy the way she was looking at Xena either.

For a moment, she wondered what had become of Perdicus. He hadn’t been in Potadeia the day the slavers had hit them, and she felt a little awful thinking of him returning home to find everything gone.  She looked up at Xena, who was studying the fire, deep in thought.

What would it have been like to see your family killed, when you were just little?  Gabrielle concentrated and tried to remember what it was like when she was small, when her world had been simple; just mama and da, the baby she remembered Lila as, and warm blankets and sunshine.

She gazed at Xena’s profile, with it’s strong planes and uncompromising angles, and tried to imagine her as a little girl.  It was hard.

As though sensing the observation, Xena shook off her deep thoughts and turned to meet Gabrielle’s eyes. She lifted her cup and sipped it, then extended it in silence towards the girl.

Gabrielle touched it’s side with her own cup, and they both drank.  Xena shifted around so they were facing each other, her kneecaps just brushing Gabrielle’s. “So. Here we are.”

“Here we are.” Gabrielle repeated, with a tiny smile. “I’m.. um… “


“Not… really, no.”

Xena’s eyebrows hiked up. “Reeeallly?” She drawled, rolling the sound out. “You’re not afraid of me anymore, Gabrielle? I don’t believe it.”

Well…  The blond woman shifted and focused on her cup, it’s gently steaming surface sending the rich scent of apples to her.  She heard Xena shift, and then next thing she knew the queen’s fingers were sliding through her hair and giving it a gentle tug. “I’m not.” Gabrielle peeked at her erstwhile tormenter. “Scared.. I’m just a little.. um...”

“Hm?”  Xena lazily traced one of her slave’s ears, a nicely pink well shaped appendage. “A little what?”  She slid her thumb over Gabrielle’s cheekbone, and felt the almost imperceptible pressure as she leaned into the touch.

“Ne..nervous.” Gabrielle stuttered softly.

“Ahh.”  Xena chortled, almost under her breath. “Why are you nervous, Gabrielle? You been listening to those old woman’s tales about the great mysteries of.. ‘down there’ again?”  She teased. “Afraid what I might do to you? Think you could end up growing a second head or something?”

Gabrielle had to laugh, just a little, at the image. She forced herself to relax and met Xena’s eyes. The firelight softened the ice blue, and she could see again glimmers of humanity behind them. “Not really, no. I mean..” She fingered her cup and smiled. “I’m seventeen, not twelve.”

“Ahh.”  Xena said again. “You know, I usually don’t have these little discussions with my nubile conquests.”  She mentioned casually. “Patience is not my virtue.”

Gabrielle’s eyebrows twitched. “I kind of figured that out.” She said, studying Xena’s face. “I know you can do whatever you want to me, and there’s not much I can do about it.”  She watched a wary cast shield the queen’s eyes. “So why don’t you?”

Xena was silent for a bit, sipping her cider as she considered. “Because I told you I don’t rape slaves, and it’s true. I don’t.”

“Oh.” The blond woman nibbled on her lower lip, then blushed slightly. “Well, is it really rape… if the other person thinks it’s okay?” She stuttered getting the last word out, and her blush deepened to a deep crimson. She snuck a glance at Xena’s face, and caught a mixture of emotion on it that surprised her.

“It depends if the slave is telling the truth… or just wants to gain my favor… or is just too scared to say no.” Xena replied evenly. “Which is it, Gabrielle?” She pinned the slave with a glare, fierce and intent now.

Gabrielle frowned a little, then tilted her head thoughtfully.

“Well?” Xena’s voice dropped to a growl.

“I’m just trying to figure out…” The slave said. “If you’re trying to scare me…” She took Xena’s hand in hers. “Or scare me off.” Holding Xena’s gaze, she lifted her hand up and very gently kissed the knuckles of it. “Which is it, your Majesty?”

And Xena was caught. She stared at Gabrielle for long, frozen moment.

“I don’t want anything from you except what you want to give me.” Gabrielle’s voice was serious, and heartfelt. “Yes, I am scared, and nervous, and I have no idea what I’m getting myself into, and I might even end up dead because of it, but…” She looked down at the queen’s hand, laying still in her own.

The hand slowly lifted, with her fingers clinging to it, and laid itself flat against her cheek. Gabrielle felt Xena’s thumb brush her cheekbone and in the tenderness of the motion, she found the courage to look back up into those fathomless blue eyes.

“But you want to do it anyway.” Xena smiled slowly.

Gabrielle nodded hesitantly.

The queen closed her fingers around Gabrielle’s hand and clasped it, lifting it up and studying it with a darkly feral intensity. Her conscience teetered on the edge for the length of a hearbeat, then plunged over with a sense of dizzying flight.

She closed her hand tighter and looked at her slave. “Me, too.” She uttered, with a grin. “So since you won’t scare off….”

Uh oh. Gabrielle drew in a breath, sensing the rising emotion between them.

“C’mere.” Xena slid her hand around to the back of Gabrielle’s neck and pulled her closer, leaning forward to kiss her. Words were one thing, but Xena knew better than most that the real truth was more often found in the silences between them.

She felt Gabrielle lean against her, a relaxed surrender to her touch that made a fire start in her own guts. She explored the blond woman’s lips, tasting the spiced apple on them as her fingers traced the outline of Gabrielle’s face.

Her body growled, desire pulsing up inside her as she deepened her kiss, allowing her other hand to touch Gabrielle’s side. The ribs under her fingers expanded sharply, and she felt the tiny gasp of air between their lips.

She made a more solid contact, and the warmth of Gabrielle’s body came through the fabric as she explored slowly upward, running her touch over each rib felt clearly through the skin until she reached the firm curve of the slave’s breast.

A small, half surprised sound emerged from Gabrielle’s throat. Xena chuckled softly and probed deeper with her tongue, almost making a refined squawk of her own when Gabrielle’s hand gently stroked her upper thigh.

There was reverence in the touch that charmed her.

Xena came up for a breath of air and watched Gabrielle’s eyelids flutter open, revealing mist green eyes gone almost hazel with passion.   With a smile, the queen rubbed noses with her, surprising a tiny chuckle out of the younger woman as she attempted to catch her breath.

Xena realized she was breathing a little harder as well, and her body was urging her to continue, her fingers tracing a slow line over Gabrielle’s rounded breast and feeling the nipple in it’s center tense under her light shirt.  “Like it so far?” She inquired.

“Uh.” Gabrielle had to swallow before she answered. “It’s.. um..”

“Intense?” Xena breathed in her ear, nibbling the lobe as she heard the air come out of Gabrielle’s chest in an almost subaudible groan. “Mmm… I like someone who appreciates what I do.”

Gabrielle shifted closer and reached out, then paused. “Is it okay if I….”

“Nah.” Xena told her, with wicked cheerfulness. “I’ll break your fingers.”  She nibbled the tip of Gabrielle’s nose and met the blinking green eyes. “Just kidding… go ahead.”

Gabrielle grinned, just a tiny bit, and stroked Xena’s arm as she tilted her head to receive another, more passionate kiss.

Xena found herself enjoying the moment immensely.  She suspected she was going to continue enjoying it, and her body was waking up to the sensation of Gabrielle’s hesitant touch. Half of her conscience still had misgivings, but a greater part of her was taking over, wanting the intimacy with a power that frankly surprised her.

Maybe it was Gabrielle’s innocence.  Xena tugged the laces loose on the slave’s shift. Or maybe it was the way she responded to Xena’s touch as though she were playing a harp and the slave’s utterances were it’s music.

“Wow.” Gabrielle murmured, somewhere near her ear. “You taste nice.”

Or maybe it was that she was just so damn cute. Xena felt her reservations jump out the window. “Thanks.”  She eased the shift off one of Gabrielle’s shoulders and got down to bare skin. “But you know what?”

Gabrielle had found the gap in the front of her robe and she ran a curious finger across Xena’s navel. “What?”

The queen sucked in a breath. “I’d taste a lot better on the bed.”


Xena put an arm around her and pulled her closer, exulting in the heat as their bodies touched. “Trust me.”  She slowly stood, carrying Gabrielle with her.

“I do.”  Gabrielle replied simply. “But I’m not really sure…”

Xena silenced her words with a kiss, pressing her body against the slaves and running her hand down Gabirelle’s side. “Don’t worry.” She whispered into her ear. “I’ll teach you.” 

The bed gathered them in. Xena stretched herself out fully, then planned out her attack.


Gabrielle watched the candlelight frame Xena’s outline as she settled herself into the soft surface of the bed, her body tingling all over.  Already the fear she’d been filled with was fading, being replaced by excitement and a tickling anticipation.

Xena’s robe was half open. Gabrielle wondered if she should loosen the belt of it, reaching out and taking hold of the soft fabric just as she felt Xena shift closer.

The next thing she felt was a tickle of cool air as her shift was slipped up over her hips, and the solid, almost shocking warmth of Xena’s hand as it touched her skin underneath. Her breathing started speeding up again, making her feel a little lightheaded. She kept hold of Xena’s belt as the queen gently rolled her over, achieving her own goal of pulling that robe open.

Oo.  Gabrielle found Xena leaning over her suddenly. She saw a flicker of light, then realized Xena held a dagger in her hand.  Her throat closed, and she felt her eyes widen as she gazed up at the queen wondering for a long horrible moment if she hadn’t just made a terrible mistake.

Xena must have seen it in her face. The dark haired woman’s head tilted to one side, blunting the intensity of her look and she winked at Gabrielle reassuringly.

The knife came closer, though, and Gabrielle couldn’t help but close her eyes as she felt the pressure of the blade against her belly.

She heard the sound of the knife penetrating the fabric of her shift, a soft popping noise that made her completely stop breathing.  The pressure traveled up her body, but no pain followed it, until she heard the light snap as the blade cut through the laces near her throat.

Then it stopped.

She kept her eyes closed, her heart pounding so fast she couldn’t count the beats. It had stopped being fun, and definitely stopped being exciting.

She felt like crying.

“Gabrielle.”  Xena’s voice was unexpectedly gentle.

Fearfully, she forced her eyes open. The knife was gone, and Xena was leaning over her.

“I’ve got a hole in my back. Wrestling off your dress wasn’t in my plans.” The queen told her.

Gabrielle let out a breath. “Oh.”

“Did you really think I was going to waste all that foreplay just to cut you to pieces?” Xena inquired, an odd note sounding in her words.

Gabrielle felt a touch foolish. “I’m sorry.” She whispered. “I didn’t know what was happening.”

Xena eased down next to her, brushing her body against the slaves. She slid a hand behind Gabrielle’s head and leaned close to her, until they were almost nose to nose. “Listen to me.” She captured the slave’s eyes, letting the reins loose on her own personality a little. “I won’t hurt you.”

Gabrielle exhaled, feeling some of the tension leave her. She very much wanted to believe Xena, and looking up into those candelit blue eyes there was something inside her heart reassuring her that she could. Hesitantly, she lifted her hand up and touched Xena’s cheek, exploring those strong planes curiously as she felt the queen smile under her fingertips. “Okay.”

“You believe me?” Xena asked, easing the cut shift aside and running a hand down Gabrielle’s now bare belly.

Gabrielle nodded, feeling her body respond strongly to the touch.

The queen dipped her head and nipped her slave very lightly on the collarbone, lifting up to meet her eyes again. “I could hurt you, if I wanted to.”

“I know.” Gabrielle whispered.

“But I don’t want to.” Xena said. “I want to make you feel good.”  She cupped Gabrielle’s breast and ran her thumb gently over the nipple. “I want you to  enjoy this, and not be afraid of me. Think you can manage that?”

Gabrielle brushed the back of her knuckles over the queen’s lips, her body already coming up with it’s own answer. She nodded, the need to lose herself again in those beautiful eyes becoming the focus of her thoughts. The fear faded, it’s lingering chill brushed aside by Xena’s lips as they touched hers, bringing that sweet taste back.

Xena’s body pressed against hers.  Gabrielle’s hand brushed against the queen’s hip as she felt Xena’s touch slide up her belly, exploring her curiously.

It felt good. Gabrielle sucked in a breath, swallowing against a suddenly dry throat. Xena’s lips moved lower, suckling at the base of her throat as the queen eased a knee between hers.  It felt very good, and she exhaled, a low sound vibrating her vocal cords unexpectedly.

Xena laughed softly, her breath warming Gabrielle’s skin.

Gabrielle felt that same warmth envelope her breast, then a jolt of sensation nearly made her eyes pop out of her head as Xena’s lips teased and nipped at her. It was an amazing feeling, like little bolts were flying all over her skin and it made her want more of it.

Xena seemed inclined to provide that, because while she kept doing what she was doing, she also started stroking the inside of Gabrielle’s leg and that…

Gabrielle could feel a fire igniting in her guts, warm and strange and more compelling than anything else she’d ever felt before.  It set her heart racing, and she could barely control her body’s response. She tangled her fingers in Xena’s dark hair and curled forward, burying her face in the spicy scented skin of the queen’s neck.

A new coolness, as her underwraps were peeled off and Xena’s touch became very personal indeed.  Gabrielle could feel a pressure building inside her that was almost unbearable as she uttered a groan.

“Hurting you?” Xena’s voice rasped in her ear, accompanied by a lick and a nibble on her lobe.

“N…augh… n..” Gabrielle didn’t know what Xena was doing, but her entire body felt like it was about to go into convulsions.  “Oh!”

“I’m gonna take that as a no.” Xena chuckled, ducking her head and nibbling her way down Gabrielle’s body.  She could feel the slave’s hands clenched in her hair and she explored the slim body with a sense of delighted pleasure. It was as though whatever she did, wherever she touched was just the right thing and place to drive her little friend out of her mind.

She’d never had someone be so responsive to her before, and the power was, even for someone as used to power as Xena, intoxicating. 

“Augh.” The groan came out of Gabrielle’s guts this time.

Xena felt Gabrielle’s body pressed against her touch, straining as her touch became a little more insistent. She went a little deeper, and as she did she felt a strong grip take hold of her neck, surprising her with it’s power as Gabrielle’s body arced against her.

The slave let out a yell.

Xena fuzzily thought it was much more pleasant than a scream.

Gabrielle felt like her skin was turning inside out. She grabbed hold of Xena, beyond fear at this point, and clutched her as her body shuddered, convulsing with a sensation so powerful it made her hearing stop for a moment, narrowing down to the thunder of her own heartbeat.

It didn’t stop, but crested and rolled over her, shuddering through her and making her nape hairs stand up straight in an odd chill as the room’s air pass through them.  For a long moment, all she could feel was heat, then her body resumed breathing as the sensation slowed and gentled, and Xena’s lips teasingly captured hers again and coaxed the breath from them.

Gods. All Gabrielle could do was respond weakly, her fingers stroking Xena’s cheek. “Augh.”

“Hmmm…. Is that good or bad?” Xena’s voice wound around her mind.

“Gg…h.. wow.”

“Mm… sounds like a good to me.”  The queen continued her touches, as her slave’s body relaxed against her.

Gabrielle nestled against Xena’s neck, breathing in her scent. “”  She uttered. “Wow.”

Xena paused a moment, and glanced down as a thought suddenly occurred to her. “You like?” She felt Gabrielle nod. “Good.”  

A tentative touch on her belly surprised her a little. Xena felt the girl’s fingertips explore her with hesitant curiosity.

“Will you  teach me to do that?” Gabrielle whispered.

Xena chuckled. “Oh, I hope so.” She said. “We’ll take it nice and slow. We’ve got plenty of time.”

“Mm.” Gabrielle gave her a sudden, and somewhat unexpected hug. “Heard so many bad stories… wasn’t like that at all.”

“Of course not.” Xena kissed her, confident in her ownership now. “Those stories had men in them.”

“Mm.. yeah.” The slave agreed, tracing Xena’s lips with her thumb. “They don’t know what they’re missing, huh?”

The queen chuckled wickedly, a low, full sound that resonated through her entire chest. “Oh.. you’re a fast learner. Lucky me.”  She chortled softly. “Ready for your first lesson?”

Gabrielle laughed with her, wondering why she’d ever been afraid.

But it had been a very long day, and Xena decided to postpone her little instruction session when an injudicious movement of her shoulder woke her abruptly to the memory of the injury she’d suffered. She settled for a period of warmly languid kissing and slow strokes of their hands as they lay quietly together.

Gabrielle had definitely caught on to the idea of saying nice things to her. Xena couldn’t recall when the last time was that she’d been told that often how pretty she was.

By someone who actually meant it. The queen eyed the ceiling, acknowledging her own vanity with a wry smile.  But there was no sense in denying the fact that it felt good and her ego appreciated the attention quite a bit more than she’d thought it would.

Now it was silent, save for the soft popping of the fireplace logs, and dark.  Xena was lying half on her side, one arm around Gabrielle’s relaxed body as she watched the faint, red flickers float across the room.

She was tired and almost sleepy. Soon, she would close her eyes and let the darkness take her, but it felt nice to simply lay in her bed and not be alone, for the first time in a very long time indeed.

Gabrielle was curled up, her body nestling against Xena’s and the queen could just feel the steady warmth of the girl’s breath against her ribs. In the dim light she could see Gabrielle’s profile , half hidden by her disheveled hair and the sight of the just barely visible smile brought a matching one to Xena’s face.

Gabrielle.  Xena rolled the name around in her mind, liking it’s rhythm.  

There had been many one night stands in her past. Xena preferred to find someone good looking, and take them to bed, relieving her pent up sexual energy and then tossing them out on their ass before the candles burned lowest.

But not this time. Xena rubbed a bit of the pale hair between her fingers. She had no desire whatsoever to toss Gabrielle out of her bed, out of her quarters, or out of her life.  She liked this kid. She liked her spunk and her innocence, and the powerful heart Xena could sense behind the youthful veneer.

She wanted to keep her. Xena exhaled contentedly. And she always got what she wanted.


For a while, Gabrielle just lay there with her eyes closed.

So many things had happened, she wanted to have the time to look at each one of them before she let life continue to flow around her, and this quiet darkness seemed like a good place to do that in.

She could feel Xena’s arm around her, and the warmth of the queen’s body in the cool air of the room was very comforting, as was the now getting to be familiar scent that just seemed to be a part of her. 

Gabrielle thought for a minute about where she was. The sureallness of it all almost made her head spin. What had happened to her the night before almost made her head spin.

Remembering how wonderful it had felt almost made other parts of her spin.


Now she really was what everyone thought she was. Gabrielle considered that seriously. The queen’s bedmate.

Her shoulders shook a little as an unexpected giggle emerged. They all said it like it was some kind of horror – Gabrielle suspected now that far from being a despised role, that everyone secretly was envious of it.  Xena had been right – she was a gorgeous woman, and she practically dripped sensuality, so much so that Gabrielle could feel a tingle starting up in her again just thinking about it.

It wasn’t at all like what had gone on down in the barracks. Xena hadn’t treated her like one of the stable animals at all – she’d treated her like….

Gabrielle opened her eyes, the dim light from the window and fireplace showing her bare outlines of Xena’s body inches from her nose. It was hard to remember such a short time ago, when she’d been terrified of this woman.

Xena had treated her like someone she valued. Someone whose well being were important to her.

It was a very special feeling. Gabrielle knew she’d never experienced it before. At home she’d just been one more of the village girls, just another pair of hands, another mouth to feed.

Strange that she’d had to become a slave to experience what this felt like. That seemed so wrong to her, so backwards, but no matter – it was the truth and she was glad she now knew what it felt like to be cared for as just herself.

How long would it last, though? Gabrielle exhaled. Will she get tired of me now?  Now that Xena had gotten what she wanted, would she send Gabrielle back to the kitchens, and select someone else?


Gabrielle almost jumped off the bed when she felt the light tap on her butt. “Errrguh.” She managed to strangle a yelp and roll onto her back, looking up at Xena. “Um…. Hi.”

“Why aren’t you sleeping?” Xena asked.

“Um.. I was just…”

Xena covered her lips with her fingers. “Let me prove my royal omnipotence.  You were thinking, right?”

Gabrielle nodded.

“What about?”

What about? Should she tell Xena, or would the queen think it impertinent?  Gabrielle nibbled her lip  as she thought. Something about the darkness, and the intimacy robbed her of any fear. “About what happens next.”

Xena chuckled softly. “Can’t even wait for the morning? My my.”

Gabrielle realized how that sounded and had to muffle a giggle. “That’s not what I…meant.”

“Mm.” The queen’s low voice burred against her ears. “You mean, what happens next to you, now that I’ve salaciously seduced you and taken you to bed?”

The blushing thing was really getting old. Gabrielle rubbed her face.

“You get tossed in the midden and used as a dishrag.” Xena told her. “And I move on to the next conquest.”

Gabrielle looked up at her, seeing the briefest flash of light of her eyes. “Really?”

Xena smiled. “No.”

Somehow, part of her had known that. Gabrielle found Xena’s hand lying across her belly and she took it, tangling her fingers with the queen’s. 

“I don’t find people I can tolerate, much less like very often. I like to keep them around as long as possible.” Xena went on. “So don’t worry about it.”

“Okay.” Gabrielle snuggled closer. “I’m glad.”

“Oh, you are, huh?” Xena found herself chuckling. “Yeah, me too.” She found herself unexpectedly feeling an impulsive urge and gave into it, gathering Gabrielle into her arms and giving her a hug.  She heard the a surprised gurgle come out of the kid, then Gabrielle was returning the hug with some enthusiasm.

Funny. It made her heart beat almost as fast as Gabrielle’s shy touch the night before.  Xena felt a warm, nameless emotion rising in her, sweet as honey, and it intensified as Gabrielle put her head down on her shoulder and gave her a light, almost feathery kiss on the top of her breast.

Xena rested her cheek against the top of Gabrielle’s head and lost herself in the feeling.  It was so different than anything she’d ever known before, not the fire of sensuality but something much gentler and more encompassing.

She liked it. It made her feel good for reasons that really didn’t have anything to do with sex.  With one hand, she rubbed Gabrielle’s back. The girl had an arm draped over Xena’s stomach and it tightened in a light squeeze.  “You keep doing that, and I’ll keep you around for the rest of your life.”

Gabrielle lifted her head, her eyes visible in the moonlight as she looked at Xena in surprise.

Xena raised an eyebrow at her.

The slave made a tiny, happy face, then put her head back down and gave Xena another hug.

Xena let her eyes close, and in the warmth of this novel sensation, allowed sleep to take her at last.


Gabrielle held her head up high as she descended the last few stairs into the kitchen.  She was dressed in one of her blue work tunics, but it was thrown over her leggings and boots against the chill of the stronghold. The weather had turned again before dawn, and it was gray outside and storming.

Heads turned as she entered the room, and she paused a moment to take a quick look around for any of her fellow slave mates and take in a breath of air filled with the nutty scent of porridge.

Not spotting any of her friends, Gabrielle turned and made her way to the hearth, aware of the people edging away from her as she moved through the crowded kitchen.  “Hello.” She greeted the cook in a quiet voice. “I need some breakfast for her Majesty.”

The woman, the same one who had cruelly lashed her and the rest on their first arrival, wiped her hands hastily and nodded. “Yes, of course. What is her Majesty’s pleasure?”

Oh. Gabrielle peered at the foods available Good question.  She wondered if Xena liked porridge, which Gabrielle herself had never been that fond of. Perhaps it had been her mother’s version of it, which had tasted much like the paste the carpenter used to seal the joints in the furniture he made back in Potadeia. 

However, there was fruits and nuts, especially the thick black walnuts she’d often collected in the forest to put on it and she figured a loaf of fresh bread would go a long way to making up for it if it turned out Xena felt the same way about cereal that she did. She watched the cook set up a silver tray, two others leaving their tasks and coming over to help.

Silver bowls, painfully polished were set on the tray.  Gabrielle picked up a pitcher at random from the silver ones set by and went to the cider barrel, reflecting that Xena’s policy of eating from the common stock was probably a really really smart idea.

Stanislaus entered from the far side of the kitchen. He spotted her and hurried over, inspecting the tray with a jealous eye. “Good morning, Gabrielle.” He greeted her. “Is her Majesty awake, then?”

“Yes, she is.” Gabrielle answered, unable to quite repress a smile.

The seneschal studied her closely. “I see.”  He murmured. “I have her day’s schedule. I must confirm it with her.” He bustled off importantly, his status apparently reaffirmed by the previous day’s events.

Gabrielle watched him go, looking around and realizing that the atmosphere was indeed different than it had been the prior few days. There was a quietness… a watchfulness that put her nape hairs up, and made her wonder at what Bregos defeat had really accomplished.

She kept an eye on the cooks as the filled the bowl with steaming porridge, and brought her jug of cider over as she picked up a loaf of warm bread on it’s platter with herb butter and set it next to the cereal as the porridge settled into it’s level. “Some of those fruits, please.” She pointed.

One of the helpers brought her a bowl, and she set it on the tray.  Then she picked the silver salver up by it’s handles and turned.  She saw all the eyes avert themselves as she walked across the kitchen to the guarded door, two of Xena’s men standing spraddle legged on either side of the bottom stair.

No one came within a body length of her. An awkward silence surrounded Gabrielle as she passed between the guards and started upward, her passage unhindered and unremarked by them.

She got to the top of the stairs in time to see Alaran crossing the round hallway. He was dressed in his court gear, and appeared slightly preoccupied.

 He came over to her and inspected the tray, giving it a brief nod. “Did you watch the bowls?” He asked crisply.

Gabrielle nodded.

“Good.” Alaran guided her towards the queen’s outer chamber. He opened the door and stood back to let her pass, then followed her inside and closed the door behind both of them.

Stanislaus was waiting in the chamber, peering out of the window and watching the weather worsen. Xena was nowhere to be seen, which wasn’t surprising since Gabrielle had left the queen in bed. She eased past the seneschal and went to the inner door, bumping it lightly with her hip to open it. “Excuse me.” She gave them both a brief smile, before she disappeared into the inner bedroom, closing them out with a sense of wry pleasure.

Xena looked up as she entered. The queen was still sprawled in bed, the silk top sheet draped over her naked body as she reviewed a scroll. “That was fast.”

“Well.” Gabrielle set the tray down. “It’s not like I had to cook it.”

The queen chuckled. “Can you?”

“Cook?” Gabrielle looked up from her task. “Sure.”

Xena rolled over onto her side and propped her head up on one hand. “Really. Hm.” She considered. “I think I’m going to have you cook dinner for me tonight, then.” She paused, watching the shyly pleased smile cross Gabrielle’s face. “Twice.”

The blond girl paused in mid motion and peered over her shoulder. Her expression was uncertain.

“Yes, that was about sex.” Xena drawled. “Y’know, Gabrielle, you need to get past that shepherd mentality.”

Gabrielle wrinkled her nose, and ended up grinning bashfully at her. “You have some visitors outside.” She indicated the door.

“Too bad.” Xena said. “Let me guess, Alaran and Stanislaus?”


Xena rolled onto her back and put a hand behind her head. “If I let them stew out there long enough, maybe they’ll come up with something useful to tell me.” She decided. “Is that cereal?”

“Yes.” Gabrielle mixed in some bits of fruit, and some nuts. Then she drizzled a little honey over the thick porridge.

“I hate that.”

“Me, too.” Gabrielle acknowledged. “But if you put enough stuff in it, it’s not that bad.”

“Mmmm….. “ Xena shook her head. “No, no… there’s nothing you could put in that bowl that would entice me to taste it, Gabrielle.” She paused thoughtfully. “Not even if you climbed in, I don’t think.”

Gabrielle’s shoulders shook . “Is that a challenge to my cooking skills?”  She asked. “Well, I have some bread and fruit here, too.”

“Tch. Giving up so easily?” Xena found herself enjoying the banter immensely. “C’mon, you can do better than that.”

The slave picked up one of the bowls and approached, kneeling down on the carpet next to the bed with her offering. “Could you just taste it?”

“Grrrrrr….” Xena made a face.

Gabrielle grinned. “Please?”

“If I don’t like it, can I cut one of your fingers off?” The queen slitted her eyes and looked extraordinarily fierce for a naked women under a silk sheet.

“Um.” Gabrielle winced and flexed her hands. “If you really want to, I guess.”

Xena kept her waiting for a few seconds, then finally she spoke. “G’wan, if you dare.” She opened her mouth and lifted her eyebrows invitingly.

Encouraged, Gabrielle picked up the spoon.

“Ah ah ah.” Xena shook her head warningly. She wiggled her fingers.

“Oh.” The slave put the spoon down, then gingerly scooped up a bit of the cereal on her index finger. She paused to make sure it was going to stay there, then boldly extended her hand and delivered the stuff into the queen’s waiting mouth.

Xena’s teeth immediately snapped shut on her finger, and held tight.  

Gabrielle’s eyes widened.

The queen grinned wickedly, keeping hold of her while her tongue worked at the bit of cereal. After a moment, she opened her jaws and released Gabrielle’s finger, then swallowed with a look of distinct surprise on her face. “Mm.” She licked her lips. “What did you put in that?”

“Did you like it?” Gabrielle examined her hand, which now had faint but distinct teeth marks on it.

“No I hated it, and I just want to make sure no one ever makes anything that tastes like that again.” Xena remarked dryly. “What did you put in there?”

Gabrielle guessed that she was being teased. “Some apple, walnuts, cinnamon, and honey.” She offered Xena a spoonful. “Did you hate it enough to try another mouthful?”

“Give me that.” Xena captured the bowl from her and pulled herself up in bed, the sheet keeping her only barely modest. “Go get your own.”

Gabrielle got up and went back to the tray, pleased at her success. It had been her one modest skill back at home, since she’d been lousy at just about every other homely craft.  She fixed her own bowl and set it aside, then she cut off some slices of bread and spread the herb butter on it.  She poured cider into one of the crystal goblets and brought it, and the bread over to Xena’s bedside.

Xena looked up at her as she knelt again. “You know what your problem is?” She asked bluntly. “You’ve got too many clothes on.”

“B..” Gabrielle bit her tongue accidentally.  “Ow. Um… it’s cold.”

“Not under here it isn’t.” Xena’s eyes twinkled over her bowl of cereal.  She chuckled at Gabrielle’s expression, then she leaned over towards her. “How does the hole in my back look?”

Gabrielle set the bread and cider down on the table and put a hand on the queen’s shoulder, peering at the injury on her back. “Oh.”  She murmured in surprise.  The swollen redness of the skin had greatly reduced, and the place where she’d sewn the wound closed was scabbed over and apparently intact. “Not that bad, really.”

“Mm.” Xena flexed her arm a little. “Feels better.” She straightened and went back to her cereal. “Just needed some rest… matter of fact, I think I’ll decree today stay in bed day.”  She scraped the last of the cereal up and swallowed it. “What do you think about that, slave?”

“Well.” Gabrielle took the bowl. “Do I get to stay in bed too?” She asked, stuttering just slightly.

Xena ran a fingertip along the inside seam of Gabrielle’s leggings, up the inside of her thigh. “Of course.” She said. “Don’t’ you like to spend rainy days in bed, Gabrielle?”

Gabrielle turned and looked outside the window, where sleeting rain was now rattling the panes. “No, I never got to do that.” She admitted. “We weren’t allowed to stay in bed past sunrise, because of all the chores and things we had to do. I was in charge of the animals.”

“Well, this is your time for firsts, isn’t it?” Xena sipped from her cup. “Go get your breakfast. I’ll get rid of the small chittering animals in the next room, then we can induct you into the sleeping in the daylight club.”

Feeling a mixture of sensual excitement and embarrassment, Gabrielle retreated to the tray on the table and picked up her bowl, sitting on the padded chair next to the table and taking a spoonful of it. She was aware of Xena getting up out of bed and going to the bathing room, but she managed to force herself to keep her eyes on her breakfast and not gawk.

Moments later, Xena emerged in a scarlet robe, a thick woven fabric lined with a strip of soft, white fur. She tightened the belt around her waist and walked to the door, giving Gabrielle a wink before she slipped through it.

Ooo… Gabrielle took a bite of bread. Xena had a very sexy walk, and she wondered why she’d just noticed that now.


“All right.” Xena walked to her big chair and sat in it, facing her two servants.  “Talk fast. I’ve got plans for today that don’t include either of you.”

Alaran bowed in Stanislaus’ direction.

The seneschal inclined his head politely. “Mistress, I had thought to consolidate your victory by assembling the loyal nobles for a luncheon with you today.”

“No.” Xena shook her head. “No audiences today. I won’t be attending court, or the ballroom for dinner.”


“Hearing going? Maybe you’re too old to be doing this.” The queen stated flatly.

“Mistress…” Alaran spoke up. “My esteemed colleague has an excellent notion. The loyal ones would be drawn closer by such an event.”

“I don’t give a damn.” Xena said. “Set them up tomorrow if you want. Not today.”  She pointed to the window. “You think they’d like to travel here in that? I’d spend the rest of the winter season getting the stink of wet wool out of my chambers.”

“Most of them have stayed here in the stronghold, Mistress.” Stanislaus murmured.

“Good. Then have them served in their chambers, with my compliments.” The queen said. “Have the staff put something nice, like roses or maybe a dead rat on the tray. Something to show my gracious appreciation of their loyalty.”

Stanislaus fingered his goatee. Then he nodded. “It would be well, Mistress.” He agreed. “I will arrange for something delightful for them.”  He said. “But for you not to appear today…”

“Will just have to be coped with. If anyone asks, tell them I’m spending the day reviewing the wagers my spies reporting everyone making, to see what punitive action I might want to take.”

Stanislaus grunted, blinking as he absorbed the message. “That will put them thinking.”

“I doubt it, unless they take their pants off and air out their brains.” Xena rolled her eyes.

“Very well, Mistress. Shall I have your service brought for dinner, then?” The seneschal asked. “I believe the cook acquired some pheasant, which she knows you favor.”

Xena grinned. “I have dinner plans already. Tell the cook no thanks.”

With a frown, Stanislaus gave up. He bowed. “Very well, Mistress.”  He executed a neat about face and headed for the outer door, tucking his hands inside the sleeves of his tunic. 

Xena waited for him to close the door. Then she turned to regard Alaran. “Well?”

The security chief folded his arms. “There are those who are very discontented, my liege, but they are but few in number, and afraid of your men.” He stated. “The revelry in the barracks last night was prodigious. The men are very pleased, and tell stories of your defeat of Bregos at every corner.”

“Good.” Xena relaxed. “I figured the fight put a cap on things. Keep an ear on those damn troublemaker supporters of Bregos, though. They’re too stupid not to want to try to keep stirring things up.”

Alaran nodded. “Tis possible, my liege. Though after last night’s supper, most of them are wearing high collared shirts.”

They both chuckled.  Xena flexed her hand. “Ah.. been a long time since I did that. Felt good.” She admitted. “It all felt good.”

“And was quite impressive, my lady, as we all remember it to be.” Alaran smiled at her. “It was good, very good for those who were not with you in the field to see that prowess. Many were surprised.”

“Mm.” Xena nodded. “Good to remind them all once in a while.” She shifted, and leaned on one chair arm. “Anything else?”

“You are well, my liege?” Alaran asked quietly. “I thought I saw the bastard get a hit in on you during the fight.”  He watched her closely, without seeming to.

“Never felt better.” Xena replied, in a soft drawl. “Gabrielle’s taken very… very good care of me.”  She stretched her arms up over her head and laced her fingers behind her skull. The pull hurt, but not anywhere near what it had just the day prior. A good night’s sleep, indeed.  “Keep your eyes open, Alaran. Something still doesn’t smell right to me.”

“As you wish, my liege.” Alaran murmured. “Though I think your actions truly did put a halt to the darker machinations.”

Xena’s pale eyes watched him like a hawk’s. “Oh. Well that’s good to hear.” She smiled. “Maybe now we can move on to more profitable ventures. Like expanding the eastern territories, and finding that mysterious kingdom who gifted me with that lovely box.”

Alaran smiled in return. “Just so, my liege. There are far better things for you to turn your attention to.”  He bowed low. “I leave you to your rest, then. The little one, she is also well? Many noted her presence with you the day.”

“Gabrielle is spectacular.” Xena told him. “And you can spread the word for me that seeing her in my presence is something everyone better get very, very used to.”

Alaran’s eyebrows hiked. “Indeed, majesty?”

“Indeed.” Xena replied.

The security chief rubbed the toe of his boot across the stone floor of the chamber, pursing his lips before he spoke. “Majesty, if I might be so bold.. one of the issues that brought on Brego’s feeble attempt at insurrection is the uncertainty the nobles feel about the continuity of your reign.”

“Too bad.” Xena said. “Tell them I’ll leave the throne to the nicest looking donkey in the pits if I want to. I won’t have them dictating my life, Alaran.”


“OUT!” Xena lost her temper with shocking suddenness. “Leave me!”

Holding both hands up, Alaran backed off. “As you will, Mistress.”  He backed all the way to the door and left the room, never taking his eyes off the glaring woman in the chair by the window.

Xena sat there until the flush of anger faded. Her hands twitched on the arms to her chair, and she closed her eyes, trying to rid herself of the roil of emotion Alaran’s protestation raised.

The inside door slowly opened, and Gabrielle’s blond head appeared around the edge of it.

Xena stood up and straightened her robe, then stepped down from her chair and walked to the inner door. “So much for that.”

“You know something?” Gabrielle opened the door for her and stood back so she could enter. “I don’t think I like those guys.”  She told Xena. “I just don’t.”

Xena put an arm around her and pulled her close, delighted when that nice feeling happened again. “They have their uses, Gabrielle.” She told the girl. “Don’t’ worry about them. Now. Where were we? I think I told you to lose the clothes, didn’t I?”

Sleet rattled the panes of the window, and they both looked at it. Xena dismissed the irritation she’d felt moments before and concentrated on Gabrielle’s close presence.  Alaran was an old worry wart, and had been for years. The nobles may grumble, but Xena knew when it came right down to it, they wouldn’t have the guts to challenge her.

Didn’t what happened with Bregos prove that?  Who cared what they wanted?

“C’mere.” Xena bent her head and kissed Gabrielle’s lips, tasting the cider on them.  She had what she wanted, right here.

To Hades with all of them.


Continued in Part 10