DISCLAIMER: Xena Warrior Princess is the property of Renaissance Pictures and MCA.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Della Street
The door to the throne room opened. Diophenes approached the king and his guest, the renowned Warrior Princess.
"The men have returned from the village, sire."
The Warrior Princess shifted her gaze to King Arrius. "Which village?" she asked casually.
"Raeus." Arrius did not notice the slight change in his visitor's expression. "They've been holding back on their tribute. I thought it best to make an example of them."
"I thought Raeus was a neutral village. Is it one of yours?"
"I took it a few months ago. Can't have neutral villages cluttering up the landscape." Xena smiled encouragingly at his joke.
The king turned to his general. "Did they bring them?"
"They brought all that they found, sire."
Arrius clasped his hands together. "Shall we see the spoils?" he asked, pleased with himself.
"By all means."
"Bring them in."
Diophenes bowed and left the room.
"What are you going to do with them?"
"I know, so many choices," Arrius said happily. "Enslave the women, kill the men. Enslave them all, kill them all."
"Well, I've always found that a live slave makes a longer lasting impression than a pile of dead villagers," Xena said. "And it looks like you could use some extra hands. Your north wall is vulnerable."
"It is? How do you know?"
Xena smiled at him. "Arrius, you don't think I'd come all this way and just walk in, do you?"
Her host laughed. "Ah, Xena. So good to have you back here again. It's been too long since we last did business."
"Well, maybe if you were closer to civilization you'd hear more news of the world."
"Maybe. But isolation has its advantages. I don't have to worry about overly ambitious warlords trying to add my kingdom to their collection. Except you, of course."
Xena smiled. "Nah. A deal's a deal."
The door burst open and dozens of men and women were propelled into the room. Xena's eyes quickly scanned the crowd.
Diophenes' lieutenant approached.
"What happened to you, Crallus?" The king pointed to the soldier's bloody face.
Diophenes laughed. "One of the peasants fights better than my lieutenant, sire!" he bellowed. Crallus stood silently, stone faced.
"Well, perhaps we should have this warrior in our army," Arrius declared.
"Perhaps, my lord." Diophenes and his men laughed.
Arrius gestured toward Xena. "Now, my dear, it seems only fitting that I offer you first pick of the spoils." He smiled suggestively. "Perhaps you might like some company tonight. There are some interesting specimens here."
Xena looked out at the prisoners. "You know, Arrius, that's not a bad idea." She rose from her chair and sauntered toward the group, strolling leisurely in front of them. She paused before a handsome young man and slowly ran her hand down his bare chest. Watching from his throne, Arrius wiped perspiration from his forehead.
"Mmmm. You're right, Arrius. Some very interesting specimens." Xena continued her inspection, until she stood near Crallus. She turned her back on him and said loudly, "I'll take the one who broke Crallus' nose."
A roar erupted from Diophenes and his soldiers. Xena turned to face them. "What's so funny?"
Diophenes, enjoying himself, shouted to one of his men. "You heard her." The soldier entered the group and brought forth a struggling captive.
Xena stood and crossed her arms. "Well, well." Without moving her head she said, "I'm impressed, Crallus." Another roar from the men. "What's your name?"
"Gabrielle. What's yours?" the young woman said venomously.
Xena looked at Arrius, an eyebrow raised, then turned back to her prize. "My name's Xena." She reached out and backhanded Gabrielle across the face, hard. "And I suggest you watch your tone."
A red patch appeared on Gabrielle's face. She stood rigid, but slightly less defiant.
"Now what's a little village girl like you doing beating up soldiers?" Xena extended a hand, but Gabrielle pulled her face away. An angry look crossed Xena's face, and she made a move toward the smaller woman. Gabrielle flinched, fear in her eyes.
"That's right. You don't disobey me. You're learning." Xena regarded her closely. "But you'd still like to kill me, wouldn't you?" Gabrielle did not reply.
"Well, Xena, I won't hold you to your selection," Arrius called out, amused. "You may choose another."
Xena stood for a moment, contemplating the girl standing before her. "Actually, Arrius, they say variety is the spice of life." She reached out and grabbed the back of the girl's head, forcing their mouths together in a hard kiss. Gabrielle shoved against Xena's chest and tried to pull her mouth away, but the warrior's grip was too strong. After a moment, Xena released her and turned to Arrius. "I think I'll try something different tonight." She walked back and resumed her seat.
Arrius swallowed, and wiped more sweat from his brow. "Take her to Xena's room. Bind her." He looked from Xena to Gabrielle and back again. "Bring me some water!" he barked.
"My lord." Crallus approached, his head slightly bowed. "I had hoped to take the girl for myself."
"Well, Crallus, she's already done enough damage. You might not survive the night." Diophenes and his men erupted again. "I have given Xena first choice, and she chose her. You may have one of the others."
Arrius waved in Gabrielle's direction. Two soldiers picked her up, and a scuffle began. "No! I won't! Ow!"
"Hey! I don't want her roughed up," Xena yelled out to them. She turned to Arrius and grinned. "Not yet anyway."
They watched as the soldiers carried Gabrielle outside, still fighting them. "I don't know, Xena. She's a handful."
"Mmm. I hope so."
Arrius shifted in his throne. "Fans!" he ordered.
Xena stepped into her room and shut the door behind her. She walked quickly up to the bed, where Gabrielle lay with her hands and feet bound.
"Wow, they didn't gag you?"
Gabrielle shot a fierce look at her.
"Sorry. Not a good time for jokes, I guess." She went to work on the ropes and soon Gabrielle was sitting up, rubbing her sore wrists.
"Gee, thanks for showing up. I'm sure eventually the ropes would have eaten themselves away enough for me to get loose."
Xena smiled and pursed her lips. "Do you have a point to make?"
"No, actually I like being tied up on a bed for hours while my friend goes to a party."
Xena shrugged and held up a piece of rope. "OK . . ."
Gabrielle raised her palms. "All right. Truce."
Xena sat beside her on the bed. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. Other than I've been beaten up and kissed by my best friend."
Xena reached up and touched the slap mark on Gabrielle's face, fading but still visible. "I'm sorry about that."
"It's OK. I know you had to do it." She began to rub her wrists again.
"Nah, not really."
Gabrielle looked up sharply into Xena's grinning countenance. "Well, you're certainly in a -- festive -- mood," she said, managing to make the word sound menacing. "How much port have you had?"
"Hey, I have to fit in, you know."
"Yeah, well, I'd say you're probably pretty snug about now."
Xena grinned again, impulsively hugging her friend to her, happy to see her. The bard smiled in spite of herself, and Xena released her.
"So how'd you know it was me, anyway? That broke Crallus' nose."
"Hm? Oh, I didn't. I thought it was the cute guy in front."
Green eyes stared at her. Xena laughed and said, "I know your abilities, Gabrielle." She mussed up her friend's hair. "And I figured that was why Crallus was so embarrassed."
Gabrielle rose, stretching, and walked over to a beverage table near the wall. As she inspected the various carafes, Xena joined her, picking up one of the bottles. "Want a little port?"
"I think you've had enough for both of us."
"I haven't had that much. I'm just in a good mood."
Gabrielle looked at her.
"Give me a break. It happens."
"Oh, yeah, sure. I don't know why I didn't recognize it."
Xena glared at her affectionately.
Gabrielle poured them each a cup of port. She took a quick sip from her cup, then a longer one, then refilled the cup. "So what's the plan?"
"First I have to ravish you, then tomorrow we'll look for the scroll." She grinned. "How much of a fight are you going to put up?"
"I'll fight to the death before submitting to a depraved warlord like you."
"Well, I think if I kill you it'll take some of the fun out of it." Xena thought for a moment. ". . . maybe."
"Hey, none of that! You know what'll happen to my reputation if someone hears you giggling while I force myself on you?"
Gabrielle covered her mouth, snickering. She calmed down for a moment. "OK, how's this?" She dropped the port bottle on the floor, smashing it, and threw herself loudly against the wall. "Stop it, you beast!" she yelled.
Xena rolled her eyes. She grabbed her playful companion and pulled her away from the table. "Get over here."
"Well, that's more like it," Gabrielle said teasingly. "You animal."
"Gabrielle, how much of that port did you have?"
They heard a light knock on the door. Xena reached out and grabbed Gabrielle's tunic, tearing it off her.
"Hey . . ."
Xena tossed the garment to the ground and threw Gabrielle onto the bed, leaping up after her. She pinned the smaller body down with her own, kissing her forcefully.
Gabrielle's momentary confusion turned to comprehension when she saw the door start to open behind them. She reached out and pushed against Xena's shoulders, struggling valiantly to free herself from the warlord's vile embrace.
Footsteps entered the room, and Xena jerked her head around to see Crallus standing a few feet away. Her hands released Gabrielle's wrists, and she shielded Gabrielle's exposed torso from the soldier's view. "What are you doing in here?" she demanded angrily.
"I'm sorry," he said, obviously not sorry. "Arrius directed me to ask if everything is to your satisfaction."
"That's what I'm trying to find out. I don't need anything else right now." She returned her attention to Gabrielle, dismissing him. "Oh," she turned back and pointed. "Have that mended by morning."
Crallus picked up the tunic and held it for a moment, staring at the two figures on the bed.
"That's all," Xena said pointedly.
He pivoted and stalked out of the room.
"Tell me the truth, Xena. You and Crallus are in love."
Xena smiled. "I don't know why, but he just . . . irritates me."
"Not a surprise. I think it's your good instincts. He's such a pig. He--" She cut off her sentence.
Xena looked down at her, suspicious. "What?"
"Did he try something with you?"
"Well, I mean, . . . yeah." Anger came across Xena's face, and Gabrielle reached up and touched her cheek. "It's OK. He didn't . . ." She laughed. "In fact, that's how I broke his nose. It wasn't the first thing I hit with my staff. He doubled over, and wham! It was great."
Xena gazed at her smiling friend and tried to calm herself. She'd get Crallus later. She rolled over onto her back and stretched.
"Do you think he'll come back?"
"Nah. We should be on our own now. Consider yourself ravished."
Xena looked over at her.
"I mean, I don't have anything to wear now. It could be embarrassing."
Xena lowered her eyes to Gabrielle's breasts. "Oh, I don't think you have anything to be embarrassed about."
"I meant if he came back," Gabrielle said tartly. She stared up at the ceiling for a moment. "So, do you know where to find this scroll?"
It took Xena a moment to register the new subject. "I've only been able to eliminate a couple of rooms. We'll have to see what we can get into tomorrow."
"I won't have much opportunity to look around, will I? I mean, I'm a slave."
"Yeah, but you're my slave." Xena smiled. "I think I can keep you around without arousing too much suspicion. Of course, it'll arouse other things with Arrius."
Gabrielle turned her head. "What do you mean?"
Xena smiled at her. "Arrius seems very . . . interested in the thought of us together."
"Together. You mean . . ."
"Oh." Gabrielle resumed her examination of the ceiling.
"On the other hand, they might be suspicious," Xena said, her tongue in her cheek.
"Well, they'll expect you to be too exhausted to do any work. And dazed."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "My, don't we think a lot of ourselves. I think I'll just skip in there tomorrow and say, 'Oh, yeah. Xena did ravish me. I forgot.'"
Xena grinned. "If I ravished you, you wouldn't forget."
Gabrielle continued to stare at the ceiling for a moment, then turned her head and looked at Xena with a serious expression. "Really?" she said softly.
The smile faded from Xena's face, and her heart started pounding. What was happening here? Well, she knew what was happening, but this was Gabrielle . . .
Xena rolled over onto her back, bringing her mind into focus. She felt a hand on her arm and thought, You don't want to do that right now, Gabrielle. Her flesh burned where the delicate fingers touched it.
This is Gabrielle . . . she repeated to herself. What's the matter with me?
After a minute, she glanced over at her friend again. She didn't see the sweet, innocent girl she expected. She saw a loving, beautiful woman with a look on her face that sent electricity through the warrior's body. Xena raised herself up on her elbow, staring down at the beautiful face. She felt tension building as Gabrielle waited for her decision.
Xena's desire was stronger than she remembered it being before. And different. She knew if it were anyone else looking up at her, she wouldn't hesitate. Then she realized--If it were anyone else, I wouldn't feel this way.
She gradually lowered herself and touched her lips to Gabrielle's, enjoying their softness, her eyes closed. After a few moments, she parted her lips and searched out Gabrielle's tongue with her own.
Gabrielle cried out against her mouth and threw her arms around Xena's back, grasping her tightly. A feral growl uttered from her throat as Xena probed with her tongue, and Xena's breath quickened, a steady throbbing already beginning between her legs.
Xena moved her body in closer, then heard a soft "Mm!" She rose to her knees and unhooked her breastplate. "Sorry. Forgot." Not taking her eyes from Gabrielle, she dropped the breastplate on the floor and prepared to resume where she had left off. Gabrielle sat up and took Xena's face between her hands, kissing her.
Their mouths still together, Xena felt Gabrielle's hands move to the straps of her leather, pulling them down roughly over her shoulders. The leather came down over Xena's breasts, and Gabrielle let go of the straps. She drew back and gazed down at Xena's breasts, then grasped them firmly and squeezed them. Gabrielle closed her eyes for a moment, concentrating on their luscious fullness.
Xena watched with heavy-lidded eyes, stimulated not only by Gabrielle's hands, but at the passion in her friend's face and the urgency of her touch. She groaned and unconsciously arched her back at the sensation of warm lips on her breast. Gabrielle sucked intently, a contented "mmmm" vibrating from her throat. She moved her mouth to Xena's other breast, nipping it gently, then lay back and pulled the taller woman down on top of her. Xena's breast filled her mouth, muffling her sounds.
Xena raised herself slightly, her breast sliding out of the bard's mouth. Gabrielle protested, and lifted her head to retrieve her prize. Xena smiled and raised herself again, keeping it just out of reach. Gabrielle grunted and opened her eyes, looking up into teasing blue eyes. She smiled and wrapped her arms around the older woman's shoulders, then suddenly jerked down hard, driving Xena's arms out from under her. Gabrielle nuzzled and took her reward into her mouth again, her hands dancing across the warrior's back. 'Well,' Xena thought, 'this is a whole new Gabrielle.'
Several minutes later, Gabrielle rose again, leaning Xena's body back until she rested on her knees. Seeing the expression on Gabrielle's face, a mixture of determination and intense desire, Xena closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. The throbbing between her legs intensified.
Gabrielle reached out and pulled the leather rings off muscular arms, then gently pressed her backward. Xena straightened her legs out and lay on her back while Gabrielle unlaced her boots, efficient in her desire. She pulled them off and threw them on the floor, then pulled down the leather knee guards. Only one barrier now remained, and Gabrielle desperately grasped the sides of the leather that covered the rest of that lithe body. Xena raised her hips, and eager hands pulled it all the way off, tossing it into the pile of clothing strewn about the floor.
Gabrielle gazed at Xena's body for a long moment, motionless. Xena knew just what she was feeling. She had seen her friend naked many times, but she couldn't wait to tear her clothes off. Xena shook her head as her young lover began to lower herself. "Hmm mm." Gabrielle paused, uncertain. "I want to feel you," Xena said.
The bard straightened, reaching for the tie on her skirt. "I'll do that," Xena said. She sat up and pressed her torso against the smaller woman's, conscious of hot breath on her shoulder. She untied the ribbon of cloth and slipped her fingers inside the skirt, then pulled hard toward her, sending Gabrielle flying backward to the bed. In a quick move, she stripped off the skirt and underwear.
"How romantic," Gabrielle said.
Xena hesitated, then saw that she was kidding. "I'm supposed to be ravishing you," she said.
"Yeah, well, you're going to have to wait till I'm done."
Xena smiled, her fingers working on the laces of short boots. Seconds later, the boots landed on the floor several feet from the bed.
"Now, where were we?" Gabrielle asked, leaning forward. "I think I may have to climb up your body again."
Xena smiled and lay back invitingly. "Go ahead."
Gabrielle lowered herself into softness and groaned into Xena's shoulder. "You feel so good."
"Mmmm." Xena ran her hands down Gabrielle's back to her sensuous hips, squeezing gently, resolving to taste their firmness later. She leaned her head down and took a breast in her mouth.
"Oh, goddess . . .," Gabrielle moaned. No one would think she's an unwilling participant in this, Xena thought, grateful for the castle's thick walls.
Gabrielle moved up and straddled the warrior's stomach, thrusting against her as Xena fed ravenously on her breast. "Xena- -I need . . ." She didn't finish her sentence, but Xena understood. Excited at the nearness of tempting flesh, Xena released her friend's breast. She grasped Gabrielle's hips and lifted her slightly, then slid down beneath her. She pressed Gabrielle down to her.
Breathing deeply, Gabrielle lowered herself onto the waiting mouth. Xena kissed the smooth flesh, feeling its silky texture against her lips. She slid her tongue inside, and heard a sharp intake of breath. Gabrielle spread her legs further apart and sank onto the penetrating tongue, until Xena's teeth rested against blonde curly hair. "Ahh. . . It's too good . . .," she cried, shaking her head slowly at the indescribable sensation.
Xena probed her eagerly, thrusting, listening to stirring gasps of pleasure. She drew her tongue out and circled Gabrielle's sweet center, her own body on fire, throbbing painfully, her hips thrusting in rhythm with the strokes of her tongue. Gabrielle's electrifying noises drove Xena with her, and she knew she was near her own breaking point.
"Yesss . . .," Gabrielle moaned, almost sobbing. "Xena . . ." She stiffened, then her hips thrust forward explosively, breath coming in gasps. She cried out again as exhilarating spasms racked her whole being. Finally, her body stilled and she lowered her head, her breathing beginning to slow.
Xena's need was too urgent to wait. "Gabrielle," she uttered raspily. She lifted Gabrielle and lay her down beside her, then grasped a cooperative hand and pressed it between her legs. Gabrielle slowly moved her fingers up and down, exclaiming softly in her excitement. Almost instantly, Xena felt welcome release, her body arching, hips thrusting against her lover's hand. With a loud groan, she sank back onto the bed.
Gabrielle lay her head on Xena's shoulder and brought her hand to Xena's breast, wetting the soft skin. "That was . . ." She sighed and shook her head, unable to find the words. "I wasn't sure I'd know what to do," she said.
Xena touched the beautiful face gazing up at her. "I had faith in your abilities," she said, a corner of her mouth turned up.
Gabrielle snuggled closer into her warmth, smiling contentedly. Xena trailed her fingers across the fine blonde hair on Gabrielle's arm, now resting across her chest, and felt desire stirring again. She looked down, about to suggest another round, and smiled affectionately as she saw the green eyes closing. The intensity of her first experience, and perhaps the port, were too much for her Amazon lover.
Xena reached down and pulled a light sheet over them. She shifted into a comfortable position, then closed her arms around Gabrielle and listened to her steady breathing.
A light tapping on the door awakened the Warrior Princess. Instinctively she started to reach for her leathers, then decided it wasn't necessary. She gently moved the arm draped across her chest and laid it on the sheet next to Gabrielle's body, then slid a few inches away from her. She heard more tapping. "Come in." Gabrielle stirred, and drew her arm under the sheet.
Two servants came in with trays. The first headed for the beverage table, stopping to clean up broken glass and spilled port from the day before. The other halted at the sight of the two women naked under the sheet. "I have your breakfast," she said shyly. "Would you like it . . . in bed?"
"Yeah, that sounds good."
The servant stepped gingerly through the obstacle course of clothing on the floor and placed the tray on the end of the bed, averting her eyes.
"Where does she eat?"
"The slave kitchen is in the east wing, mistress."
Mistress. Hmm. Xena pictured ordering Gabrielle to call her mistress. Then she pictured the response, and grinned. "Thanks." As the servants exited through the doorway, Xena heard one of them quietly exclaim, "My lord!" She nudged the sleeping form beside her and whispered, "Gabrielle! Wake up!"
Arrius breezed through the doorway, his eyes widening at the sight of Xena and Gabrielle in bed. "Ah, good morning, my dear." His eyes flickered between the two women. "I trust you had a pleasant evening."
Arrius glanced down at the piles of clothing scattered beside the bed, puzzled.
"Some things are worth fighting for," Xena said, smiling provocatively.
The king's eyes widened further, and Xena could almost see the images running through his mind. After a moment, he turned and walked around the foot of the bed to the beverage table.
Gabrielle sighed in her sleep, and reached a hand out to Xena's thigh under the sheet. "Wake up!" Xena hissed in her ear. It was hard enough to wake Gabrielle from a sound sleep under normal circumstances, and after last night . . . Xena looked down, alarmed, as Gabrielle's hand began to move on her thigh.
"So, Xena, some of my men are having a little competition this morning. Are you interested?" Arrius turned around, a cup of water in hand, just in time to see Xena slap her thigh through the sheet. He paused.
"I'm there!" Xena exclaimed enthusiastically.
"Don't you want to know what kind of competition?"
"Hey, you said competition. That's all I need to know." She slapped at her thigh again. "Yep."
He stared a moment longer, then smiled. "Well, that's splendid. We'll see you shortly in the courtyard, then." Out of excuses to linger, he reluctantly turned and left.
Xena rolled her eyes and fell back on the bed. She reached under the sheet to retrieve Gabrielle's hand, which had resumed its meandering, then paused for a moment, feeling the hand slide to the inside of her thigh. Hmm.
She really needed to get around . . . The younger woman's hand lightly gripped the inside of her thigh. She really didn't have time . . . Xena looked over at her sleeping friend, her body shifting restlessly, then placed her hand on the back of Gabrielle's and gently began to urge it upwards. As it inched toward the top of her leg, Gabrielle stirred. "Xena?"
Xena's mind re-focused. She quickly removed the wandering hand from her thigh and placed her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. "Hey, wake up!"
"What's going on?"
"Oh, nothing much. You almost got us both killed."
"Just now? While I was sleeping?"
"Yeah. Arrius came in and you started to fondle me under the sheet. Not exactly slave girl behavior. I had to whack you."
Gabrielle looked horrified. "Oh, sorry."
Xena smiled. "It's all right."
"Can I fondle you under the sheet now?"
"No! I've got to go meet Arrius. They're having a competition this morning I said I'd join."
"What kind of competition?"
"Well, I didn't get all the details."
"Oh. Is it fighting? Weapons?"
"Hey, are you hungry? It's probably cold by now, but Arrius usually sets a good table." Xena reached down and grabbed the breakfast tray from the end of the bed. As she did so, the sheet covering her fell down, exposing her breasts. Gabrielle eyed them lustfully.
"Yeah, I'm hungry, all right."
Gabrielle sighed and sat up, reaching toward the tray. This time it was Xena's turn to stare as the blonde woman's skin emerged from behind the sheet. Their eyes met.
"I've got to get out of here." Xena jumped out of bed and strode to a water crock next to a stack of towels. She dunked a towel into the water and scrubbed her face, making her way down to her neck and torso. Gabrielle came up beside her and picked up another towel. She dipped it in the water and began washing Xena's back. The warrior paused, wary.
"Hey, you said you're in a hurry. Don't slave girls do this?"
Xena resumed her washing, but found her concentration lapsing. Gabrielle moved the towel to her mistress' hips, squeezing them a little more than Xena knew was necessary. Xena paused, her towel on her breasts. As Gabrielle worked, Xena caressed her breasts through the towel, picturing delicate hands on them, her breathing deep and sensuous.
Gabrielle knelt, and moved the towel to the back of Xena's thighs, then her calves, ankles, and feet. She stood and dipped the towel in the water again, wringing it out, and knelt in front of the tall woman. She worked the towel over one strong thigh, then the other, then pressed lightly against the insides of Xena's thighs.
Xena gave up any pretense of resistance, and acceded to Gabrielle's gentle urging to move her legs apart. She felt the damp towel brush the insides of her thighs, then . . . She looked down just as Gabrielle pressed her mouth into the dark thatch between her legs. Xena closed her eyes and rested her hands on fine blonde hair, stiffening as Gabrielle's tongue touched her.
Gabrielle avidly explored the new territory, lapping, murmuring with pleasure. Xena moaned breathily as the glorious tongue probed her, sliding in and out, then focused on the center of her desire. "Gabrielle," she whispered, loving the sound of the word and the woman. She drew a deep breath, then groaned and pressed Gabrielle's mouth against her, convulsing.
Her body calmed, and Xena opened her eyes. Gabrielle wiped her mouth on the towel, and ran it gently between her lover's legs. Xena grunted as her body involuntarily shuddered again. Her breathing slowed, and she absently caressed Gabrielle's hair.
Gabrielle rose and crossed to the bed, picking leathers off the floor. Xena walked over and laid a hand on her shoulder, and Gabrielle smiled up at her. "I know you've got to go," she said. "I'm fine." Xena smiled apologetically, and began to dress.
"I'll try to be back by early afternoon. You may have to stay in the slave areas, but look around if you can."
Xena attached her chakram and started for the door, then stopped and retraced her steps. She took Gabrielle's face in her hands and kissed her tenderly. "Be careful."
Gabrielle sat amidst a group of female slaves, getting an earful about various members of the King's Guard.
"And what about you?"
"You were with the Warrior Princess last night."
"Uh . . ." The bard didn't know what to say.
"What was she like? You know . . ."
Gabrielle felt herself coloring. "Actually, she . . . it wasn't bad. She was pretty gentle."
"Well, I mean, at first I didn't want to do it, so we sort of had a disagreement about that. But then . . ." She shrugged.
"What did she make you do?"
Gabrielle looked around, wanting this conversation to be over. Her companions waited expectantly. "Well, you know, uh, just kissing and, uh, stuff with my hand, things like that."
"Did she do anything to you?"
By the gods, didn't these women have anything else to do?" "Well, yeah, I mean, the same stuff."
"She gave you pleasure?"
"Oh, yeah." She smiled, then caught herself. Several of the women looked at each other.
Suddenly Gabrielle heard a commotion and turned her head. Crallus stood behind her. He reached out and grabbed her by the shoulder. "Come on."
"Just get up."
Gabrielle hesitated. Crallus hooked his arm around her throat, pulling her roughly out of her seat. She clawed ineffectually at his arm, gasping for breath, as he half dragged, half carried her into the castle.
Hours later, Xena strolled into the slave quarters. As she looked around, she noticed several of the women whispering and stealing glances at her. A tall brunette came up to her. "May I help you with anything, mistress?"
"I'm looking for Gabrielle."
"I don't think she's here right now. Is there anything I can do for you?"
Xena thought she must be imagining things. Everything about this woman's tone suggested that she was offering herself to her. Xena glanced around, and saw several more inviting gazes. What was this all about? "No, not at the moment. Thanks."
"Xena!" A red-haired woman hastened into the kitchen, bowing her head before speaking. "Crallus took Gabrielle."
"A couple of hours ago. He grabbed her and took her back to the castle with him. He was hurting her."
Pure rage surged through the warrior's veins, and she ran from the kitchen toward the castle. She went first to their room, but couldn't tell whether Gabrielle had been there. She grabbed a passing attendant. "Where are Crallus' quarters?"
"Around the corner, the last room on the right."
Xena raced down the hall and pounded on the soldier's door. No response. She leaped up and kicked in the door. No one there, but definite signs of a struggle.
Heart pounding with fear and anger, the Warrior Princess headed for the main dining room. As she entered the room, she saw two things: Gabrielle, with a bruised face and cut lip, pouring water; and Crallus, laughing, sitting farther down the long dining room table.
Xena strode rapidly to Crallus and grabbed him with both hands. With a furious cry, she picked him up and threw him hard against the table, smashing plates and sending cups to the floor. She clasped one hand around his throat. "You're dead, Crallus."
Crallus pulled at Xena's hand with both of his own, but her grip could not be broken.
"Xena!" Arrius interjected. "What's this about?"
"Is it about the girl?"
She did not reply.
"Xena, I don't want you killing Crallus over a slave girl. He's a valuable soldier."
"He should have thought of that earlier."
"No, Xena! She can be replaced. Crallus can't. Choose another one if you don't want her now. It's not like she can't still be used."
"Stay out of this, Arrius."
Xena pulled Crallus off the table and backhanded him with her full strength. He landed on the floor several feet away, gasping for breath and clutching at his throat. She stepped over to him and kicked him hard in the stomach.
"Xena, I'm telling you to stop. Don't make me call my guards."
"Go ahead. Then you'll have more than one man to replace." She picked Crallus up again and drew back her fist to strike him.
"Xena!" A soft voice reached her ear, and Gabrielle grabbed her arm. "Don't!" The bard leaned toward her and whispered, "I found it, Xena. Let's go."
Xena looked at her, not comprehending.
"I found the scroll. I have it. Let's go."
At that moment the scroll meant nothing to Xena. Her thoughts were focused on the man who had hurt her lover. She paused. Gabrielle stepped closer and said quietly, "Xena, I'm all right. Let's go! Please!"
Even in her rage, Xena could not ignore a plea from Gabrielle. She shoved Crallus to the ground with a snarl and took her friend's hand, leading her past the table toward the entrance.
They walked quickly down the hall to their room. Once inside, Xena put her arms around Gabrielle and pressed her against her chest. "Are you all right?"
Xena drew back and fingered Gabrielle's bruised cheek and cut lip, her heart breaking. "What did he do to you?"
Gabrielle looked up at her. "Let's not talk about it right now. I'm all right."
She met Xena's eyes. "He didn't do anything. Well, he hit me." Xena continued to stare at Gabrielle, who sighed. "He tried to rape me." Xena stiffened and raised her head, staring at nothing over Gabrielle's shoulder. "Xena." Gabrielle brought her down to earth with a light brush of fingertips on her face. "He didn't."
Xena looked at the woman who meant everything to her and struggled to keep her outward composure, silently demanding that Gabrielle continue.
"He took me to his room and locked us in." She stopped. "Xena, it really doesn't matter." She started to pull away from the firm embrace.
Xena grabbed her arm. "Tell me what happened." She loosened her grip and added apologetically, "Please."
"He took his uniform off . . ." Gabrielle closed her eyes. "He made me take off my clothes." Xena released her arm and stalked away a few paces, nausea rising within her. "He shoved me down on the floor, and he hit me when I turned my head." Xena turned back, not comprehending. "He was trying to kiss me."
Gabrielle's face contorted with the unpleasant memory. "Then ---" Xena waited. "He tried --" She averted her eyes. Xena's mind burned with an image of Crallus on top of her on the floor. "I reached down and . . . disabled him." Gabrielle smiled weakly. "He almost threw up. He couldn't move. I got my clothes and found the key in his uniform, and I left. That's all that happened."
Xena remained silent.
"Xena, it's over. Right? It's over," she repeated. Xena did not reply.
"Look, I've got the scroll. I'm pretty sure it's the right one." Gabrielle hurried over to a large empty vase and tilted it downward. A rolled up scroll fell out, and she brought it over to show Xena. "It has a red goat's-head seal, and it looks like a peace treaty."
"Where'd you find it?" Xena asked, emotionless.
"It was in a locked box in Diophenes' room."
"How'd you get in there?"
"I volunteered for cleaning duty."
"Good. We should leave before they notice it's gone." Xena's tone was flat. She folded the scroll and slid it down the inside of her boot.
"Can we go now?"
Xena considered their options. "It's going to be a little tricky getting you out." She turned toward Gabrielle. "Have you seen where Argo is stabled?"
"I know where the horse stables are. Which one is she in?"
"The east one. Go there and get her ready. If anyone bothers you, just say I told you to groom her."
"Where are you going?"
"I'm going to try the direct approach." She turned to leave, but Gabrielle grabbed her arm.
"You're coming straight there, right? You're not going to . . ." She trailed off.
Xena placed her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders and smiled. "I'll be right there." She leaned down and kissed her lightly, hoping Gabrielle would not notice that she hadn't answered her question.
"I think it's probably best for me to leave, Arrius."
"Oh, come now, Xena, don't be hasty. Everyone expects warriors to fight amongst themselves. Crallus will get over it."
"No, he won't, because next time I see him I'm going to kill him."
"Is this all because of that girl?"
"Crallus challenged my authority by taking her. He knew what he was doing."
Arrius studied her closely. "I don't think that's all there is to this." Xena grimaced inwardly, annoyed that Arrius had picked this moment to be perceptive for the first time in his life. She hesitated, then decided she'd better respond.
"OK, the truth is I like her."
Arrius gaped at her. "You like her?"
"I know, it doesn't make any sense. But I like her."
Arrius continued to stare, his brow furrowed.
"She's got fire in her. She's . . . interesting." Xena shrugged helplessly, then smoothed her tone. "And she was . . . fan-tas-tic . . . in bed." Arrius perked up, and Xena stepped closer to him. "I had to fight her, but when I took her it was . . ." She closed her eyes, uttering a sigh that was nearly a moan. Arrius swallowed.
Xena drew closer, speaking in a low voice. "Her breasts are very sensitive. Even when she was fighting, she'd cry out when I touched them. And when I licked them . . . and sucked on them . . . she couldn't even speak."
Her listener sat motionless, immobilized by Xena's hypnotic words. "And when she . . ." Xena mmmmed again. "I made her put her mouth between my legs, and she . . . ohhhh" -- this time it was a moan -- ". . . with her tongue."
Arrius shifted and drew his robe over his lap. Barely able to speak, he rasped, "Did you . . ."
"Mmmm, I tasted her. She was so wet. She didn't want to, but she couldn't help it. She grabbed the back of my head . . . she arched her back . . . she moaned . . . so . . . loud."
Arrius closed his eyes tightly, an intense expression on his face, and grunted. Xena watched, smug. In a moment, Arrius opened his eyes again, his breathing stilted. Xena took advantage of the opportunity.
"You can see why I want to take her with me and do that to her every night. You don't mind if we go, do you?"
Arrius shook his head wordlessly, and Xena started for the door. As she crossed the floor, she realized that her story had made an impact on her body as well as Arrius'. She and Gabrielle might have to stop outside the walls for a few minutes.
She opened the doors to the throne room and spoke to the guards. "I'll be leaving now." She called out to Arrius. "They're to let Gabrielle leave with me?"
"Yes." The king reclined in his throne listlessly.
Crallus' quarters were just around the corner. Xena started down the hall, then hesitated, thinking that Gabrielle would be disappointed in her. She rolled her eyes. Since when did she make decisions based on what someone else would think? Besides, she wouldn't necessarily have to tell her.
She continued down the hall, then stopped again. Of course she'd have to tell her. Gabrielle would ask. And even if she didn't ask, she'd look at her with those eyes and she'd know. With a frustrated sigh, Xena turned and walked the other way, heading for the stable.
When she arrived, Gabrielle and Argo were ready. "Are we leaving?"
Xena nodded. "Yeah, let's go."
Suddenly they heard the clamor of activity outside, and a roar from Diophenes. "Find them! They have the scroll!"
"Uh oh," Gabrielle said nervously. Then she added, "Maybe they don't mean us."
Xena looked at her and raised an eyebrow. She helped Gabrielle onto the horse.
"Well, why do they have to automatically assume it's us?"
"Because I would suspect me if I were they, wouldn't you?"
"Let's go. Whatever happens, stay with Argo. If we're separated, go on without me. I'll meet up with you later."
"Gabrielle, no arguments."
Xena opened the door to the stable and quickly led Argo outside. She started to mount, but something caught her leg and pulled her to the ground. She looked up and saw Crallus approaching, holding the other end of a long whip, smiling maliciously. Xena hoped his ego would prevent him from calling out to the others.
She lay on the ground, shifting her position slightly. Suddenly, she pulled her leg back, her strength propelling Crallus forward. As he drew near, Xena jerked on the whip with her left hand and hit him with her right. Crallus stumbled backward.
Xena swiftly disentangled her leg and charged her adversary, hitting him full strength and knocking him to the ground. She stood and planted her foot on his chest, drawing her sword from behind her back in the same instant. She pressed it to his throat.
She heard nothing, but sensed Gabrielle behind her. She paused, then held out her hand, keeping her eyes on the prone soldier. Gabrielle handed her the whip.
Crallus hesitated, and Xena repeated her instructions, illustrated with a hard kick from her boot. As she tied the soldier's hands and legs with his own whip, a pained expression came over Crallus' face.
"Is that too tight?" Gabrielle asked.
"Yeah," he gasped.
Xena sighed, and gave the whip some slack. Her eyes followed as Gabrielle turned and walked back toward Argo, then she pulled hard on the whip, shoving Crallus' face into the dirt to muffle his exclamation. She finished tying him, and leaned down to speak quietly in his ear.
"I love her, and you hurt her. If it wasn't for her, your insides would be spread all over this dirt. And if I ever see you again, it will happen." She picked up her sword and knocked him unconscious with the hilt.
Xena walked over to Argo and climbed up, pulling Gabrielle up behind her. "What about the others?"
"We'll come back for them in a few days. I've got some ideas." Xena directed Argo to the right, heading behind the stables.
"Where are we going?"
"There's a little . . . Ah, here it is." She dismounted and took Argo's reins, leading her through a gap in the protective wall just wide enough for horse and rider to get through. She climbed back up in the saddle. "I warned Arrius. But come to think of it, I may have said north wall instead of south."
Gabrielle laughed, and wrapped her arms tightly around Xena's waist. By dusk they were miles away.
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