" Has anyone ever given anything to you?
"Gabrielle? Gabrielle, wake up."
The soft words and a gentle push on my shoulders brought me to consciousness. I looked up to see Xena, resplendent in her white silk dress and black wig, looking down on me like a Goddess. She was the image of Cleopatra, which was her intention. Shaking my head to toss off the residual fog of my sleep, I pushed the sheets off and hung my legs over the edge to a sitting position. I was nude, but we were alone, so it didn�t matter.I was seated upon the large bed in my quarters in the Egyptian palace. As "Cleopatra�s overseer", my room was almost as luxurious as hers, as befit my station. I could see my black wig and helmet on their stand near the dressing table, where I left them earlier that day. A quick glance towards the window told me twilight was almost upon us. Realizing the lateness of the afternoon, I began looking about for my clothes. I passed my hand through my short golden hair and almost yawned."What time is it?" I asked.
"Almost dark," she replied in a serious tone, "Brutus� men will be along to collect you in about two hours or so."
"Then I better take a bath and get dressed," I murmured, looking about for my robe, "I want to look my best before the slaughter."
Xena reached to the end of the bed and plucked the robe from its hook on the pillar of the bed frame. As I stood up, she slipped my arms into it and helped me wrap it around my body.
"You slept a long time," she remarked casually.
"Must be the food."
"Could be. You have been eating more since we�ve been here. Royal life must agree with you."
Ignoring her barb, I could only nod, still lethargic from my long rest. I started to walk towards my private bath chamber, not noticing in my drowsiness that Xena was following behind me. The large room, bigger than the bedchamber I emerged from, was deserted, though as "Cleopatra�s overseer", I had my own attendants. They were nowhere to be found. "Where are my� attendants?"
"I gave the staff the night off," she quipped.
I simply gave her a puzzled look and continued to the edge of the large room-sized pool, at least twelve feet long and four feet wide. I could feel the heat rising and stopped to bask in it.
The water was hot, just the way I loved it. There were scented lilies floating on the still surface. Their scent was heavenly. I turned and gave Xena a puzzled glance.
"If they�re gone, who prepared this?"
"I did," she replied, slipping my robe off me.
I stood there for a moment, trying to decide what was the best way to lower myself into the heated water.
Xena solved my problem for me.
She gave me a gentle nudge�Well, gentle for Xena. Fortunately, the bath�s bottom was inclined and I was at the deep end, which plunged eight or nine feet down. I fell face forward, but cleaved my body barely in time to avoid a belly flop. The hot water shook all the lethargy out of my body. It embraced my flesh and energized my being. I broached, intending to chastise my companion for her "help". A small mound of white silk, topped by a black wig, piled next to my own discarded robe told the story. I was not alone in the pool.
I could feel Xena�s hands playing with my feet under the water. I kicked away, but she seized my ankles and dragged me under. Our bodies came together and I struggled with her for long moments. I could have swore she was laughing, as we flexed against ourselves, not caring if it was a test of strength or an excuse to caress each other�s flesh. Finally, lack of air made me break off the "battle", and I swam upwards. I broke the surface, looking towards the deep end to see if she had followed. A chuckle made me turn the opposite direction to find her staring at me from the shallow end with one of her provocative smiles.
"Get down here!" she commanded lightly.
I swam to the far edge and found the bottom too shallow to do anything but stand. I rose from the water like a sea nymph, the water running down my curves, and looked down upon my equally naked warrior princess.
Without a word, she also rose to her feet, seizing a jug from a line of four placed into an inset in the tub wall. She began to pour exotic sweet smelling oil through my hair and flesh, it�s essence running down every curve of my body. I basked in its cool feel and the soft touch of Xena�s hand massaging it into my body." Thank you," I murmured gladly.
"For now, you are the Queen and I am your slave," she said in her soft seductive voice, "A body slave, as the Romans would call it."
She continued her pouring and massaging, as if oblivious to the effect it was having on me and on her. The tensing of my body and the hardening of my nipples were clear signs of her ministrations. I casually turned away from her and walked over to the edge of the bath, trying to appear totally unaware of her gaze. Reaching my goal, I turned back towards her and sat on the tiled edge as if it were my throne. Xena simply stood there, a wry look in her eyes, holding the large jug before her.
"Attend me, body slave!" I said in my most regal tone.
At my command, she placed the jug aside and lowered herself under the shallow surface. She half crawled, half paddled to me. As she approached, I slowly parted my knees. She kept her mouth below the surface, trying to obscure her smile, but her eyes had locked on her objective. Her desire was evident, as she raised her head from the water and looked me in the eyes with a lustful submissive glance.
"How may I please thee, My Queen?"
"Be creative" was all I could say.
She lazily brought her head up between my knees and began to plant slow soft kisses on my thighs. As she moved closer to the object of her lust, I placed my own hands on the cool surface behind me, giving my back a slight arch. I let my head fall back and closed my eyes, trying to absorb every scintilla of her caresses. As I felt her warm breath gust upon the object of her quest, I tensed in anticipation.
It�s good to be Queen, I thought.
* * * *
Afterwards, we laid out one of the thick royal towels and I stretched my body out upon it. I was near the edge of the pool, so that I could still feel the heat from its surface. I lay face down, my arms under my head, basking in her fingers kneading my flesh with oil. It was a cinnamon smelling concoction that coursed a wonderfully warm feeling through my being. I doubt I would ever have a day like this again for a long while.
Perhaps that was the point.
Unhappily, I remembered why we were in Egypt. Queen Cleopatra was killed by one of three Roman usurpers who were vying for the throne that the recently assassinated Julius Caesar had vacated. One was Marc Antony, a roguish Roman leader who had a profound attraction to Xena, much to my dismay. The other was Octavius, a boy, but considered one of the rightful heirs.
The third was Brutus, a Centurion I had once considered noble, even though he had killed one of my dearest friends, Ephiny. That had happened on the battlefield and he did not know who she was until I informed him after the fact. To him, she was a brave opponent and fierce warrior. I couldn�t forgive him, but I knew it was a fortune of war. I came to like him, though our worlds were so different. Even when he arrested us, he naively believed that Caesar would not crucify innocents. I don�t know what it was that changed him. I�d like to think it was because he had learned of the crucifixion of Xena and myself at Caesar�s orders. But we later learned on our journey back to Greece that he had orchestrated the assassination of his closest friend to save the world from the tyrant�s madness.
But now Brutus was ambitious and, in that ambition, he had ordered Cleopatra�s death in a vain hope that he could negotiate with Egypt�s admirals to use their fleet against Antony and Octavius. What he hadn�t counted on was Xena, who had stepped into Cleopatra�s place to uncover her murderer and protect her friend�s kingdom from the Roman vultures. I couldn�t decide if it was my revulsion at his deed or my own disappointment in being so wrong about his character that hurt me most. But this night, the jaws of Xena�s trap were to close on Brutus and Antony. And, to ensure the Romans� belief that neither was being tricked, Xena would be aboard Antony�s galley, while I would be an "honored hostage" on Brutus� ship. The odds of either of us surviving the night were slim. "Dinar for your thoughts?"
Xena�s comment, mixed with a lazy roll of her fingers over my shoulder blades, brought me back to the here and now. I propped myself up on my elbows, turning so that I could see her face. She lay on her hip, her feet moving lazily in the water, her body relaxing in the soft caress of my body. She moved down over my buttocks to ply her magic on the back of my thighs. I didn�t want to disturb this moment, this sensation, but I was unsure how much time remained. "Brutus� men will be here soon," I reminded her."Not for a while," she whispered in a lazy tone. I knew she didn�t want this to end either, "We have plenty of time. And, if they show up early, they can wait."I smiled at her determination, as I rolled back onto the tile, my cheek lying on my forearms. I looked out at the serene surface of the water, broken only by the ripples caused by Xena�s moving feet. I loved the way the floating lilies bobbed to and throe. I wish I could have spent eternity in this moment." If this lowly slave is permitted to make an observation, My Queen," Xena remarked, " I definitely approve of the muscles of the warrior over the softer body of the Bard."
"Thank you, Body Slave," I chimed regally, "You certainly know how to stimulate it."
I could feel her grin at my words. Her fingers moved to the small of my back and pressed against the muscles. It felt like ambrosia.
"Why are we here?" I asked softly.
Her fingers slowed for a moment, obviously wondering what in this languid instance could motivate such a question. She moved her hands back to my buttocks, caressing them gently. She knew I enjoyed that feeling there.
"To keep Egypt out of Rome�s hands," she replied solemnly, "And avenge Cleopatra."
"Because we�re good at it, I suppose."
"And if we die tonight?"
"I won�t let that happen."
I propped myself up to a sitting position, holding the towel in front of me. I didn�t need to, but there was a feeling of comfort in the act. She also rose to sit, but kept her feet in the bath. I looked into her eyes as deeply as I could. "Thank you."
She knew exactly what I meant. It was gratitude for everything since we met, for all that I learned, not just for the past few moments.
"Don�t mention it," she almost shrugged, " It�s been a while since we had a time like this."
"Reminds me of Aidan�s tub."
"Just don�t remind me of him," she stated flatly, then lightening her tone,"I can�t remember the last time we had any peace together since the pregnancy."
I cocked my head, reaching back into my memory. "The night before Amarise showed up," I answered, "When Ephiny died and the Amazons wanted me to be Queen."
"Yeah," she agreed, paddling her feet slowly "Then she started tagging along. No privacy at all. Then the Romans captured us."
"Not much of a opportunity for lovemaking in a Roman dungeon," I observed.
"Particularly since one of us had a broken back," she added.
I moved my feet closer to hers. I could see a smile forming on her lips at our imminent contact.
"Then it was you, me, Joxer, Eli, and Amarise," I surmised, "Like a traveling troupe. And, by the time they went their separate ways�"
"I was pregnant," she declared darkly, "There wasn�t much touching after that."
" I seem to recall a lot of touching," I interjected, " especially when we were fighting Alti for Eve�s soul."
" I wasn�t about to let you go," she said in a quiet tone, "But there wasn�t any lovemaking�not until now."
" But I kept the two of you warm on cold nights, don�t forget."
"Never," she said softly, "I needed you with me. I couldn�t have made it through any of this without you. But we didn�t�"
I sighed at her expression and replied, "Well, it was kind of strange, you have to admit. We didn�t know who the father was or how it happened. Then, by the time we did learn the truth�"
" Joxer was back and we were on the run from the Gods," she said with a shake of her head, " So it has been a long dry spell for both of us. Well, except for you and that guy in Chin."
"Wait a minute!" I exclaimed, pulling my towel closer, "There was nothing going on between me and Lin Chi. Joxer saw to that. I was never alone with him more than a few minutes."
"So you did want him?" she accused playfully.
"That�s beside the point!" I countered with mock indignation, "And what about you? Like you haven�t got the hots for Antony, I suppose? I see how you two look at each other." Her eyes widened in feigned surprise at my accusation.
"It�s all part of my plan," she insisted, "Make him trust me."
" By going to him wearing nothing but a few gold chains?" I inquired in a skeptical tone, "Which bondage fantasy was that from?"
"You�re jealous!" she declared sharply.I sat straight as an arrow, lifted my chin in defiance and replied, "Not!"
"You are! You want him!" She chuckled.
We locked eyes. She must have seen something in mine, because her smile diminished. I looked back towards the water.
"It�s not about him, is it?" she asked. She had penetrated my armor once again. I tried to lighten the mood. I didn�t want to spoil what had been a beautiful time. I gave her my most mischievous expression." Well, he is a hunk," I conceded, "But not my type."
"Not like you and Joxer!" she teased.
"Enough about Joxer!" I stated in a mock outraged tone, "Let�s get back to you and Antony? You can�t tell me nothing happened when you showed up as the 'Golden Love Slave?'"
"Nothing did happen!" she replied defensively, detecting the tone behind my jest, "He acted exactly the way I thought he would. He was wary of his "gift" and cautious of a trap."
"And you loved every minute of it, I�ll bet," I said, getting my own barbs in, "Especially the 'key exchange.'"
"Well, you know my weakness for 'Bad Boys,' Gabrielle," she mused, knowing this subject was needling me, "I love the way he uses his sword."
"I bet you do!" I replied, trying not to sound sulky.
Recognizing the jealousy in my voice was starting to become sincere, she added, " I was there when he took out several of Brutus� men. Why? What did you think I meant?"The look of innocence on her face told me that she was teasing me again, trying to get me to smile. I decided to play on her weak spot.
"Maybe you�d be better off with Ares!" I snapped."ARES!" She howled," I sooner be crucified again!"
"You know he wants you!" I reminded her, " I saw the way he chased you at Amphipolis! "Oh, Xena, give me a child to preserve my immortality!" For the love of the Gods, Xena!"
"That�s his problem!" she said flatly, "Wanting and having are two different things!" My right foot touched her left one. She slowed the motion of her leg, so I could caress her skin with my toes.
"Sometimes, it can be the same thing," I said almost in a whisper.
We sat there in the quiet for a long time, just looking at the water. I felt her left arm encircle my waist and pull me closer. I leaned against her body, my cheek on her shoulder.
"How did we get to this point, Gabrielle?" she asked with a resigned tone, "Fighting for Egypt. Running from the Gods. Trying to keep my child safe."
"I don�t know," was all I could muster. I kissed her shoulder lightly. She held me closer in her gentle touch.
Not taking her eyes off the water, she began to speak softly.
"Ever since I fought Cortese in Amphipolis, I never allowed myself to totally open up with anyone. Borias, Marcus, Petracles� I always had one shield up, always wary of the betrayal I believed was coming. Even Hercules, if you can believe it. He taught me to trust and one corner of my mind was still waiting for something to go wrong, for the sky to fall. Then I met a simple bard from Potedia."
I reached up and touched her cheek. I imagined I saw a tear was cradled in her left eye.
"And the more time went on, the more I realized what was truly important in my life," She said, "There may have been "distractions"�"
"Like Rafe?" I suggested slyly.
"Maybe," she replied with a small smile, "But there was always someone more important in my heart than any of them."
I pulled myself up to a sitting position and stroked her hair. We just looked at each other for the longest time.
"We�re going to die tonight, aren�t we?" I stated glumly.
"Not a chance!" she replied softly�and I believed her.
I looked at her, realizing that our time might be running out. There was still one last thing I had to ask.
"Xena, do you remember when we saved Joxer�s life at the Amazon village?" I asked, my fingers again touching her cheek.
She nodded. How could she forget? It occurred a little over a month ago.
"Well, when I was Queen and trying to find a way to save him, I studied the Amazon scrolls pretty thoroughly, trying to find a legal way out for him."
A puzzled expression crossed her face. I could see she wasn�t following what I was leading up to."I came across a scroll dealing with the powers of the Queen," I continued, "Even when a Queen is deposed or retired, she still retains the powers of privilege of her rank."
I tried to steady myself, but I could feel my resolve beginning to slip. I turned and stared into the water, coward that I was.
"One of those powers deals with �choosing a consort." There! I said it!
I looked back into her face. She was trying to be impassive, but I could swear the torchlight reflected from the water to her eyes made them appear to be dancing. She "harrumphed" very professionally and looked at me like I was applying to join the army.
"So, you were thinking that it was time for you to choose a consort?" she stated, "Perhaps�. Joxer?" If I could have shot lightning from my eyes like Zeus, I would have done it. I shook my head. I didn�t want to be teased. By the Gods who hated us, I was serious. "I thought if we get through this tonight," I continued, "And resolve our problems with the Gods, we..."
"Are you asking what I think you�re asking?" she interrupted in a mock incredulous tone. "Well, one of us should! " I snapped, looking back into the water� "It�s been on my mind ever since�we were in that Roman dungeon." I tried not to sulk and failed miserably. How could she play with me like this?
I felt her left hand close over my right one with a gentle squeeze.
"This 'Consort thing,'" she asked, "Is there any ritual where I am covered in mud and howling at the moon all night."
I smiled, remembering that particular ordeal I experienced on our last visit with the Amazons.
"No," I replied, "That�s strictly a 'Queen' thing. There might be a branding ceremony."
"I have to bite you slightly to claim you as my own. On the shoulder, I guess."
Xena looked shocked.
"I thought you had enough of that when you were a Bacchae!" she exclaimed.
She then put her feigned contemplation face back on. She was going to milk this for all it was worth.
"Will we have to live in a Amazon village, where they blow a wake-up call every morning at dawn?"
"You really hated our stay there, didn�t you? " I remarked, "No. We�ll live anywhere you want.""How do I know you won�t run off with Najara?"
"She�s in a coma, remember?" I replied snidely.
"Who takes out the garbage?"
"Does the dishes?"
"Changes Eve�s diapers?"
"Don�t push your luck, warrior princess."
She looked in my eyes and realized that she had gone just as far as she could�or so I thought. "I can�t," She stated in a tragic tone, "I can�t take you away from your beloved Joxer."
That was it! I shoved her off the edge into the water. She landed on the floor in a sitting position, the shallow water barely above her waist. She looked at me with glinting eyes, her face twisting in mock panic at my expression of frustration.
"Don�t punish me, My Queen!" She begged, shifting to her knees in a bowing position. I didn�t say anything. I simply lunged at her. She moved quickly to one side, her laughter reverberating off the stone walls. I landed on all fours in a crouch. She twisted her body towards the deep end to kick herself out of the shallow incline�and presented me with a perfect target. Moving quicker than I ever had before, I seized her hips in my hands, holding her fast. I then reared my head down to her buttocks, my teeth bared.
One could not imagine the pleasure of hearing Xena�s famous war cry echoing in a panicked scream of surprise throughout the chamber. She broke from my grasp and swirled into the deep end, turning back to give me a shocked and surprised expression. I simply smiled my triumph and paddled after her. She turned back and swam rapidly to the deep end. In one motion, she raised herself out of the water at the pool�s edge and quickly climbed to a standing position. She turned and gave me a quick grin, then scampered into the bedchamber. I reached the edge and climbed out after her in rapid pursuit.
She reached the bed and tumbled in, the sheets sticking to her wet body. I leaped upon her, slapping the bite on her butt. She yelped and turned over on her back to face me. I seized her arms and held them over her head, pushing my body against her writhing form. We struggled for long moments.
"WILL YOU MARRY ME!?" I finally howled.
She stopped struggling in my grasp, though I knew she could have flung me off with little effort. Still, I didn�t relinquish my grip. Our bodies breathed almost in unison, gasping from our exertion, but steadying into a rhythm of the passion we shared within us. Xena simply nodded.
I slowly released her arms. She gently placed her hands on either side of my head, bringing our lips together. As our mouths met, I knew that, if I were to die tonight, I would never be happier than this moment.
* * * *
"My Queen! "
The Egyptian soldier�s cry echoed from the far end of the outside corridor, announcing his impending arrival. Xena adjusted her wig, making sure her crown was on straight, and adopted a regal pose. We were both dressed and ready for the night�s activities. I stood a few feet away from her, ever the overseer. I glanced at the helmet on its stand by the bed, but I was reluctant to seize it up. Doing so meant the plan was in motion�and I wanted to stay with her tonight. I wanted us to live.As Xena struck a regal posture, the soldier entered and bowed.
"Brutus� men have arrived, My Queen!" He stated." How many?" Xena inquired.
"Assemble an squad of twelve to accompany them to the gangplank of Brutus� ship." The soldier looked at her with a baffled expression.
"But, my liege. The Romans will take it as an insult."
Xena�s face darkened and she advanced on the soldier with fury in her eyes." I want my overseer protected by my soldiers, do you understand!" She spat, " I don�t want a Roman or an Egyptian�no one�to touch her until she is safely delivered into Brutus� custody!"" Yes, my liege!" The soldier replied, trying hard not to cower.
"Because if anything happens to her�if a breeze blows on her," She threatened in a low voice, " I will personally decapitate every man in the squad myself." The soldier saluted and left quickly. I stepped up to her with a wry look on my face.
"A little rough on him, weren�t you?"" I don�t want anything to happen to you," she said, trying to be casual, "I�ve have a wedding to attend. "I stepped behind her and wrapped my arms around her waist. As my hips came into contact with her buttocks, I felt her tense. I smiled.
"It�s your fault. You wanted me to do it again to be sure," I chided, " You are so into pain!"
"Oh?" She remarked, "And which one of us suggested that we pack the
"Golden Chain Slave Girl" outfit away for the wedding night?"
I could feel her relax in my arms. I loved the feel of her body, the scent of her flesh. I didn�t want to let go." They�re waiting," she reminded me, "We have to see this through."
Reluctantly, I released her and stepped over to the stand to retrieve my helmet. I could feel her move to stand behind me. I felt her hand rest on my shoulder.
"You�re the best thing in my life," She declared softly. I squeezed her hand and put my helmet on. I walked to the doorway without looking back at her. If I did, I knew I wouldn�t leave. I stepped out into the corridor. At the far end, I could see the Centurions standing at attention, awaiting me. Behind them, I could see their Egyptian counterparts standing in wait.
I walked down the corridor, my head held high. Both commanders saw me and snapped to at my approach. I fell into position and was surrounded by the Centurions. I could feel the Egyptians fall in behind them, ready to follow them every step of the way.
I�m going to get through this, I resolved to myself, as we marched from the palace.
I have a wedding to attend.