Phantasia

by Taiko

DISCLAIMERS: Part 1

SUBTEXT: It's main text at this point.

FEEDBACK: Please send me a note and let me know what you think. xgfan1@aol.com

Special thanks to my beta readers: CAS, Slaw & Extra! :-)
As always, thanks to my Warrior for her love & support and for being my inspiration.

Part 11

The field was filled with wildflowers and the wind was rustling. A small blonde head peeked out from its hiding place between the tall flowers.

"Hello, Mother!"

She couldn't help but smile at the sight of her son, playing in the field. This was her field. She discovered it several weeks after her wedding to Kyros. The new princess had gone for a quiet stroll and discovered the path in the woods. After a few minutes, the path opened up to this beautiful field filled with wildflowers. It was so like her field at home in Potedea that Gabrielle had not been able to stop the tears from falling - not only for her lost home, but also her lost youth. She had sat for hours that afternoon, until her husband had eventually found her.

Kyros.

As her son chased butterflies, Gabrielle's thoughts turned to the man who not only saved her life but gave her a new one.

I know you can hear me, Kyros. So much has happened. I hardly know where to begin. Orion is growing so fast... Oh, Kyros he is such a joy. Thank you for giving him to me. My life has been such a whirlwind... so many changes in such a short time.

I'm in love, Kyros. You probably already know that, and with whom. Please don't think it means I didn't, or don't, love you. You were my husband, my son's father and the king who ruled by my side... and you were my friend. I miss you. I don't know how you would feel about Xena... You probably would have eventually seen the woman beneath the ruler... just like you saw the woman inside my battered and bruised body once upon a time... a lifetime ago.

There's so much for Xena and I to work out. The logistics of our lives complicate our relationship... she rules the rest of the world... she loves me... she has quickly become my world... Orion is taken with her... He has her wrapped around his little finger... he's good for her... he allows her to show her softer side... she's good with him, too.

Do I sound like I'm trying to convince you? Maybe I am... I know you can see how much we love each other... I do hope you approve, Kyros.

Gabrielle picked a flower and brought it to her nose. As she smelled the flower's fragrance she spotted a feather swaying with the breeze. It was at eye level and if she had reached her arm out she could have caught it. Instead she watched it fall softly to the ground. Lifting her head, she searched the sky for the source, finding only an empty blue sky. It was then she realized... Gabrielle looked back at the feather and smiled. He approved.

Orion's laughter broke into Gabrielle's thoughts. "Mama, look!"

Gabrielle walked over to her son and saw the prize he held in his palm. A butterfly rested on the small boy's hand as he and his mother looked on.

Gabrielle heard a rustling in the trees and looked up in time to see someone emerge from the wooded path. A dark figure on horseback began riding toward them at lightning speed. Gabrielle scooped Orion into her arms, then carried him back to the trees. They watched as the horse drew closer. The figure was hooded and was dressed all in black. As the horse approached the edge of the forest, a masculine voice called out, "You can't hide from me!"

My dream, the queen realized. But this wasn't a dream. This was really happening.

"By the gods."

"Mother?"

"Stay behind me, Orion!"

Gabrielle's heart pounded as the man jumped off his horse, sword in hand, and stalked toward her and her son. She yelled for Orion to run, determined that her son would get away. She knew the frightened child was about to protest, but a loud war cry caused both of them to turn. The queen couldn't believe her eyes. A beautiful woman with long, flowing, dark hair did a flip off of a pale horse and landed between Gabrielle and the masked man.

"Xena!" The queen's cry was filled with both relief at the sight of her warrior, and fear as she realized her lover was placing herself in harm's way.

With a style and grace that the queen had only witnessed in her dream, the dark-haired woman quickly dispensed with the dark rider. Peaceful sounds of the outdoors replaced the sound of steal blades clashing. The tall woman closed the gap between them and stood before the queen.

"Are you both all right?" Xena asked. Gabrielle could only nod.

Xena felt a tug on her pant leg and looked down. "Is the bad man dead?" She knelt down and assured Orion that he was still alive, just unconscious. That way I'll get answers. Then I'll kill him. Once the prince was reassured, Xena returned her attention to a visibly shaken Gabrielle. Slowly, the dark head tilted closer.

"It's all right, Gabrielle. I'm here now."

The queen felt a hand gently stroke her cheek. "You saved us," was all she could utter.

The tall figure smiled, "No, it's you who saved me."

Xena leaned closer until their noses were almost touching. Gabrielle's eyes closed and her lips parted slightly, waiting to be taken by her warrior.

The little boy giggled.

Gabrielle felt soft lips touch hers as she reached up and wrapped her arms around the warrior's neck. Xena's arms wound around the smaller woman's waist and pulled her closer. When their lips parted Xena glanced at the young prince who had wandered around the women to get a peek at their attacker.

"Orion," Xena called out to warn the boy not to go any closer. Gabrielle let go of the warrior and reached out to pull her son to her. Innocent eyes looked up at Gabrielle. "Who is it, Mama?" Gabrielle glanced at the body on the ground and then to Xena before turning back to her son. "I don't know."

Xena knelt beside the dark figure and removed the hood. Gabrielle gasped as the man's face was revealed. She couldn't believe what she saw. The warrior looked up to see the shocked face of the queen. "You know him?" Xena questioned. Gabrielle nodded. "I used to," she stated quietly.

"His name is Perdicas."

********

The pain was unbearable as the man slowly came to. His eyes squinted open as they adjusted to the light and he noticed the two guards standing on either side of a large iron door. Perdicas attempted to sit up but a wave of nausea forced him back down. He slowly tried again, this time making it to a sitting position.

"Nice of you to join us." Perdicas' head spun to the far right where the voice had come from. Another wave of nausea passed over him and his eyes closed briefly as he let it pass. When he opened them, he found himself captured by cold blue eyes that bore into him until he was forced to turn away. When he gained the confidence to look back he found the Conqueror seated in a chair on the far wall with her legs propped up on a small table. His first thought was how casual she appeared. However, Perdicas wasn't a stupid man. One wrong move and he knew she would be on him in the blink of an eye.

"Where am I?" He managed to ask.

Dripping with sarcasm, Xena asked, "Isn't it obvious?"

He was seated on a cot in a large room. Directly across from him was a large arched door that was guarded on the inside and, one could also assume, on the outside. To the right was a small table and a single chair, which was currently occupied by the Conqueror. As he shifted his weight he discovered that he was chained to the wall by his ankle. Perdicas figured he had just enough chain to walk from the cot to the chair and back. Realizing that an answer to the woman might be appropriate, he hazarded a guess. "I'm in a prison cell."

The corner of Xena's mouth curled up. "Smart boy." She removed her legs from the table and stood to her full height. "Not smart enough to stay alive, however."

Brown eyes gradually widened as the realization of the Conqueror's words hit him. He was dead. She would kill him personally, or have him crucified, or worse. The Conqueror was not known for her mercy. For the first time in a long time Perdicas felt fear. Real fear. The rage that had filled him such a short time ago had dissipated at the thought of the tortures that awaited him. How could he have let it come to this? When did his anger and need for revenge take over?

***

Perdicas had been a foot soldier in the Conqueror's army for several years. He had felt privileged that he was chosen to go with the fleet when they headed out to Phantasia. The farmer from Potedea took great pride in his skills as a warrior. Perdicas had run when the slavers had attacked his village. He returned several days later, only to find a few of the elders left alive. The women and children were taken by the slavers and all the men who stayed to fight were dead. The stench was unbearable as the young man walked through the streets lined with corpses. It was the sight of his father and brothers lying next to his betrothed's father that brought the full force of his shame to the surface. Fear had made him flee. Fear of his own death. Selfishness. He never gave a thought to the others - his family, friends, town folk... Gabrielle. The woman he was going to marry was gone, sold by now to the highest bidder, forced to do the unimaginable. His father and brothers were dead, leaving him alone to face a bleak future in this gods-forsaken world. All because he was a coward.

The bitter young man spent months wandering the countryside. Fighting. That's what calmed the raging turmoil in his soul. In his travels, Perdicas had learned a great deal about hand-to-hand combat and swordplay. Drinking and fighting - these two things had consumed him. Then he came upon a small division of the Conqueror's army. They were short-handed, having just come from a battle, and Perdicas was eager to put his fighting skills to use. All of his pain, anger and self-loathing were assets in Xena's army.

Over four years later, the ex-farmer found himself on the island of Phantasia. Until that time he had never heard of the small, exotic country.  They had landed only to be caught in a tremendous storm. It was the storm's aftermath that lead to the soldier's true downfall. While helping with the clean-up, he spotted the Conqueror. As he watched, a pretty blonde woman walked up beside his commander and Perdicas was suddenly back in Potedea - back running through town, chasing the small, golden-haired girl who he knew would one day become his wife. When he saw her smile at the Conqueror, the pain that he had felt for years began to subside. He knew at that moment that his life was about to change. He would once again have his Gabrielle.

He asked around and discovered that his Gabrielle was the queen of this island. The people spoke very highly of her and it was then that he realized it had been a lie. All these years he felt the weight of his guilt for not protecting Gabrielle, only to discover that her life had turned out wonderfully. She was the ruler of a small country and her people adored her. Perdicas couldn't stop the anger and resentment from building as the days went by and he learned more and more about the so-called queen. This was his Gabrielle. He would claim her as his own. The Conqueror. She was the answer. He had served her well, so there was no doubt in Perdicas' mind that once the Conqueror took over Phantasia she would give him the dethroned-queen.

The soldier was very confident of this destiny until he saw the change in the Conqueror. Her entire demeanor altered when she was with the queen. Not as much in public, for she was more conscious of it then, but in private... yes, he had spied glimpses of the two women on the queen's balcony from his hiding place below. He could not hear what was said but he could see the interaction. That's when he realized he would never gain the queen, for the Conqueror would never give her up.

***

As he looked back now, the soldier remembered that realization all too clearly. It had caused a fury to build deep in his soul that would not be dismissed. Reason had left him, only to be replaced with blind jealousy. He would have his revenge. Gabrielle was his and no one else's. No one would have her. The rage had focused him, more then he had ever been before. His course had been set and he would not be deterred.

Gabrielle must die.

Gabrielle entered the cell and stared at the man seated before her. It seemed as if her eyes were deceiving her. It looked like the young man to whom she was betrothed all those years ago. Yet, she could tell he was not the same sweet, gentle farm boy. The years had hardened him. She watched as his head rose and he saw her standing before him. For an instant the boy appeared before her.

"Gabrielle?"

She gave him a sad smile and suddenly the boy was gone, replaced by the man who had attempted to kill her just hours before. The queen straightened and gave a small nod.

"Hello, Perdicas."

In a flash the man was on his feet and made a move toward Gabrielle. Before he could get close he felt his head snap back and before the pain of the punch could register, the man fell backwards, landing hard on the cot as his head cracked against the wall. A cry of pain escaped his lips but there was no time to recover, for two hands roughly grabbed his collar and yanked him up.

"Xena, don't!" The hands paused and Perdicas barely had time to breathe before he was shoved back down. His head slammed into the wall again, mercifully knocking him out.

The Conqueror slowly turned toward the voice of opposition. She had every intention of making what was left of this man's life as painful as possible. How dare anyone interfere?. Her eyes bore into the woman standing at the door and it took a moment for Xena to realize just who stood before her.

Gabrielle looked into her lover's eyes and immediately knew that she was looking into the eyes of the Conqueror. Her initial reaction was fear. This is Xena, she attempted to remind herself. No. This is the Conqueror. Then, in an instant, the queen could see the change, the recognition in her lover's eyes, and her fears dissolved.

"Gabrielle." The tension and restraint in Xena's voice was obvious.

"Xena, please, he's chained. He can't reach me."

"He was trying to attack you." Xena failed in her attempt to keep her voice down.

"And you stopped him," the queen firmly stated.

Silence.

The two lovers never lost eye contact as the seconds ticked by.

"Thank you," Gabrielle said quietly. She was trying to protect me, she thought with an inner smile.

Xena took a cleansing breath to calm herself. "I won't let him hurt you," she stated, then, taking a step toward the queen Xena added, "or anyone else."

The implication of the last statement was not lost on Gabrielle. Xena intended to kill Perdicas. At the moment, he was only alive due to her curiosity. He had yet to explain why he had attempted the attack in the first place. Once the answer was found, Gabrielle had no doubt Xena would have the man executed. Or do it herself. That thought brought a chill down the queen's spine. Gabrielle had dealt with criminals many times before in her tenure as queen, but she had never ordered an execution.

The queen took a moment and gathered her thoughts before speaking. "I agree he deserves to be punished, and he will be. Our laws are very clear about attempted assassinations of a member of the royal family."

"I've read your laws. He'll be sent to your prison where he'll be allowed to live out the rest of his days with the comfort of a bed and three meals a day." Xena's voice rose a notch. "That's if he doesn't escape one day and make another attempt, this time succeeding in killing you, or even your son! Where will your people be then, Gabrielle?"

The queen was about to give a retort when a moan came from behind Xena. Both women glanced at the man on the cot, who was apparently coming to. Xena turned back to Gabrielle.

"We need to go somewhere private." Xena stated. A nod was the only response the queen gave before she turned and walked out the door. Xena followed her as they made their way to the throne room. Once inside, Xena closed the doors as the queen made her way to her seat and gestured for the Conqueror to take the seat to her right.

Gabrielle spoke first. "Xena, I know you are worried about me and that you want to protect me."

"With my life," Xena interrupted. That elicited a small smile from the queen. Then a feral grin escaped Xena's lips, "Or his life." And with my bare hands, if necessary.

The queen took a deep breath then proceeded. "That's not your decision to make."

"What did you say?" The Conqueror was finding it difficult to reign in her temper. How dare she tell me it's not my decision. I am the Conqueror.

"I said that it is not your decision as to what happens to a prisoner on this island." The queen refused to back down, never wavering in her conviction, no matter how Xena attempted to intimidate. If she hadn't been so angry, Xena would have been proud.

The Conqueror rose from her seat. Leaning forward, she placed her hands on the table and brought her face deathly close to the queen's. Her words were spoken at a near whisper, yet resonated from deep in her throat. "How dare you-"

Gabrielle felt the fury emanating from her lover but did not allow that to stop her from interrupting. "How dare I?" She asked incredulously. "This is my island, Xena. My people and my laws to uphold."

"I could take over your pitiful island within a blink of your eye."

"Yes you could." It wasn't a dare, nor a challenge. It was a statement of fact made by the woman who had everything to lose. "Well?" The queen questioned.

"What?" Xena snapped.

"Are you going to take over Phantasia?" Gabrielle could have sworn Xena growled at her, but she was not about to let that intimidate her. Sitting straight, shoulders squared and eyes fixed on the Conqueror, the queen repeated her original question.

"Well?"

With a heavy sigh, the Conqueror sat down and covered her face with her hands. "I don't want to take over your island, Gabrielle," Xena finally answered. Gabrielle closed her eyes and slowly let out the breath she had been holding. "Thank you," she quietly responded.

Xena lifted her head abruptly, "Gabrielle, I would never... ", the warrior's breath became ragged and she turned away. Had her lover believed that she would turn on her? Would I? No! But how could she know that? She then felt the warmth of a soft hand covering hers, and the warrior turned and gazed into loving eyes.

"I know you would never hurt me." All the queen's strength and conviction revealed itself. "You only want to protect me and I love you for it." Her words were rewarded by a shy smile. Xena turned her hand over and wrapped it around the smaller one that was still draped over it.

"I do love you Gabrielle, but I still don't agree with keeping that man alive." The words were not spoken in anger, simply in quiet truth.

"I know."

The frustration suddenly came to the forefront as Gabrielle considered their situation. "Arrgh, I hate this!" She felt Xena squeeze her hand and shaking her head as if to clear her thoughts, she stated, "We'll have to call the council together and then bring Perdicas in, state the charges against him and then I will announce the sentence."

Xena sensed every ounce of tension and anxiety in her lover. This is affecting her more than she's letting on. But was it their disagreement or simply the fact that Perdicas had attacked her? Xena couldn't be certain. Perhaps it was both. I'm not helping her situation any, Xena berated herself.

"Gabrielle, what do you need me to do?" Once the words were spoken, the Conqueror realized that she truly meant them. She would bow to the queen's authority and simply do what was required of her. The last time she felt even remotely this way was in Chin with Lao Ma, but Xena had been too angry then, too filled with hate to truly feel the depth of love and devotion that she now felt for Gabrielle.

It was not only the words, but the tone of voice combined with the sincerity and love in Xena's eyes that caused the queen's emotions to rush to the surface. Gabrielle squeezed the hand she still held as tears began to blur her vision. Xena was up in a flash as soon as she witnessed the emotions on her lover's face. She knelt beside Gabrielle, never letting go of her hand. With her other hand she reached up and gently wiped a falling tear. "I'm here, Love. Everything's going to be fine."

"Oh, gods, I'm sorry." Gabrielle gave a self-deprecating laugh. "I'm not acting very much like the ruler of a country, am I?" The sad smile that followed was all Xena could take. She placed her hands on either side of her young lover's face and kissed her softly, soothing away the fears and doubts. When they parted, their eyes locked, each giving the other the love and support that was needed. "You are acting like a woman with great pressures who is in the safe and secure company of her lover." One more kiss was given to punctuate the statement.

Gabrielle brushed a stray lock of hair from her warrior's cheek. She did feel safe. Even in the throes of an argument she felt safe with her warrior. "I don't like arguing with you," she quietly stated. Xena sighed. "Neither do I, Love." The couple smiled at each other, each filled with relief and understanding.

"Why, Xena?" The innocence of the question and the grief that showed in Gabrielle's pain-filled eyes tore at Xena's soul. Instinctively the warrior knew the question referred to Perdicas.  Why, indeed. What made anyone's soul turn black with hatred? Pain... loss... revenge. Xena knew of all three and they had turned her into a monster. Could it be the same for the man now sitting in the dungeon below? The warrior shook her head slightly as she answered honestly. "I don't know, Gabrielle."

With a far-away gaze, the queen relayed the tale of a young farm boy she once knew. He chased her through the village and pulled her hair. They laughed and played and grew to be the best of friends. As they got older their parents thought they would be perfect for each other. That's how it was done. You don't decide these things, her father had told her. It is up to your mother and me to decide whom you will wed. Gabrielle was angry with her father and could admit now that some of that anger was misdirected at Perdicas. It wasn't his fault that she wouldn't be going to the Academy, but to the young girl that didn't matter. Little did they know that a few short months later their lives would change course forever.

"It's not your fault."

Gabrielle smiled fondly at her protective lover. "I know. It doesn't make the hurt go away, though." The young woman sighed. "What did I do to make him want to kill me?" Xena raised herself up, gave her queen a loving kiss and determined only one course of action as she stood and extended her hand. "Let's go find out." Gabrielle nodded as she took Xena's hand.

The couple walked hand in hand to the door and after one last kiss, the queen and Conqueror stepped out into the hall.

***

The walk from the throne room to the holding cell was silent as both women worked through the events of the past twenty-four hours. Their relationship had solidified in ways neither would have thought possible. It was as if the fates had decreed that these two souls would come together and nothing would have the ability to undo what had been done.

The mere thought of the mighty warrior princess giving up her power to another would make most people laugh at the absurdity of it. Yet, here she was allowing another to make the decisions. As if she had a choice. There was no question as to who owned the warrior's heart. The fates had known that the person who was given the heart of the Destroyer of Nations would have ultimate power. It made sense that the woman who won that power would be a creature of love and tolerance, with a gift of generosity and compassion. Only such a creature could tame the unyielding Conqueror and be trusted to wield such power.

Xena glanced at her heart's owner and smiled inwardly. She had held a belief that love would make her weak. Now, she saw how wrong she had been. Love was the ultimate power in the universe. It gave strength when needed, courage when fears crept to the surface, warmth when the cold set in, calm when the storm approached and security when chaos reigned. The young woman beside her owned her heart and Xena knew she would be eternally grateful to whatever powers had made it so.

The queen stiffened as they approached the door. Her thoughts had been filled with speculation as to her attacker's motivation. The last time she had seen him they had barely reached adulthood and were soon to be married. They had been arguing the day of the attack. Gabrielle was ready to defy her parents and wished that Perdicas would let her go. The young man had refused. Gabrielle could still see the pleading in his eyes as he told her of his desire to be her husband. Still in shock, it had taken the future bride a moment before the shouts of warning registered. The pair exited the barn, stepping into complete chaos. Men were gathering weapons as others on horseback were relaying information of the incoming army. Perdicas had rushed over to one of the men on horseback. His name was Divantis, the village butcher. He informed the young couple that all the men were taking up arms against Mezentious' forces that were headed to Potedea. If they were not stopped, the army would strip the village of its resources and take the women and children - selling them into slavery.

Gabrielle could remember the fear in Perdicas' eyes. She too was frightened but at that moment Perdicas looked like a small child lost in a foreign land.

The events of that day happened so quickly. Gabrielle had raced to her mother and sister, even as she heard Perdicas chase after her, yelling that they had to leave. He had caught up with her, spinning her around and shouted at her. "Gabrielle we have to leave. Now!" She refused. Not without her family. As she now stared at the door in front of her, the queen recalled the last words he had said to her that day. "Fine! Go on! Die with your family! I'm not going to die, Gabrielle. I am NOT going to die." Then he spun around and took off for the cover of the forest. The next time she would see him he would be racing toward her with every intention of killing her.

Why?

Xena noticed the tension in the queen and placed her hand on her shoulder. She gave it a gentle squeeze and passed on the support and strength her young lover needed. Gabrielle looked up with an affectionate smile and mouthed an I love you. Xena responded with, Me too, and both women took a cleansing breath before stepping into the room.

******

It had felt like forever since the sounds of a child's laughter filled the East Wing of the palace. Ria remembered just how quiet it had been this past month and was enjoying the sound immensely. The young prince was showing his caretaker how he played hide and seek with Uncle Sal. She winked at the man who was now pretending to look for the giggling prince.

"Orion, you really must learn to remain quiet." Ria stated after the prince had another bout of the giggles.

"Orion," Salmonious called in a sing-song voice. "Come out, come out, wherever you are."

"You have to come and-" The boy's response was cut off as large hands grabbed him. "Ahhhhhh." Sounds of laughter filled the room as the prince was swung around in a circle held in the secure grasp of his uncle.

"I gotcha, you little whippersnapper." Sal gave the boy a bear hug, then set him down. That proved to be the wrong move, for the now-overly-excited prince made a mad dash out the door and down the hall. His voice could be heard throughout the wing, yelling for his uncle to catch him.

"Orion!" Both adults called after the boy. The prince ignored them. He was having entirely too much fun making them chase after him. "Orion stop!" Again the child ignored the cries, laughing as he ran as fast as his little legs could take him. As he rounded a corner he spotted a door on the right and headed straight for it. Small hands lifted the latch and the boy pushed with all his might. As soon as the door was open enough for his small body to fit through, he dashed inside, only to be greeted by quite a few not-so-happy adults. The voices of Ria and Uncle Sal could be heard calling his name.

Eponin stepped past the prince and out the door to get Ria and Sal. The prince saw the looks on the adult's faces and knew this wasn't good. Ephiny walked over to the boy and greeted him. "Your Highness." The prince looked up at the woman and knew from the stern look that he was in trouble. "I'm sorry, Aunt Ephiny." The boy responded, not needing to be told that it was wrong to barge into a room without knocking.

Everyone in the room turned as the door once again opened, this time admitting the queen and Conqueror. The little boy's eyes widened as he made eye contact with his startled mother. When the queen's eyebrow rose in silent question, the prince quickly dropped his gaze to the floor and he kicked at the non-existent dirt.

Before a word could be said, Ria and Sal walked in, followed by Eponin. A semi-circle formed around the youngster and as he slowly took in each face, dread filled the once-jovial child.

"Well, what have we here?" His mother was the first to speak. Her tone revealed that he was not going to get out of this very easily.

Sal was a bit nervous about the fact that he once again lost the young lad and was going to have to explain to the Conqueror. "My deepest apologies, Your Majesty." The man bowed to the queen, keeping his head lowered. Gabrielle gave a questioning look toward Xena, then turned back to the man. "Your Majesty, this was not Salmonious' fault." Ria responded quickly. "He was simply playing hide and seek with the prince."

Gabrielle looked from one to the other, noting that Salmonious still had his head bowed and was looking every bit as remorseful as her son. The queen looked to Ria to continue. "Orion took it upon himself to run away from him, forcing us to chase him." The queen could see that the woman was still winded. Her gaze shifted to her son, who was still studying the floor with great interest.

"I see," the queen simply stated. Gabrielle stepped over to the boy and held her hand out. Without an upward glance the prince took his mother's hand and followed her out of the room. Xena stepped up to Sal and placed her hand on the nervous man's shoulder. He let out a squeak, fearing for his life. "You can relax, Salmonious. I think the boy is in more trouble than you." The man raised his head and saw the lopsided grin on the Conqueror. He returned the grin and heaved a loud sigh.

"Come, Salmonious. We have things to attend to," Ria rescued the man with a wink to the Conqueror.

***

This day had been a long one and it was not showing any signs of ending anytime soon. Gabrielle had faced Perdicas once again, looking for answers. She thanked the gods that Xena had been by her side. The anger and hatred in the man who once loved her was palpable. Gabrielle knew that her lover had had a difficult time controlling her own anger. Perdicas sneered at the two women, claiming that Gabrielle would never find happiness with another. At first the queen had tried to reason with him, but all too quickly she realized that that was an impossibility. His hatred had consumed him. Gabrielle had sent word for her council to be assembled. That's what the queen had thought she was walking into. She was very surprised when she had spotted her son in the room and from the look on his face she had known he was in trouble.

Gabrielle preferred to handle her child's discipline herself. Yes, it would have been easier to turn the boy over to Ria and continue on with her scheduled meeting. That was what had been done with Orion's father and what originally had been expected of her after Orion was born. But that simply wasn't Gabrielle. She had always been very involved in her son's life and would see to it that nothing would change that. However, she did admit that she relied heavily on Ria. Being queen made for some long days, and she would not be able to continue with her duties had she not had Ria caring for the prince.

Gabrielle heard sniffling as she approached the door to her son's bedchamber. The prince knew he was in big trouble. His mother didn't often have to leave work due to his misbehavior and when she did, it wasn't a very pleasant experience for him. He never let go of his mother's hand as he was led to the bed. Gabrielle sat down and placed the teary-eyed boy in front of her. With a gentle swipe of her thumb, she brushed away the tears that were beginning to fall down her son's cheek.

"Now, do you want to tell me why you interrupted a very important meeting?" Gabrielle kept her voice stern. The prince needed to know just how serious this was.

"I'm sorry, Mother."

"Are you supposed to run away from Ria or Uncle Sal?"

Orion shook his head, keeping his eyes down. Gabrielle placed her hand under the boy's chin and lifted his head up so that he was facing her. "Have you been taught to barge into rooms or to open doors without knocking?"

"No, ma'am."

"I didn't think so." With that the queen stood. She lifted her son up and placed him on the bed. The boy, knowing what was coming, began to protest, but his mother's stern look halted his complaints. "Orion, you know better than to run away from people. It's not a game when they have to chase you all over the palace. And it's even less of a game when they find you somewhere that you know you are not supposed to be."

"Yes, Mother," was barely audible between sniffles.

Gabrielle went to the door, knowing that Ria would be waiting outside. She gave the older woman a grin and a shake of the head. Both women knew Orion had only been playing and didn't mean to do anything wrong, but it was the price of being a prince and living in a palace. The rules were a bit stricter here than perhaps they would be if they were simple villagers. Especially when it was something that was becoming a habit for the boy.

Gabrielle spoke to Ria as the two women walked over to the prince. "He is to remain in bed until dinner time."

"Yes, Your Majesty."

The queen leaned down and kissed her son on the forehead. "Behave." This was stated firmly and received an affirmative nod from the boy in response. "I will see you at dinner and do not..." Gabrielle paused to give these last words emphasis, "make Ria come get me."

"I won't, Mother. I promise."

"I love you."

"Love you too, Mama."

After his mother exited the room, Orion laid down and hugged his teddy bear, vowing to remain in bed until he was told he could get up. That ended up not being such a hard task, for within minutes the boy was fast asleep.

******

"Gabrielle?"

"Hmmm?"

"You okay?"

"Yes." Sigh.

"Wanna talk about it?"

Gabrielle lifted her head from its resting place on Xena's shoulder and peered into her blue eyes. "I'm fine, Xena," the queen stated confidently.

Xena's eyebrow rose in challenge.

"Xena," Gabrielle laid her head back down and wrapped her arm tighter around her lover. "How could I not be okay? I'm in the protective arms of the woman I love." She felt the warrior tighten her hold.

"I would fight off an entire legion to protect you." Xena placed a kiss on top of the blonde head. She knew her lover was troubled by the day's events, but talking was not one of the stoic warrior's strong suits.

"Do you think I was too hard on him?"

It took Xena a minute to figure out who Gabrielle was referring to. "I'd say you were pretty lenient."

Once again the blonde head rose from its resting place. "You do?" At the warrior's nod the queen laid back down. "He really is a good boy. He's very mature for his age. Most people don't believe he's only four. He was only playing a game. It isn't fair. He's a little boy. He should be able to run and play and simply enjoy life."

After a short pause, Xena spoke up. "Gabrielle, your son is a wonderful kid. He's intelligent, bright, loving and very protective of his mother - a trait I happen to admire." That received a chuckle. "But he's still a little boy. Little boys get into mischief and it's up to their mothers to correct that behavior so that they can become responsible adults." The wistfulness that took over the warrior went unnoticed by the queen.

"I know, but he didn't ask for this life. I always wanted my children to have the freedom to be who they are and to decide for themselves what they want out of life."

Xena lifted her lover's face until their eyes locked. "Are we talking about Orion, or a certain young girl from Potedea?" Gabrielle's eyes lowered and she fought the emotions that were threatening to escape. The abrupt arrival of Perdicas had brought forth the memories of childhood and how restricted Gabrielle had felt. Her father was a strict man and he ruled over his household with an iron fist. Things were always done the way Father wanted. There was no arguing with the man. Gabrielle had constantly found herself in trouble for one thing or another. Her creative spirit clashed with her father's rigid beliefs. The earlier incident with Orion had now caused her to fear that she was, in some way, stifling her son's creativity and natural exuberance.

"Gabrielle, look at me." The sternness in the warrior's voice took the queen by surprise, forcing her to look up. Blue eyes captured hers and she found herself unable to look away. "You are a wonderful mother. Your son has all the privileges of his lineage yet he is not spoiled. He will grow to be a fine, upstanding man, who will rule this island in a way that will make his mother proud." Tears began streaming down the young mother's face but her eyes never left the warrior's.

Xena's voice softened. "Your dreams were yanked away from you by life's cruel twist of fate. Your son will be able to incorporate his dreams and desires into his life as the ruler of Phantasia." The warrior's thumb absently wiped the tears from Gabrielle's cheek even as her own tears threatened to fall. "I think that little girl who wanted to go off to the Academy turned into a beautiful, generous and loving woman, and I am honored that she found forgiveness in her heart, making room for this old warlord." She couldn't fight it any longer, Xena's tears flowed as she engulfed her lover in a strong embrace.

Queen and Conqueror still held one another long after their tears had dried up. Sleep was still far off for both women, still so lost in their thoughts.

"Xena?"

"Hmmm?"

"You said he'd rule one day."

Xena's forehead crunched in concentration as she connected the out-of-the-blue statement with their previous conversation. "Orion?" She asked. She felt an affirmative nod against her chest. "Of course he'll rule. He is the prince and only heir to the throne, correct?" She lowered her head to see her lover's face and gave her a lopsided grin. "Unless, there's something that you haven't told me."

The blonde head popped up and Gabrielle gave her partner a puzzled look. "What?" Noticing the playful expression, the queen lightly slapped the warrior's stomach. "No! There are no other heirs, Xena."

"Just checking." The warrior chuckled.

Suddenly serious, Gabrielle sat up on her knees and faced her warrior. Xena pulled herself up, still leaning against the headboard and reached out for her queen's hand. Their hands interlaced and Gabrielle exhaled.

"Gabrielle, what is it?"

"Xena, we haven't... Since we have... well, you know, since we've become..."

"Lovers?" Xena ventured.

"Yes. We haven't really discussed the future. Everything has happened rather quickly."

"Gabrielle, we did discuss the treaty."

"I know, but is that truly what you want?"

There was a tentativeness to Gabrielle's voice that made Xena pause. Does she honestly still expect me to try and take over? "What else would I want?"

The queen sighed. "Oh Xena, I don't know, I just..." She paused to collect her thoughts. "This isn't going to be easy for you. You're the Conqueror. You don't make deals. You take what you want." It was painful for Gabrielle to say those words. Not because they were once true but because she could see the flicker of pain they caused her warrior. "I know you would never take over now, but no one else does. There must be people, warlords, out there who will take a treaty as a sign of weakness."

"Maybe." Xena knew there were. Dozens, in fact. But that was something she would simply deal with.

"I don't want to be the cause of anymore pain for you, Xena. If the treaty is going to make things worse then you don't have to sign it."

A realization hit the warrior. She's offering me Phantasia. She would give up everything to protect me. Xena shook her head and grinned. Just as I would for her.

"What is so amusing?"

"We are." Xena pulled the queen into a tight embrace. "We are." She repeated. "I would give up all my kingdoms for the chance to spend the rest of my life by your side." The warrior pulled back until they were facing each other. "Don't you know that?" The smile that lit the queen's face warmed the warrior's heart.

"And I would do the same, Xena. Without hesitation."

"I know."

They gazed lovingly at each other until Xena could stand it no more. The warrior leaned in and laid claim to her queen's lips. The moan she heard told her all she needed to know. The kiss deepened as she slowly laid the queen down. Xena pressed against the firm body beneath her, never losing contact with the mouth she was determined to devour.

"By the gods, Xena." Gabrielle's breath was ragged and her body felt as if it were on fire.

"The gods have nothing to do with it." Xena's voice was husky and filled with desire.

"Wait, Xena." What am I saying! "What about the treaty?"

"Later." Xena answered abruptly. "Right now I have plans."

"You do?" Gabrielle gulped at the look in her lover's piercing blue eyes.

"Yes." Xena purred and leaned down, whispering in Gabrielle's ear. "I'm going to spend the evening ravishing my queen..." She felt Gabrielle shiver at those words. The warrior nibbled on an earlobe, then whispered, "...until..." The body beneath her arched and Xena seized one breast, gently kneading it as her lover writhed beneath her. The warrior felt Gabrielle's legs spread, inviting her in. She took that opportunity to place her leg in between and pressed her thigh against Gabrielle's center. The body below instinctively rose, deepening the pressure. Xena gradually moved her thigh in time with Gabrielle's movements.

Conscious thought was becoming very difficult for the queen. Xena was teasing her unmercifully and Gabrielle didn't think she could take anymore. Then the thought struck her that her warrior never finished her statement.

"Until?" Gabrielle questioned between gasps. She felt the warm breath in her ear.

"...until she begs me to stop."

"Oh, gods." Gabrielle moaned.

 

Xena did get her queen to beg... many hours later.

 

Part 12

8/27/02

Taiko's Scrolls of the Xenaverse | Phantasia