Author's note: It
would probably be a really good idea to have read 'The Light Fantastic'
or its sequel, 'The Inside Out', before reading this, but in some ways,
it can stand on its own, so don't be afraid. Much.
This one is dedicated to SEM, who recently introduced me to the joys of a good paddlin'. <g>
The campaign against the Romans had been a hot, merciless, vicious one, just the way the Conqueror liked them. What she didn't like was the fact that for the first time in her seven year reign as Destroyer of Nations, she, Xena, The Lord Conqueror of Greece (and all those other overtly bloody titles tacked on to the end of her name), had not personally led her troops into battle. She'd been reduced to directing her various offensive sieges from within the castle walls of her finely appointed, if a little dark and musty, fortress within Athens. Her battle strategies were sent daily to the front troops by carrier pigeon and terrified bottom-feeding lackeys, who were more frightened of the moody, ruthless Conqueror than the thought of finding themselves at the business end of enemy Roman swords.
The reason for this first time absenteeism from the thick of things embarrassed the Conqueror to no end. She found it so irritating that it was forbidden gossip fodder within the confines of her castle and was not to be brought up, spoken about, or dilly-dallied with, in serious or joking tones. The reason for her distraction was not all that complicated. The explanation was simple: She'd been caught off guard. There was dissension in her ranks, and a few of her top generals had become traitors. The treasonous dirtbags got together and secretly banded against her. Same old, same old. However, the Conqueror had been caught flat-footed and unprepared for it this time around. There were more than a few whispered words within the castle walls attributing this lapse in concentration to the fact that the Conqueror had been indulging in an inordinate amount of carnal trifling with her new body slave, a lusciously appointed and, on occasion quite mouthy, slip of a girl from Potadeia.
The Conqueror, the mistress of all she surveyed, got shit-faced drunk this night at a reception for one of her returning loyal field marshals, and retired to her private chambers to sleep it off. Somewhere in the middle of the night, she awoke and felt the desperate call of nature urgently advising her to get up and seek out her chamber pot. When she did, unsteadily rising from her opulent Conqueror sized mattress, she promptly lost her usually arrow sharp bearings and tripped over her personal slave, the aforementioned Potadeian girl. The poor woman was unfortunately sleeping in her usual cowering position on the marbled floor, right in the pathway to the pot. Ass over Grecian urn the Conqueror tumbled, tripping in a very un-Lordly way, kersplat on the hard stone of the floor. When the Conqueror tried to stand up, she found she couldn't without wanting to scream bloody murder, and it was not the bloody murder she usually loved to scream.
Her healer was quickly sent for, and after fumbling around with her tender ankle, he nervously announced that the ankle was broken in two places, and Xena would be required to nurse the injured appendage for at least 10 weeks. She scowled unmercilously at him, and he changed his prognosis to 8 weeks. One more death glare from the Conqueror, and that estimate was reduced to 6 weeks. It was hurried prognoses like these, all delivered because of intimidation and threat by a grumpy and lethal Conqueror, that enhanced her quite false reputation as being the Known World's fastest healer.
As the healer scurried from her bedchambers, he saw that she had at least taken a small bit of his advice. She was back in bed with her tightly bound ankle elevated. The elevation was not provided by a royal, down filled pillow, no, but rather by the raised rump of the red blonde body slave who had inadvertently found herself in the way of a tanked and weaving Conqueror.
Lord Xena, the conquered-by-her-own—drunken-misstep-Conqueror, demanded the presence of her advisor and despised oracle, Alti, before succumbing to sleep that night. Alti, unscrupulous and ever plotting to attain the kingdom for her own, eyed the reclining Conqueror and her trembling body slave ottoman and hatched yet another in a long line of devious plans. Throwing some foul smelling herbs into a wine goblet, and stirring in some port wine, she promised the Conqueror that the resulting mixture would hasten the healing process and let her sleep without much pain. Lord Xena would normally smell a rat, or a whole slew of rats, when dealing with Alti, but she was still woozy from over-consumption of spirits and deeply in pain, although she was loathe to admit it to anyone. That would be UnConqueror-like, and she avoided that like the many plagues that had infiltrated the Greek countryside over the years. She sniffed the port mixture suspiciously, found that it smelled no worse than any other concoctions containing mysterious Greek herbal ingredients, and slugged it down as though she was a finalist in a drinking contestÖfor the second time that night.
Alti slipped like a serpent from the room with a wicked smile turning up the corner of her lips, and took a final glance back at the snoring conqueror and the poor body slave who was propping up the broken ankle at the end of the bed. Alti's eyes met those of the slave, and she winked at her, and departed.
Gods, thought Gabrielle, the unfortunate slave-cushion, I hate to think what the Lord Conqueror is going to be like in the morning.
The Conqueror awoke to an elbow nudging at her ribs, and fingers playfully tweaking her nipple. She smiled, feeling the warm body beside her, and reached her arms out and pulled the inviting form on top of her, opening her weary eyes for only a second to recognize the fascinating and enticing mossy green eyes of her sexy-as-Tartarus body slave, Gabrielle. She pulled her in tighter for a very long and protracted kiss, and felt the girl squirming above her. The squirming turned into slower writhing, and some whimpering occurred. Just as the Conqueror was reaching her hand around to capture a lush buttock beneath her palm, the writhing ceased, and squirming began again, and then the girl pulled away from her entirely. Then the unthinkable happened - the Conqueror felt a sharp slap applied to her backside, delivered, astonishingly enough, by her slave.
"Gah!" the girl spat unhappily. "What the hell were you drinking last night? Brake fluid?"
The Conqueror heard some more gagging and spitting noises, and she slowly opened her eyes.
There, just inches from her face, and still loosely within her arms, was her slave, Gabrielle. But when Xena blinked again, she noticed that there was something quite different about the girl. Her hair was much shorter, and darker than the night before when she'd had a wild sexual rendezvous with her before leaving to attend the banquet.
"What have you done with your hair?" the Conqueror asked, royally confused. She did not like it when anybody did anything without her first ordering them to do so.
"Oh, the roots were showing," the girl said self consciously, fluffing her dark red locks, "and I needed a trim. You got home so late last night, I guess you didn't notice. Does it look OK?"
"OK?" growled Xena, miffed that she had not been consulted about such drastic changes in her favorite slave. "What is this 'OK'?"
The girl ignored her question, and repeated the butt slap as before. "You're a supreme grump this morning! And it's not like you to get drunk! Did you and Dave get trashed down at the Embers?"
This was all sounding Greek to the Lord Conqueror, well, except the Supreme Grump part. She'd been called that before. It was, in fact, one of her many titles. But now the girl had pulled away, and was chattering away about something nonsensical. The girl, quite the responsive spitfire between the sheets, and from time to time a bit fiery with her speech, was not acting the way a subservient slave should. As her eyes traced upward, Lord Xena was confounded to see, not the usual tiles gracing a high ceiling, but instead, a very low ceiling, too close for her liking. It was flat and white with an odd fixture hanging from it. She squinted, and it was not a candled chandelier. No, it had flat blades on it, going round and round dizzily as though pushed by an unfelt wind. But then she realized that it was causing a small breeze on its own, like the waving of palm fronds by body slaves on a sultry afternoon. Her alcohol pickled brain was trying to comprehend this when she felt a soft kiss on her cheek.
"C'mon, Wino, get your ass out of bed. We've got to get to the course in less than an hour. We can share a shower. I'll get us some coffee; I set the timer on the maker last night."
The Conqueror's head turned left, then right and then she looked long at the naked slave standing expectantly with her hand out to her, as if to help her out of the ... bed?
Xena closed her eyes a moment, and tried to think. Port, bladder, tripping, ankle ... She flexed both her ankles gingerly, they seemed fine. Headache, healer ... Alti!!
Xena, (she allowed herself to call herself that, she was one of the chosen few she allowed that honor), you're not in Athens anymore.
Now a common observer to these events might think that this situation would be all too much for Xena's port-sodden mind to handle, but consider the facts. The facts usually ran thusly: Xena had lived through odder situations than this, well, maybe not nearly as weird, but pretty close. The Gods of Olympus were always hanging about her in Ancient Greece, playing games with her head, using her for their own amusements and bored gratification. She'd lived through alternate universes before, traveled dreamscapes, and fought adversaries on the very edges of reality. The Gods, (pick one, pick any one) had put her in some pretty whacked out scenarios one too many times, and she was bound and determined to come out the victor this time as she'd done so in the past.
Now it was obvious it was that twitchy witch Alti who was testing Lord Xena's mettle this time around. It was not unlike what her insipid pain in the ass former advisor, Callisto, had done when she had plotted for them to switch bodies. All of her close advisors seemed to have it out for her, and absurdly, the Conqueror rather liked it that way. Although the Conqueror was still unsure which God had been responsible for sending her to a time when she wore glass lenses on her face and she was obligated to follow around a blonde, feisty, rolled tobacco smoking girl (in a hat she referred to as a 'fedora') over the ancient ruins of Greece, she felt confident that this too would pass. She knew that no matter what trying scenario she would come up against during the time of her trials within this new reality, she'd simply roll with the punches and come out on top. She liked it on top.
So, the Conqueror of Nations, Lion of Amphipolis, Destroyer of Nations, Lord Xena, and whatever title had been tacked on lately was unconcerned about this latest turn of events.
Just another day in the life of the Ultimate Cranky Warlord.
Or so she thought.
Chloe stood on the edges of the first tee, watching her dazed lover fumble with the ties on her golf shoes, finally just tying huge knots in them to keep them on.
She poked Dave in the ribs. "What the hell were you two drinking last night? Something laced with PCP? She's so out of it today, I had to dress her. And all of a sudden she doesn't like the way I make her coffee? She needed honey in it? Have you EVER heard of anyone drinking coffee with honey in it?"
Dave's soured stomach lurched at the thought as he studied his sister who'd stood up from the bench and was now gingerly walking about in her spiked golf shoes like a waddling goose. "Geez, well, it was the quarterly meeting of the Chamber of Commerce, and we always end up drinking too much. But it doesn't seem to me she really had that much, but I lost count, and I think Jay Caesar kept ordering Sangria, and he and Sara were shooting pool and ..."
He stopped his explanation, and stared at his sister, who had put her hands in her shorts' pockets and had pulled the linings completely out, and was intently inspecting them. Chloe noticed his bewildered gaze and followed it to see Sara, who was studying the pulled out material, tugging at it, and flicking out pieces of lint, watching them waft to the ground. They watched in confusion as she experimentally tucked the pockets back in, and then slipped both hands inside and wiggled her fingers around, a delighted expression coming to her chiseled face. She looked up, saw them watching her, and she almost smiled. Almost.
Chloe shook her head. "She shouldn't be drinking while taking her meds; she knows that. Look at her, she's still half pie eyed. She looks like Cheech, or Chong. Or both of them. She's been acting weird all morning."
Dave was back to busily concentrating on not upchucking his recently eaten breakfast, and really didn't pay much attention to Chloe's complaints. Mixing pitchers of beer and sangria really wasn't a good combination, and he silently vowed never the twain would meet again. At least until the next quarterly Chamber of Commerce meeting.
"Oh great," huffed a clearly impatient Chloe. "Look who's coming! She looks half gone too! Nifty. The first time this Spring I get to play 9 holes, and I have to do it with 3 people who might puke in my golf bag at any minute!"
Xena/Sara looked up, and carefully watched the form approaching them. The woman didn't look too dangerous, although she had a formidable aura about her and was pulling a bag on wheels behind her. As she got closer, the Conqueror of Nations looked down at the older figure's hand, and saw a stick, or a cloth covered spear clutched there, wrapped in multicolored material. The older woman stopped directly in front of the Conqueror, and stared her down with a bloodshot glare, and thumped her cloth covered stick on the ground several times. Strangely enough, the Conqueror felt a chill go through her spine, and she dropped her eyes in meek deference to the glaring woman. The last time Xena had felt this kind of power emanating from another human being was the last time her mother, Cyrene, had yelled at her for burning down yet another hapless village. The gray haired woman 'humphed' at her, then continued walking over to the man and the woman waiting on the little rounded hill with the two little white pegs set in the ground.
Chloe knew Doris was also at that 'meeting' last night, and gave her a quick once over. Doris was leaning heavily on her umbrella, and she looked unnaturally pale, her complexion reflecting the same tint as the grass beneath their feet.
Chloe stood back with her hands perched on her hips and gauged the bedraggled appearance of her three sickly, hung-over golfing companions and snorted in derision. "That's it. First one to ralph on my new Nancy Lopez golf shoes gets penalized three strokes! Got it?!"
Three sets of bloodshot eyes nodded their tired acquiescence, although one set wasn't entirely sure what that particular threat meant. She was soon to find out.
The Conqueror was nothing if not a quick study. She merely watched, and mimicked what the others were doing. Put a ball on a little pin, take a long metal stick with a rounded/flat head on it, look down at it for an eternity while constantly shifting your grip on the rough handle, wiggle your butt like a dancing girl, look off into the distance several times over, and then take a whack at the little white pocked ball. Piece of baklava. Gabrielle, or Chloe as the other two were calling her, seemed pretty proficient at getting the ball to go a long distance in a very straight line. Once they'd walked with their rolling bags to where their balls had landed, the Conqueror figured out that the idea was to get the little white ball close to the hole with the flapping flag in it.
Her ball had stopped in the grass just in front of the man's and he said he was 'away' and got to hit first. She watched the club that he used, and pulled a similar one out of her bag, and did what he did, taking the stick back and rather chopping down at the ball as if it was the head of one of Caesar's invading centurions. The old woman and Chloe had hit their first shots directly onto the short grass oval surrounding the tiny hole, and they used flat headed sticks to try and push the ball into the little hole. But this was after much walking about checking the slope and distance of the surface of the grass. After they'd all successfully knocked the little ball in, Chloe sniggered, and wrote something on a card with a tiny yellow stick without ink, saying smugly something about birds. No, it was her birdie. That, the Conqueror was sure of.
Now what? Lord Xena thought. She followed them over to another area, and saw the two little white pegs again, and Chloe sticking a prop into the ground. Oh, so they were to do this all over again, but the next flag was just over that rise, she could just barely see it. This was a contest of skill, Lord Conqueror Xena realized, one she might have enjoyed if she wasn't in an alternate universe feeling like she'd licked the bottoms of her troops’ dirty boots all night.
By the fourth hole, the Conqueror, seeing no apparent danger of hidden Roman assassins lurking in the trees lining the sides of the course, finally sidled closer to Chloe, who was sucking liquid out of an odd clear container. Chloe and Doris had already ‘teed off’, and were safely on the green. Chloe offered the Conqueror the bottle, and watched as she sniffed suspiciously at it, then took a hesitant sip. Discovering it was nothing more (she hoped) than clear, cold water, the Conqueror drained it, and handed it back to her with a smirk.
"Oinker," Chloe chided. "Good thing I brought a bunch of this with me. I figured you'd be dehydrated." She rolled her eyes. "You haven't said two words all morning. You feeling that bad?"
The Conqueror figured this hangover was a good cover for her apparent confusion, since it really wasn't that far from the truth. She nodded, and then turned her gaze to the man, who was putting his ball down so he could hit it with the big club. He took a mighty swing at it, missed, and the ball fell off the little stick it was propped up on.
"Who is that again?" Lord Xena asked aloud, and then realized how stupid it sounded.
"I don't know, I think it might be your brother, Dave. Not sure though, he looks more like one of the Three Stooges right now."
"Brother?" Xena said doubtfully, squinting harder at the man. "Lyceus?"
Chloe looked uncomprehendingly at her, and then turned to watch a sheepish Dave re-tee his ball. "Lyceus, who's that? I always thought Dave kinda looked a bit like Kevin Kline."
Her 'brother' finally managed to hit the ball, but it landed in a large round indentation to the right of the green, filled with combed white sand. He swore, and walked off towards it down the sides of the fairway.
It was the Conqueror's turn, and she propped up her ball, and grabbed a numbered stick out of her leather bag.
"Definitely a seven iron, not a wood on this hole," the old woman, Doris, murmured with a definite shake of her head.
Xena sniffed. This was not the numbered stick she had gripped in her hands. She was using something Chloe had called a 5 wood, and it had worked just fine at the last hole, so why change now? She ignored the woman's comment, and wiggled her hips, glancing out at the fluttering flag, setting her feet.
"Too tight together," interjected Doris again.
Xena widened her stance, glared at the older woman, and looked off again to see where the little flag was situated.
"You're going to hook it, turn a little." It was Doris again. Chloe was standing off to the side, watching the show between the two women, mightily stifling a giggle that was begging to burst forth.
The Destroyer of Nations shifted regally and got into her stance again, but not before squinting threateningly at Doris. She looked down at the little ball, then out at the flag, then down at the little ball again, trying to get her grip comfortable.
"You're dropping your left shoulder. You're gonna pull the shot."
Lord Xena deliberately lifted her left shoulder with exaggeration, so it was almost touching her ear lobe, and then sneering at the old woman, dropped it down to the exact same position as before.
Doris sighed disapprovingly and bit her lip. "Well, at least keep your head down."
Xena took one more look toward the flag, then looked at Doris, and with slow deliberation, twisted her head back and forth and up and down. There were quite audible grinding cracks of vertebrae popping and falling into place, and at the sound of it, Doris' face paled, and she shut her mouth.
One more practice swing, and then the Conqueror stepped up to the ball, got everything adjusted and swung. The ball went flying to the left, dropping to hit the ground a good 30 yards past the flag, and bounced into some high grass far behind the green.
The Conqueror ferally growled in frustration and refused to look Doris' way. She leaned down, whipped her broken tee out of the ground, and stomped off with the two women trailing behind. But her keen sense of hearing brought these words to her ears, and she flinched in irritation.
"She never listens to me, either, Doris."
The Conqueror was kicking irritably through some tall underbrush on the side of the fairway of the 6th hole, fruitlessly looking for her lost golf ball. Chloe insisted it was too important to lose without a thorough search. Xena had been disinclined to look so long for it, but when she found out she would be penalized in her score for losing it, she trudged off while the other three headed onward to the clipped green and finished the hole.
That's when she heard the noise, a constant buzzing whine approaching ever closer. She raised an eyebrow, grabbed a club for defensive purposes, and forgot about the missing ball. The noise grew progressively louder, and her posture stiffened in readiness for what she was sure was an ambush, although the odd sound was not something she was familiar with.
Over a nearby hillock, she finally spied the source of the incoming attack. She peered at what appeared to be a small approaching chariot, with a sole warrior on board, but the vehicle was propelled on its four small wheels without the aid of any slaves or horses.
She quickly dismissed the mystery of the vehicle’s source of the propulsion as the form of the person steering it came into focus. An Amazon!! Lord Xena's mind warned. Her senses on full alert now, Xena stood boldly waiting to see what weapon the curly headed Amazon would brandish. But as the cart got closer and closer, Xena saw that the Amazon woman was not alone, no, Lord Xena's eyes were transfixed as she realized that there was a small bundle belted into the chair next to the woman. The bundle was looking at her with gleeful eyes as the vehicle pulled up to a stop in front of her.
A baby! Lord Conqueror blinked dumbly, and she guessed its age at just around the six moon mark. A baby with hair as dark as Xena's, but with soft curls framing its rounded, smiling face. The child looked like it was quite delighted to see the Conqueror, and Xena frowned in response. She then felt the eyes of the Amazon coolly staring at her, and she turned her attention to her, ready for almost anything.
The Amazon regarded her closely, a smirk on her face and a snort coming from her mouth. She turned in her seat and spoke as she began unfastening the baby from its bindings.
"Wonderful. Peachy. Both grown D'Amico siblings tied one on last night, huh? Chloe must be one happy little camper with you today, huh, Einstein? And I'm not even going to ask why you're looking at me like I'm someone out of the 'Twilight Zone'," she said with clearly amused derision in her voice, aimed at the Conqueror as she hefted the baby out of its small seat and into her lap.
Xena didn't know quite what to say in reply to that, but she surely didn't appreciate the Amazon's tone of voice. Her mind was too muddled trying to place the Amazon's face, comparing it with the ones she had met and tussled with in her earlier up and coming nasty warlord years. Cyane? Ephiny? Eponin? Melosa?
The woman with the baby looked like an odd combination of all of them, and Xena's defensive posture stiffened even more, but then she looked back again at the grinning baby in the woman's arms, and her fierce countenance softened. The baby's big blue eyes were glued upon the suspicious but fascinated Conqueror, and she heard the Amazon speaking again, this time to the both of them.
The Amazon bounced the baby on her lap and cooed affectionately to it. "Well, kiddo, you get to go with your big dopey Aunt Sara now, Momma's got to head off to class. Your Daddy obviously forgot that he promised to baby-sit you today, huh?" With one arm holding the child, she reached down to the floor beside her, and lifted up a blue sack with a bottle attached to the side, and a few thick white garments stuffed inside. She pulled a pink bundle of material out of it, and tossed it to the Conqueror, who caught it without thinking. "There's the sling, you can either wear it, or make that red-eyed husband of mine haul her around. You've only got a couple more holes to go, right?"
Lord Xena looked at the bundle of material in her hands. Sling? What? She was studying it so intently she let her guard down and didn't see the woman approaching her with the baby in her arms and the diaper bag slung over her shoulder. "Here," the Amazon said as she dropped the bag on the grass, "let me help you put it on. You never have much luck putting it on by yourself." But then she stopped, seeing the odd look in the Conqueror's eyes. "Hey, do you need to take your shot first?" The baby gurgled in her arms and stretched out its pudgy little arms towards Xena.
Xena's voice croaked as she replied in embarrassment,, "Uh, I lost my ball."
The Amazon laughed. "They went on without you, huh? Well, ya big dummy, just drop another one -- they'll never know, will they? Good Lord, Sara, sometimes I think you're just as brilliant as Elmer Fudd, ya know?"
Somehow, the Conqueror knew that this was a blatant insult, but she bit her tongue in deference to the presence of the baby. She quietly retrieved an extra ball from her golf bag, took a stick and chipped it towards the green as the other woman and baby watched. With some measure of satisfaction, the ball landed on the empty green, not too far from the flag. Apparently her companions were waiting for her near the beginning of the next hole, and had missed the lucky accuracy and skill of the shot.
The Amazon had none too surreptitiously invaded her personal space, and had taken the pink sling and was fitting it over the startled Conqueror's head and shoulders, fixing the straps quickly as the Destroyer of Nations stood stock still. The next thing the shocked Conqueror was aware of, the baby was being fitted to the front of her, its legs slipped through two holes in the carrying device. Lord Xena stood like a statue, her chest now covered by a squirming, burbling baby girl who immediately latched her chubby little hands onto the Conqueror's long black hair. The bag with the extra accessories was also handed to her, as Xena's eyes locked on the shining eyes of the small and very happy little baby. She eyed it curiously and her face softened even further, and she was unaware that a goofy grin was forming on her lips that soon erupted into a full fledged, loopy smile as she blinked at the wriggling child.
The Amazon moved back to the cart, noting with bemusement the matching silly smiles on both niece and her mesmerized Aunt. She started the cart to whining again, and pulled away, waving to both Xena and the child. "See you later, you two. Bye, Vivian!!" She couldn't help herself; she just had to throw in one more dig at her hung-over sister-in-law, glad that her daughter was still too young to understand her off color language. "Bye, Asshole! Take care of your niece, willya? Don't be selling her off to any passing Gypsies!" She didn't wait for an answer. Chuckling, she waved, turned the vehicle and drove off.
Xena watched the vehicle retreating for only a moment before the baby ensconced on her chest yanked painfully on her hair again. She tapped the baby gently on the nose, and murmured, "Sell you off? Perish the thought, little one. No one should sell off anyone as cute as you ..." She hoisted the bag more securely on her shoulder, tossed her club back into the rolling stick bag, and with a light step now in her stride and a steadying hand on the baby's butt, walked off towards the hole where her ball lay, sure of achieving her first par of the day.
Xena was quite exhausted. She was lying sprawled on her back on a couch in a large sitting area in what Gabrielle/Chloe had referred to quite cryptically as their 'Home Sweet Money Pit'. It was only shortly past midday, and the Conqueror couldn't remember feeling this tired in a long time, not even when she'd led her troops into battle against a particularly pesky contingent of Romans led by that tenacious brute, Brutus.
As she lay staring at the ceiling, she listened to the calming sounds of Chloe humming off tune in another room, cleaning up after their lunch of what Chloe had described as 'PB and J' sandwiches. The Conqueror had quite liked the sticky and sweet substances spread between slices of bread that were thicker than her usual repast of pita. Xena downed three of the sandwiches, smacking her lips after the last one, and washed it all down with a fourth mug of ice cold milk. They talked briefly about the outcome of the 'golf' game, and Xena swallowed back more than one smile at the proud way the little redhead boasted proudly of her numerous 'birdies'. The Conqueror was content in knowing she had at least bested her 'brother' Dave in achieving a lower tally of strokes.
She'd regretfully given up custody of the baby to the doting and proud father, and for the duration of the remaining ‘holes’, she found herself relaxing and actually enjoying the company of the three strange individuals who teased her for her mis-hits, and praised her for her improvements. She actually listened to the older woman's tips on the optimal methods for holding the clubs, swinging them, and choosing the correct club for the distance to the hole. They all parted company after playing 9 holes, and a somewhat disappointed Conqueror silently wished she could play 9 more. That number sounded better to her for some reason. Nine holes didn't seem like enough of a challenge.
Chloe entered the room, and grinned cheekily at the tired Conqueror, and without asking, she moved in between her legs, and lay down gently on top of her, letting her head rest on Xena's shoulder. Xena shifted a little to accommodate her, and quite without thinking, kissed the redhead softly and wrapped her arms around her in quiet contentment.
"Nap time for Noo-Noo." Chloe murmured sleepily, and although the Conqueror didn't understand exactly what the sentiment meant, it made her feel happy, and soon, both women were gratefully snoozing away the rest of the early spring afternoon, wrapped gently in each other's embrace.
When the red blonde woke up, snuggled deep into the covers, she found herself in the middle of the large bed, her arms wrapped tightly around a pillow. She blinked until her eyes got used to the late afternoon light streaming in the windows. She stretched, and saw her still sleepy eyed lover standing quietly in front of the large window, looking out over the land that stretched far beyond the horizon.
Lord Xena glanced at her, and saw those green eyes staring questioningly at her. She smiled, and motioned for the redhead to join her at the window.
Gabrielle stood, and wrapping the sheet modestly about her, made her way over to stand behind the Conqueror, ready to assume a submissive pose at her mistress' feet. But surprisingly, before her knees could begin their bend, Xena casually reached out, and put her arm around the startled slave's shoulders, and drew her near.
Gabrielle knew better than to speak before she was spoken to, and resolutely kept her mouth shut, although she was already bursting with curiosity at the Conqueror's strange behavior.
But the behavior just kept getting stranger and stranger...and stranger yet.
Lord Xena used the redhead as a human crutch for her injured ankle, but also unexpectedly ran an affectionate hand through Gabrielle's long soft hair as she spoke. "See out there, Gabrielle?" she said, motioning to the endless green of land outside her fortress window. She saw that Gabrielle was looking, so she grinned and continued. "All of that is mine. All of it. It is Greece. It's just ..." Her voice faltered, and she cleared her throat as she gathered her thoughts, "a waste. Now, I've had some ideas, and I want you to listen to them, OK?"
OK? Thought Gabrielle dazedly. What is this 'OK'?
Lord Xena continued, giving the slave a gentle reassuring squeeze. "I think 18 holes would be perfect. I've already called for the royal groundskeeper to come up later and I will give him the general plans. And the royal seamstress, she's coming up, too, to help me devise clothing with cloth holders at the interior of the hips, a place to pocket small items. And sticks with a cloth dome on them to protect a person from the rain or harsh sun. And perhaps to make you what is known as a 'ball cap'. You will look simply adorable in ball caps, I think."
Xena quieted for a moment, and Gabrielle's eyes widened, and she swallowed hard. Adorable? Did she say she thought I was adorable? But she didn't have time to ponder that idea, because the Lion of Amphipolis was speaking again.
"And boots with spikes on the bottom of them, Gabrielle. No, not for battle, but for a better grip when walking in the slick grass. And I've called for the weapons maker, too, I think we'll take some of the excess swords we've got stockpiled and have him refashion them into clubs."
Now Gabrielle was truly confused. Clubs? Why would the Conqueror want to take sharp swords and dull them into clubs?
Xena seemed to be getting cheerier as she shared her plans with the slave tucked so comfortably in her embrace. "All of this fighting and warring. I just can't see ... spending so much money on it, so much time or lives on it any longer. That nasty bugger Caesar can keep Rome, I don't want it anymore. If he keeps to his side of the sea, I'll keep to mine. And those Amazons, I mean, how bad are they, really? They keep to themselves, they dance rather nicely, and well, some of them don't seem so bad, huh?"
Huh? echoed Gabrielle's mind. She was starting to think that maybe the Conqueror had not only sustained an ankle injury the evening before, but had also taken a mighty crack to her noggin.
The Conqueror proved Gabrielle's hypothesis by quickly placing a sweet lingering kiss on the slave's lips, and then hugging her even closer to her. Gabrielle found herself reacting to the Conqueror's kiss by wrapping both arms around her, and to her surprise, the Conqueror didn't pull away, but seemed to appreciate and enjoy the closeness, and expressed her acceptance of it with a vulnerable sounding sigh.
"And another thing, Gabrielle. This slave thing, it's just so ... barbaric, isn't it? More trouble than its worth, and who would want to take sweet little children away from their mothers and fathers? Much less grown-up sweet things like you. No, slavery, it’s got to go."
Both the Conqueror and Gabrielle turned together as the seamstress, weapons maker and groundskeeper entered the chamber, followed closely by the Conqueror's personal cook, holding a tray of odd looking stuffed pita sandwiches. A white smile emitting from the Conqueror's face nearly blinded them all, and they pulled up in stark surprise.
"Come, come, all of you, sit down," as she motioned them to the large table near the window. "You too, Cook. I trust you had success in making my concoction? The mashed nuts and fruit spread?"
Cook nodded, and swallowed as she deposited the tray upon the table. Another slave entered, and while they were all sitting down at the table, all of them uncomfortabe, the slave poured them all a tall goblet of ... milk.
Milk? thought the former slave Gabrielle. Not port, we've ... got milk? She shook her head, and dared let out a bemused chuckle as the Conqueror bade them all to lift their beverages in the air in a toast.
Lord Xena said quite solemnly as they all touched goblets, "Here's to green grass, blue skies, family and friends!"
"Hear, hear," they replied, and took a refreshing drink.
Lord Xena, Conqueror of Nations, Previous Supreme Grump and Future 6 Handicapper, raised her goblet again, and tapped it against Gabrielle's in a private toast. "And here's to you, my little love. Soon, I know, you will be swinging a club yourself, and easily besting me. And I promise you, right here and now, that I won't mind a bit."
And in the coming months and years, Gabrielle found that the Conqueror kept her promise made to her on that spring day. Never once did the Conqueror complain when Gabrielle consistently beat her with her assortment of clubs. Not even when a smug Gabrielle, now quite talkative and secure in the solid reality of their ever blossoming love, bragged on endlessly about her numerous 'birdies'.
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