The Conqueror's Pet

Author's Note: This Conqueror tale contains dark emotions and much violence. If a movie, it would be rated above an "R" for graphic violence in some parts. The reader has been warned. The Conqueror is *not* a nice person, especially when crossed. This tale is a continuation of one entitled "To Love A Conqueror". It can be found in our group's archives as the content was not suitable for public posting. If you enjoy this story, there are several more like it (but with higher "ratings" ) to be found within our Writing Group. Xena =============================================================== Chapter One The Conqueror awoke as the first rays of dawn spilled over the window sill and caressed her. She immediately took stock of her surroundings, even as the last traces of sleep erased themselves from her mind. All was as it always was...the room was quiet in it's splendor and the only other person in the room was..... Lord Xena turned to see Gabrielle fast asleep next to her. The girl had her own quarters next door to the Conqueror's suite, but for the last fortnight had rarely slept there. Only on rare occasions when Lord Xena had needed no distractions was she told to stay in the small but attractive room she had been assigned to. On those nights the bard chose to write, as the Conqueror demanded more from her than just a good bed mate. She expected entertainment of all different sorts, and lately Gabrielle had begun to put down the adventures of the Conqueror for all to hear. She probably put the former warlord in a much better light than others saw her in, but Gabrielle understood the woman more deeply than any other person on earth, save for perhaps her mother. Lord Xena had told her that herself, one night when she had had a touch too much port and was feeling more emotional than usual. Gabrielle had cherished those words, and put them on parchment as soon as she had returned to her quarters. The bard was dreaming of riding across meadows with Lord Xena at her side...of sunlit picnics and games and.. "Wake up." The words pierced through the veil of sleep like a hot dagger through butter and the slave was instantly awake, knowing her Mistress' voice as well as she knew the penalty for ignoring it. Green eyes flew open instantly, even before she was fully awake. "Yes, M'Lord." she said, trying to bring the world into focus. Lord Xena smiled. "You are not a morning person, are you?" she observed wryly. Gabrielle smiled sheepishly. "No, M'Lord. I never have been." Gabrielle stretched to wake up more quickly and then said, "How may I please you this morning, M'Lord?" The Conqueror laid back on silken pillows and replied, "You please me just by being here." Gabrielle blushed crimson, hardly believing that this was the same woman who had taken her by force only weeks ago. She now seemed so changed, at least when they were alone together. As soon as others came into the Conqueror's presence the warrior's countenance changed drastically. Then she returned to being the cold and ruthless woman most saw her as. "What are you thinking?" Xena's voice interrupted Gabrielle's thoughts. "Only how I live to serve you." the slave lowered her gaze even more. "I'll have my breakfast as I bathe....we have a lot to do today." Lord Xena commanded, and Gabrielle never saw the warm smile that stretched for just a moment across the dark haired woman's features; she was too busy hurrying to draw the bath (running water in the Castle had been a gift of Caesar's engineers....enterprising people, those Romans) and inform the servant responsible for meals that Lord Xena was ready to begin her day. It was while Xena was bathing and Gabrielle was washing her back when a servant approached, bearing a message. "For you, My Lord." the male servant kept his eyes on the ground lest he lose them for looking without permission at the Conqueror's body. Xena nodded, and Gabrielle reached out for the message. "I'll read it to her." she explained. Happy to have delivered his message without mishap the servant bowed deeply and then left. Gabrielle unrolled the scroll and read aloud: "Your proposal is agreed to with joyous anticipation. If convenient, it is arranged for this evening." Gabrielle's brow furrowed. "There's no signature. I don't know who it's from." "I do." Xena stated. "Get dressed in your traveling clothes and take two of your favorite scrolls. I've arranged for you to have a reading at the Town Library. I've decided the city should know what a true bard writes like." Gabrielle could hardly believe her ears. "My Lord! Do you mean I'm to leave the Castle and....and go to the city?" "With an escort of course. One attempt to escape and you know the penalty. I care for you, but you are still my property...don't ever forget that." Behind the cold words Gabrielle could sense insecurity. She had learned over the months she had been with the Conqueror that Xena often sounded harsh when she feared for something. In this case Gabrielle could only reason that the warrior feared she wouldn't want to return, and so gave her no choice but to do just that. She bowed her head. "I know the penalty for attempting to run away, My Lord." "Good. Now call for Sarah and go get ready. The new Captain of the Guard will escort you personally to and from the reading. Choose your tales carefully." "Only the best ones, Lord Xena." Impulsively the bard ran over and quickly kissed Lord Xena's cheek. "Thank you." she breathed softly, and Xena's heart seemed to jump a bit. Moments later one of the other hand maidens was summoned and Gabrielle was free to return to her quarters to get ready for her debut as a real bard. Her first public reading! She could hardly believe it. Happily she ran to her quarters. A pair of steely eyes watched her fairly skip down the hall, and a swarthy man stepped from the shadows to leer in her direction. "That her?" he asked. "Yes." An unseen man responded. "The Conqueror's pet. About to go out into the harsh world with only a personal guard to escort her." "Things can happen out there." the somewhat unkempt man sneered. "Many things...many horrible things." "Many....profitable ....things.For us." Their laughter echoed in the deserted hallway. ====================================================================== Chapter Two Gabrielle couldn't believe her luck. An entire day outside the castle...and what was even better, she got to tell her stories. Finally! The Fates certainly work in strange ways, she thought. First her home was destroyed, her family either killed or sold into slavery and her own self finding her way into the service of the Conqueror. And now her leash had been out so far as to actually get out of the castle! It all seemed too good to be true. Riding along as escort was the Captain of the Guard. Gabrielle didn't like the man with the long scar down the side of his face and the golden teeth. Then again most of the guards and soldiers made her uneasy. She tried to focus on the forthcoming joys of the day and not the creepy man in charge of her safe return to Lord Xena's chamber. ========== Lord Xena sat at her desk, trying to design a campaign for yet more territory to the East, but she couldn't concentrate. Something was wrong, she felt it...and the feeling nagged at her like a tick imbedded under the skin. "Lord Xena?" a page said, nearly causing the woman to jump. Only years of training kept Xena from whirling at the sudden voice. "What do you want?" "There's news." the page licked his lips nervously, wishing for all the world that somebody else other than he had this task. "Well? What is it?" Lord Xena turned to regard her servant with a piercing stare. The poor man's knees began to shake. "It's about....the girl. She's gone and taken for ransom." Xena was out of her chair and had the parchment in her hand in a flash. Heart pumping alot harder than she remembered it doing so in a long time, she read it and then crumpled it and threw it into the fire. "I knew he was a traitorous snake." she hissed. "But I let Marcus' good words about him influence my own judgment." "Pardon?" the page asked, voice now beginning to tremble. "That newly appointed Captain of the Guard is a traitor, and a worm. If I hadn't listened to my old friend I...she...damn." Xena never noticed the page gingerly leaving the chamber, relieved beyond words that he was still alive. She only heard the words on the scroll echo through her mind over and over. "We have her. And you're going to pay to get her back. In many ways." ============================================================ Chapter Three The Conqueror was not pleased, and the entire castle feared for their lives. For when Lord Xena was this distraught not one was safe. Not man, woman, or child for that matter. Marcus received word that he was wanted immediately in the Conqueror's Receiving Room. This was where she dealt out orders, was introduced to Emissaries or Diplomats...or sometimes executed traitors in her midst. So it was with some trepidation that Marcus approached the heavy doors and nodded to the guard. The guard rapped three times upon the doors, and the inner guard opened up to admit the General of the Conqueror's Army. The room was built to be intimidating; with high vaulted ceilings and no decoration save for the ornate platform on which the Conqueror sat it was meant to tell all who entered that there was but one person in control...and it was not them. On the platform sat a large ornate throne with crimson and deep purple upholstery upon a golden frame. On this throne in her most expensive and some would say gorgeous gown sat the Conqueror, scepter in hand and looking every inch the Ruler she was. Marcus approached and knelt before his Empress. He said nothing, knowing it was always she who controlled every aspect of such meetings. To talk first would be an automatic death sentence, especially in the mood she was in. "How long have we known each other?" she finally asked him. "Many years, my Lord." "And what is your position in my Kingdom?" Marcus was puzzled. She knew what position he held. Se had appointed him years before, knowing he would never betray her. She had always said he was the only man alive she totally trusted. And now she was asking him his job? "I...I don't understand why you're asking me this." he said, still kneeling. "Arise...and answer the question." was the only reply he got. Marcus stood, and for the first time in Lord Xena's presence he felt fear. Her eyes were void of any compassion, and her face was if chiseled from stone. Beautiful yet cold and hard. Angular cheekbones made more so by the shadows made by too little sleep and food. She was in pain, he knew...but he also knew that she never allowed herself to admit it. She just made everyone else feel the pain instead. He took a breath and answered, "I am the General of your Armed Forces. The Supreme Commander save for you, My Lord. I would never betray you." "Interesting you'd say that." Lord Xena's gaze pierced through to Marcus' very soul. "Since the Commander you recommended for Captain has kidnapped my personal property and is holding her for ransom. Trying to gain power over *me*. The man *you* hired." "But Lord Xena...I didn't know he was a traitor! He was the best warrior under my command...a perfect candidate for Captain. You must believe me when I say.." "SILENCE!" Xena didn't even raise her voice, yet her tone was such it seemed she did so. "Answer me this, General. What's the penalty for treason under my Rule?" "Death. Crucifixion in as long a time as possible. After torture and dismemberment in some cases." "Do you wish such a fate?" "No, my Lord." "Then I suggest you send the best spy we have to find out where that slave is being hidden...and then when we have that information ready my horse and a battalion of soldiers to get her back. Or I will forget that I knew you before I was Ruler, and deal with you the same as I would anybody who crossed me. Is that understood?" "Your horse?" Marcus felt numb. Would he really be allowed to walk out of that room? It almost seemed an act of mercy by now. "Yes...I'm commanding that mission to get that girl back here. That way I know my orders will be followed. Do you have a problem with that, General?" "No, my Lord. Not at all it's just...well...why so much trouble for one slave? It would be more cost efficient to.." "Because I wish it." Xena's voice was as hard as her face. Marcus bowed. "Yes, Lord Xena. Is there anything else?" "No. Go and send out that spy...and tell him if he fails to deliver the location of that girl before nightfall we'll find another to do his job for him." A death sentence. She was not in the best of moods that was for certain. Marcus nodded. "As you wish." The General was dismissed with a wave of a gloved hand and he was never so happy to be dismissed in his entire life. "By nightfall..." The Conqueror said low, and her eyes grew even harder. ============================================================ Chapter Four Gabrielle awoke with a splitting headache. Her first thought was that they must have had an accident. Did the horses run away with the wagon? Did a rival warrior attack? Then she suddenly realized that she couldn't move, and couldn't see. Her hands were bound behind her very tightly, and her legs were tied as well. She couldn't even wiggle around because there was some sort of weight attached to her legs to prevent her from scooting anywhere... If she could see to scoot that is. The heavy blindfold over her eyes allowed no light to filter through, although she could tell by the slight noises around her that the outdoors was very close. Where in Tartarus was she? And *why* was she here like this? And who was responsible? She thought that perhaps a rival had kidnapped her in order to get Lord Xena's attention but then immediately scratched that theory from her mind. A rival would have had no idea of the closeness Xena and the young slavegirl had recently begun to share....more than likely she just would have been killed outright. Nope, not a rival. Then who? She heard the sounds of heavy boots approaching, and tried in vain to twist so she could see who it was. Moments later she doubled up in pain as one of those boots connected with her skull. All went black again. Out of sight and silent as a ghost, a lone person hid and watched. Grey eyes observed who came and went, and looked up at the skyline to mark their exact location. He reached inside his tunic and withdrew a small piece of parchment on which he quickly sketched some details and a map...then tied the message securely to the leg of his partner, a falcon. Stroking the head feathers in an almost gentle way, the spy whispered words of swift flight...and then released the bird. The falcon soared up and out of sight quickly...straight back to the Conqueror's castle. The deadline had been met...and the spy's job as well as his life was no longer in question. He melted back into the brush and began his return journey home. ====================================================================== Chapter Five It wasn't often that The Conqueror rode at the head of her own army these days. As this was a special search, however, she made an exception. Following the map the spy had provided, Lord Xena led the troops ever closer to where Gabrielle lay hidden; still unconscious. ====== At sunset they set up camp a candlemark's march to the hide-out. That cursed sun...if it would have just stayed in the sky two candlemarks longer the slavegirl would be back in the Conqueror's possession by now. And her heart could start beating again.... "All is ready, Lord Xena." the Commander's voice broke through the veil of concentration, and the former warlord turned Empress startled back to reality. "Good. Have the men ready to march at first light." "As you wish." ======== The guard in charge of the small cave opening was napping again. And why not? They were in the middle of nowhere....nobody would ever know the location of their hideout. So why not take a little nap? Morpheus seemed a pleasant sort.... He suddenly shot awake, wondering if the branch he heard breaking was in his dreams or in reality. "Who goes there?" he shouted...and a panther like shadow descended from the tree directly above him, landing quietly and putting a dagger to his throat. "The One who will kill you." a voice hissed. "So....so that was a real branch breaking?" he stuttered, feeling his bladder loosen. "No...." the voice purred in his ear. "It was the sound of his neck breaking." The guard glanced over and saw the second guard lying dead on the ground, his neck at an odd angle. Then he knew no more, and went to pay his fare to Charon. Xena's eyes glimmered and she gave a bird call (the caw of a Raven) to give the all clear signal. Marcus showed up first, and he watched as Lord Xena meticulously cleaned the gore from her blade. When she had replaced the dagger in it's customary place, he finally spoke. "I don't recommend sending everyone in there. We don't know how big the caves are." "I agree. You and three others will accompany me into the cave. The others will split up and corner the area...no matter which direction people may break from there, I want a squad ready to intercept." Marcus was shocked. "You? Forgive me, Lord Xena but we need you to be safe." Steely eyes locked onto his. "Do I *look* like a maiden who needs to be kept safe?" she growled. "No, of course not. It's just that you are the reigning Monarch. You can't take chances as you used to." "I can do whatever I wish. And nobody, not even Ares Himself could stop me from getting that girl back." "I see." Macus said, and sighed. "Very well. As you wish." He motioned for his three best men to follow, and they drew their weapons and entered the small cave. ============================================================ Conclusion Marcus was the first one into the cave entrance. He realized that he was in danger of being reprimanded heavily for going ahead of Lord Xena (he may even be branded or scarred upon their return to the castle), but no matter how frightened he was of The Conqueror's iron grip he cared for the woman. She was once his friend and ally, and even at one time his lover, although those days were long over. He would rather it be his head rolling on the ground than hers..so he purposefully brushed ahead of Lord Xena as they walked into the entrance. "Marcus..." she hissed. "Forgive me, Lord Xena." was all he said, steeling himself for the blow that never came. "Always a tactical officer...always watching my back." the warrior woman mused almost tenderly. "We were friends once, weren't we?" he said. "Let's go, m'lord." It was very anti-climactic. They turned the corner to find a small alcove. Two men guarded one crumpled unconscious woman laying in the corner. The soldiers surrounded the kidnappers immediately and it was over before anything had begun. "Disappointing." Xena said. "I had hoped we'd at least work up a sweat. No matter, I'll deal with them soon enough...and there will be sweating." As her eyes fell on the slave girl she gave a little cry in her throat. It was a sound that the men had never heard the Conqueror utter before....it was almost like something broke inside of her. They glanced at each other, wondering what exactly was going on. It didn't look like the actions of somebody just retrieving stolen property. Xena went to Gabrielle's side and knelt down. Gently turning the smaller woman over onto her back she cradled her like a babe. "They'll pay..." she murmured low. "They'll pay..." Gabrielle felt the strong arms around her. Holding her. Cradling her. Wiping the dried blood from her face where it had dripped from the split in her skull. She managed to open her eyes and as the image in front of her came into focus she smiled weakly. "I knew you would come for me, My Lord." she rasped. "Xena." the warrior whispered into her ear as she held the bard close. "Please....just call me Xena." "Xena...." and Gabrielle once again slipped under sleep's embrace. The gentleness that had showed itself for a moment disappeared, and the Conqueror stood, carrying Gabrielle in her arms. "Take them to the dungeon." she said, her eyes once more cold and hard as ice. "And await my orders." "Yes, Lord Xena." Marcus answered, and glanced over at the prisoners. "You two had better make your peace with the Gods." he advised. ======================= Gabrielle regained consciousness in what she assumed was the Elysian Fields. Soft pillows...perfumed air...and no chains of any kind. She was free..... "How do you feel?" a familiar voice asked. Gabrielle's heart leaped. She wasn't free, but at least she was alive...and she was with Xena. Had she dreamed what the Conqueror had whispered to her in the cave? Dare she be so informal with the Conqueror of the Known World? "I feel much better, M'Lord." she decided to exercise caution, and was surprised when she saw moisture spring into the eyes of the ruthless Ruler. "I asked you to call me Xena." she said softly, reaching out to touch the slavegirl's face with unbelievable tenderness. It made Gabrielle's breath catch in her throat. She hadn't dreamed it... "I thought I was dreaming." she smiled. "No, it's not a dream. You are a dream....and a gift. Gabrielle, you showed me where to find my heart again. You unlocked the steel door that held my love and had it permanently soldered open. You unlocked my heart. How can I ever repay you?" "You saved my life." the bard said. "I'd say we're even, My...Xena." This was going to be more difficult than she thought! "I have business to attend to." Xena said, kissing Gabrielle's hand. "No more chains, Gabrielle....not unless you want to..uh..." "Play a game?" Gabrielle blushed. "I like it sometimes when you...uh...when you're you." she smiled, crinkling her nose up in an infectious grin. Xena's heart unlocked even more. "That can always be arranged." she nodded, then grew serious. "What I have to do now is not a game, though. I have to deal with the men who kidnapped you and find out who their Leader is. Then I have to deal with him." Gabrielle chose not to think too much about what the Conqueror would be doing. She knew now that she was safe from her deadly wrath, but she knew those men weren't. And she also knew better than to argue for their case. So she simply asked, "Am I free to go to my quarters now?" Lord Xena's face fell. "I thought you'd want to stay here." she said. "I do! Do you mean you want me to stay here always? What about when you have to meet with people? What about....?" "Gabrielle." Xena said, taking her hands in her own. "I won't give you your freedom totally, but I will give you the run of the castle. You will be known as my lover and my Chosen Mate...the closest you can be to my wife and still remain a slave. You will stay with me always...unless you wish to go to town, go to a Festival, go anywhere you like. It's freedom without freedom." Gabrielle's heart almost stopped. It was! She found herself crying with joy and throwing her arms around the Conqueror's neck. "Do you mean it?" she laughed, wetness glistening in her eyes. "I never say anything I don't mean." Xena stiffened, thinking she may have been insulted in some way. Gabrielle only laughed harder. "Oh you're so funny!...In a respectful way, of course." she quickly added. She was glad to see Xena's expression soften. She understood that if Xena truly gave her her freedom that she feared the bard would take that freedom and leave...and The Conqueror would never trust anybody enough to give them that option. Gabrielle watched as Lord Xena gave her one quick kiss and then gathered herself together and left to do the unpleasant business at hand. As the door closed, she laid back down on the luxurious bed and smiled. "Even if you don't believe me," she said aloud, "I'll never leave you, Xena. And you did give me my freedom....even if you don't realize it. Because I'm right where I want to be." ====================================================================== Epilogue VIOLENCE ALERT: This Epilogue contains *very* violent content. Not for the squeamish. ======================== The dungeon was located where most dungeons are...in the bowels of the castle. Dark, stuffy and always cold (no tapestries or rugs kept any chill at bay...only stark stone existed there) the dungeon was the last stop for any prisoner who dared anger the Conqueror. The three men who were it's most current occupants had angered her very much indeed. The Conqueror strode through the dungeon doors and took a good long look at the men who had kidnapped her most prized possession. She wondered if they would die well or if they would soil their trousers before she even had a chance to warm up. No matter in the end... She stepped foreword and signaled for a guard to come close. "Did you find out who their leader is?" she asked. "No, M'Lord. They refused to speak. Since you gave the order not to use undo force until you were present only the most 'gentle' of methods were used. They resisted them." "Very well. Now we can begin in earnest." She addressed the prisoners. "You will die. *How* you die will be determined by how well you cooperate. Do you understand?" The men in shackles merely sneered at her. "All right then. Your choice." Lord Xena glanced around her and as her eyes fell upon a hanging cage suspended from the ceiling her eyes lit up in a wicked gleam. "Guard, put one of them..." she randomly chose on.."That one...in there. Light a fire under it and lower the cage till it is about ten feet above the flames." "And then what?" "Nothing. Leave him there. If he doesn't talk, watching their friend cook to death in his own juices may loosen the tongues of his comrades." she purposely looked at the two remaining men. "And I'm just getting 'warmed up'...the next torture will be worse than your buddy's there..and the last the worst of all. So you see, even if you never tell me who your leader is, I still win. Because to me vengeance is just as sweet as justice." Her eyes glittered like the ice within her soul. "Sometimes I enjoy vengeance a good deal more." She was rewarded when they squirmed for the first time, belying their underlying terror. Good. She had made a point with them. Maybe they were getting somewhere after all. The first man was hung in the cage and the fire lit below. At first he simply sneered at them. However, as the steel heated up and his feet began to burn...the bars too hot to cling to to lift off of the red hot floor of the cage...he began to scream and beg for mercy. Screams that fell on deaf ears. Screams that rang through the castle. Screams that finally died hours later with the body with the boiling fluids inside the finally quiet cage. "Dispose of him." Lord Xena commanded, and the body was taken to the city arena to feed the caged lions. "Now who's next?" she asked the two remaining men, and they were still silent, although visibly shaken. "You're good...I commend your loyalty, if not your stupidity. You could have quick painless deaths but choose instead to suffer unbearable torture. So be it." Almost conversationally she asked the guard. "How long is a human intestine?" "I don't know, Lord Xena." "Hmmm...shall we find out?" "If it pleases you, M'Lord." "Oh it does...give me the dagger." The guard handed the Conqueror his dagger and grinned a death's head grin as he watched his boss approach the two shackled men. "Now the question is...which one?" she looked from man to man and finally chose the one who showed the most bravery. This assured that the last man would more than likely crack before his turn came up. "You." she finally chose, and stepped up to the smaller of the two men. She methodically ran the dagger along his skin, watching tiny pearls of blood spring to the surface as the dagger's sharp edge scratched just deep enough to make a crimson map along his hide. His skin jumped, but other than that he didn't flinch. "Last chance." she said. Still he was silent, although shaking with fear. This woman must be borne of a demon, he thought..to commit such acts with apparent relish. "All right then.." and she thrust the dagger into him, slicing him open from collar bone to groin, and stepping back so that the blood didn't soil her robes. If possible, he screamed louder than the first man. In fact, his cries were so resounding that in the Conqueror's chambers Gabrielle heard them, and considered interfering. In the dungeon the guard stepped up and carried out Lord Xena's orders. With another slice of his dagger he drew out the prisoner's intestines...slowly, ever so slowly, and knew the still breathing man could se his own body being taken apart like a child's puzzle. "I can end this, you know..." purred Xena. "Da....Dagnon." the prisoner gasped before he gave up his last breath. The last man began to cry with relief. Maybe his death would be swift now! The Conqueror, after all, had what she wished. "Take him to the courtyard and draw and quarter him." she said with a wave of her hand. "As you wish." "NO!" They turned to see Gabrielle standing in the doorway, horror and disbelief colouring her face. "What are you doing here?" hissed Xena. "You said I could go anywhere I chose; I chose here." the slave said, fighting the urge to vomit. "Please...you know who betrayed you. Kill the other mercifully, I beg you.." the smaller woman threw herself at the Conqueror's feet and sobbed. Sobbed for the senseless deaths of the other men and sobbed for Xena's soul. Sobbed for her own soul now that she loved this woman and new her full capacity for violence. Sobbed for everyone she had ever lost....including the girl she had once been. Lord Xena placed a hand on the nearly hysterical slave girl and stroked her as fondly as one of her gentled lions she kept as pets. "As you wish." she said. "Since this man wronged you, his life is yours to do with as you will." Gabrielle sniffed, and gained some composure. She stood up and rubbed the tears from her streaked face. "Mercy." she begged. "Show him mercy, M'Lord. For me." Xena nodded, then turned to the guard. "Give him a fighting chance." she commanded. "Send him to the Arena for four years as a slave gladiator. If he lives that long, set him free." The guard bowed. "Yes, Lord Xena." Ignoring the guard, Xena addressed the prisoner one last time. "If I were you I would thank your Patron Gods with all your heart and soul...for because of the pity of the one you wronged, you have another chance to live. If she hadn't appeared, you would have died by my hand, and I would have spit on your corpse." The man finally lost the last of his composure and broke down into wracking sobs, his mind broken from the fear he had. "He'll live." Xena said. "More's the pity. But you did a good thing, Gabrielle. Your heart is as big and as forgiving as I thought it was. Now let's get you out of here." Placing a hand on the bard's back, the Conqueror guided her out of the dungeon. "M'Lord." called the guard. "What of Dagnon?" Xena stopped and considered it a moment. Dagnon had ridden with her for years. She had never trusted him, and now he had been proven that he didn't deserve any trust at all. "I want his head on a pike as soon as possible." she ordered. "I want his teeth for a necklace and his balls fed to my lions for a snack. Removed while he's still alive, of course." "He hasn't been seen in days, M'Lord." "Then I'll have an assassin find him." "As you wish, M'Lord." The two women continued on out of the darkness of the dungeon and into the relative light of the Conqueror's Castle. A light that Gabrielle hoped to nurture through the years. A light that had just begun to spring up in the Conqueror's soul. ====================================================================== THE END (unless Dagnon turns up again.)