This story uses characterizations shown in the Universal copyrighted crossover between Xena and Hercules; Armageddon II. I am not keeping them and I certainly won't be making any kind of profit while they're in my care. All that aside, the interpretation of those characters here is original and I as their creator maintain rights over their reuse.
Ever After is the third and last installment in a series I started late September 1999. The two proceeding stories Chattel and Thrall are essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the foundation of this companion piece.
Please be warned that the two women described are lovers. If you don't think reading about that or them within a setting where the power dynamics of their relationship involve S/m concepts, stop and go no further. Because we're talking adult themes here, you also need to be of legal age as determined in your state or country to consider proceeding.
You can find more stories by Dark Angel at Dark Angel's Den.
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by Dark Angel
© 1999 Dark Angel
It's going to rain. You can smell it in the air.
But it seems fitting enough, I suppose. It rained the last time I stood aside this hill under this banyan she loved so much. It hadn't been just some light sprinkle then either. More like the kind of storm you could believe was conjured by Zeus himself. It felt like the heavens had opened up on us that day, drenching the countryside and lighting up the skies clear past the horizon.
My mother had been at my side then, and in a way, I think the soaking and all its fury helped say what even then she didn't dare. I remember reaching out to touch her, to let her know I was there, to let her know she wasn't as alone as I thought she felt. I don't know what I expected. Not the silence or the sense I was still after all those years touching stone.
I told myself if it had been the other way around and she'd been the one laying there in the soil, she would have expected the same straight back and face from Gabrielle and just because it hadn't worked out that way was no reason for her to break her vows. Of course she didn't tell me that was what she was doing or that they'd even talked about it. Looking back, it's hard to know how much they really discussed anything. It is impossible now to know whether what they shared required or permitted it.
From the very beginning, what I knew about them and what I learned was purely from observation and instinct. I had been made part of their world yet was expected for the most to exist outside and separate to it. Certainly my mother would not have viewed it that way, especially in the beginning. She would have said loudly and with total conviction that I was the most important thing in her life. As a child, I had no reason to question those beliefs and no way of knowing that the one that said the least, who seemingly counted for less than a stable hand, was actually the true holder of that place.
By the time I arrived, my mother's hold on Greece had been secured firmly long ago. Yes, there were minor skirmishes as she described them about the far boarder, generated mostly by those who had forgotten the might of her armies. She would attend to them but they were always quickly quashed. She would settle back and turn her focus and the time that permitted to me.
Thankfully, there was another, one who seemed to know when to appear and too quickly disappear. A blonde angel who used to lighten the considerable loneliness I experienced when my mother was away.
I know I have memories that go back to when I was just learning to walk of being rocked, of a spoon playing great flying bird as I gulped down the contents it delivered. Others of a compact woman playing at blocks with me on my nursery floor and a tall raven haired goddess cheering with pride at my first time on a horse.
But my first clear memory of seeing them together was a swarm of confusion and childish fear, equivocal feelings of a youngster's narrow perception of the world. There was nothing that confirmed or denied what I sensed or had confirmed later to be true, just ....Gabrielle always seemed to be a great deal more comfortable out of my mother's presence than in it.
At three, I remember sitting in her lap while she read to me. It was something of a treat because I never saw enough of the fair haired lady, as I thought of her. I was growing sleepy so I'd snuggled into her blouse, thinking she was warm and soft and what a grand afternoon it was turning out to be. I lay there pretending to be dozing so she wouldn't make me move when I heard the door to my nursery open and my eyes drew level with my mother's riding boots. Without a word exchanged between them, Gabrielle's body went from being the most welcoming place in the world to stiff and shielded.
The arms that had been holding me so lovingly came away and suddenly I was being lifted up and placed back in my cot.
At five, I remember being so boisterous wrestling with Gabrielle that I pulled her summer gown aside, exposing the ugly mark that covered half of her right shoulder blade. I remember being quite horrified and asking if it hurt, just as my mother interrupted us. Gabrielle took my tiny hands away and as their gazes found one another, whispered 'Not anymore'.
As I grew, the incidents and questions increased with equal frequency but I was never offered any clearer insight.
At the age of seven, I had been playing hide and seek through the many twist and turns of my mother's palace with the one of the young women who cared for me in the afternoons. I guess I'd twisted when I should have turned because I tried to retrace my steps from where I had run and suddenly found myself lost. I was trying to build up enough courage to tell one of the guards posted along my walk I couldn't find my way. Then a door I was passing opened, and there before me was my fair lady - my Gabrielle.
I can still recall the little sparkle that would cut like emerald sunlight through night's curtain whenever she would first lay eyes on me in those days. Of how she would bend down low so she could inspect my growth as she called it. And how happy she would seem for that split second before place and responsibility would pull her upright again.
However at that moment, all I was interested in was how exciting it was to discover where she lived and so pleased it was she who'd found me.
She invited me in to the her room with ease as if it was my habit to come calling. And I, using my best manners, climbed up on her tiny bed and told her what had brought me there. We'd only just started our talk when the door that had been left slightly ajar opened, admitting the Conqueror once again. Don't get me wrong, I loved my mother. I loved the strength that allowed her to lift me high above her head, the beauty that radiated and made everyone gasp for the sheer sight of her. But as the child that as I was, I particularly loved the way that the palace staff would trip over themselves to attend to me whenever she was near. Still, it didn't ever completely stop my mother's presence secretly unnerving me, particularly when she shared it with Gabrielle.
Just as easily as Gabrielle had ushered me into her little room, my mother was scooting me out, full of excuses that it was time I was on my way and that I shouldn't be wandering around unescorted. Of course I went without question as even a child knew better than to argue with the Conqueror. The door was pushed closed behind me and I stood there a moment trying to decide which way to go.
I heard my mother's voice to start and though I knew I shouldn't, I pressed my body up close to the wall to listen.
"You know you shouldn't encourage this," she said. Her tone wasn't harsh as it often was when she spoke to any of her guards but it wasn't gentle like how she spoke to me either.
I peered through the crack left between the semi closed door and its jamb to see Gabrielle sitting where I'd left her. Her head was lowered and the smile that had warmed her face moments before had disappeared.
"I wouldn't, my Lord, I promise you," she contended.
But my mother appeared unaffected. "The child was born to rule. There is no room for a future sovereign to grow up soft."
"Never, my Lord." Gabrielle's own voice cut her off, almost pleading in its tone. "But I can't send..."
"Can't?" Came the more familiar harshness.
I realized then my Gabrielle was crying and a fierce sense of protectiveness came over me. I wanted to rush back in, to stand between them and rescue Gabrielle from whatever it was she was trying to defend. But I could also hear footsteps coming up behind me. I snuck one last peek at my lady's seemingly shrunken frame and took off down the halls until one of the guards finally pulled me up.
Still, I rarely saw them together and when I did it was usually just in passing when I accompanied my mother on some official engagement about the palace. On those occasions, though I had no understanding of why, I was taught not to try and break away from my mother and greet my friend. Gabrielle would lower her head and my mother would simply tighten her hold on me, more times than not, acting as if she hadn't seen her at all. Any questions I may have asked about why my mother acted so strangely around a woman she must have known I loved were met with resounding silence. Gabrielle too offered no more than a cautionary 'it is the way of things' and told me not to trouble myself about it.
My life went on and I remained blissfully ignorant to anything more than my studies and what Cook was serving for dinner.
But at the age of nine, their public faces and private beings were revealed to me in a way I could not have predicted nor, I believe, they would have wished. Because of it, my whole perception of them as individuals and role models altered irrevocably. I had until that point accepted for the most that my life and both of theirs were happy ones. All the silences aside, I believed my mother to be a powerful but benevolent ruler. Paradoxical one might have thought in their application but not to me. Her greatest qualities seemed to exist in equal harmony within her and I never, not for one moment, felt I needed to question them.
To be exact, it had been the celebration of my ninth birthday, and to mark it my mother had taken me out of the palace to show off the land that had been bestowed me. Mother led a small troop of a dozen soldiers with me proudly riding up front by her side. We spent the larger part of the day riding and devouring a picnic lunch full of all my favorite things. My desire to have it to be us - just the three of us - was keen.
But not to be.
The land was beautiful, though I don't think I truly appreciated it then. I know I thought long and hard about why on a day that was supposed to be so special for me, I hadn't seen Gabrielle. She had not been there when I woke amongst the many well wishes or at the grandiose breakfast held in the courtyard below my mother's window. As our horses moved us further and further away from the palace, I kept hoping she was going to somehow appear miraculously and spend the day with us. But she didn't and I tried not to let my disappointment show to those who had come along.
When we returned at sun down and after I was scrubbed and dressed in something more befitting dinner with the Conqueror, we took our evening meal together quietly in her chambers. I remember she smiled a lot that night and silently indulged my habit of pushing my food around my plate. Normally it would annoy her and make her short with me. When it was time for me to leave, she carried me back to my own room and waited while my evening maid made me ready for bed.
It wasn't until my mother had gone and I lay awake watching the shadows cast by my night candle's glow that I spotted the gift left propped up on my bedside table. Immediately I recognized the embroidered lace that had been tied in a bow around the parchment as being from one of Gabrielle's own hair bands.
My heart leaped - she hadn't forgotten me after all.
I scrambled out on to the cold tiles, quickly discarding the ribbon and pulled both ends of the scroll apart. In the neatest of hands, my Gabrielle had penned a tale illustrated in watercolors of a noble young heir who would some day rule all of Greece. The story made me roar with laughter and pride - the pictures stood me in awe. Strewn throughout the tale and captured in exquisite detail were images of my mother and I in regal dress, upon horses and strolling holding hands.
It was by far the most wonderful gift I had ever received.
I should have been exhausted but by that time I was too wound up to sleep. Instead I stood tracing the images and words with my fingers and marveling at the likenesses she had created. But it only took the first complete read to realize there was something missing. Not that it made the gift any less perfect but somehow, I thought, unfinished. Gabrielle was a prominent character in the tale she'd weaved - described as the young heir 's closest friend - yet for whatever reason there was not one illustration of herself.
My eyes darted back and forth from the parchment to the candle stub I was using to admire my prize by, my thoughts reeling with my mother's words as I was tucked into bed.
'By the time that flame has gone, it won't be your birthday any longer.' She had told me in her most serious but affectionate voice.
I don't know why, but I was convinced that my only chance of persuading Gabrielle to add a picture or two of herself to my gift would be to ask her on my birthday. And so it was with that conviction that I rerolled the parchment, trying my best to replace the lace exactly how I had found it and started off towards Gabrielle's quarters. Even though I received a curt word from the guards every time, I still made it a habit to find myself 'lost' near the tiny cell quite regularly. I expected Gabrielle to be up reading as she told me was her habit, or already asleep, so I was a little surprised when I arrived to find the room empty. Then I seized upon another plan. I would show my mother the fine artwork and ask her to hear my case. She was, after all, the Conqueror, and could grant any and all requests.
It was only a short journey to my mother's chambers from there and I remember feeling heartened to see there was still light coming from under her door. I paid no attention to the noises coming from inside as I eased the door open nor to the fact that my mother was clearly not alone.
What should have been my delight at finding Gabrielle was quickly replaced with the horror of witnessing what until then had been kept well hidden from me. The room was dimly lit but I could see clearly enough. Gabrielle was completely naked, bent face down over my mother's small serving table. My mother, also naked save for a robe hanging lose about her, was on top of her, pushing and grunting. Gabrielle was just laying there making whimpering noises while my mother kept at her. I remember looking down to see Gabrielle's night dress on the floor beside them and her skin spotted pink where she was being held.
It took no more than an instant for her eyes to settle on mine or for me to conclude that my mother's actions were hurting her. My tiny hands curled themselves into fists as I lunged forward using the wooden ends of the scroll I carried to land the first blow at my mother's thigh.
"Stop it," I bellowed. "Stop hurting my Gabrielle."
My attack was short-lived. Mother stopped me cold, blocking my innocuous attempts by stepping away from the table as she closed her robe and using her sheer presence to maneuver me further from the person I was trying to protect. Everything became very confusing then, a mass of bodies and limbs flapping about me. Somehow Gabrielle had managed to grab up her night gown and pull it over herself. And before I could register fully, she was kneeling before me with her hands covering my own.
My rage turned to tears.
"It's all right, little one," Gabrielle cooed anxiously, trying to wipe my face and get me to breathe evenly all at once. "I'm all right."
It didn't feel all right. In fact, at the time it was the worst feeling I could ever remember having. I turned to my mother who at that point had not uttered a word.
"Why were you hurting her?" I demanded.
She continued to stare at me without speaking as if I had accused her of something so low it was unworthy of a defense. In her silence, she convinced me then and there I was right. She had been hurting Gabrielle and the only reason I could think of to why was because she knew I loved Gabrielle too, that she was as special to me as the Conqueror herself.
Of course I know now my mother's steely gaze and her reasons for not answering me had more to do with the shock of being discovered than the foolishness of my wounded beliefs. Nonetheless, I held that belief for years as I was years older before I realized what I had actually seen that night. And by then, the deed of sneaking up and watching them together had taken on new meanings …and feelings.
By the time I was twelve, my feelings for Gabrielle had developed into a full blown crush coupled with an intense desire to free her from her life as my mother's property.
Initially it had been no more than a prepubescent's harmless fascination. I got into the habit of seeking her out at the livery or in the library when I knew my mother was detained elsewhere. Or simply watching her while she took her afternoon stroll in the courtyard. It wasn't just because I thought she was beautiful or because she would always answer me with a smile and a friendly word. Everyone around me growing up behaved that way. But with Gabrielle there had always been a certain something that set her a side from the others who inhabited my mother's palace. Gabrielle was the one who always applauded the loudest at any function where servants were permitted. Gabrielle was the one who was most interested in my childhood discoveries about life. Gabrielle was everything I longed for in a parent.
In contrast, my mother never answered my question of why she was 'hurting' Gabrielle that night years before. Or why she continued to do so in what I believed to be insurmountable ways. It wasn't just the things I knew she required of her in her chambers or only the marks Gabrielle always tried to keep covered that would come and fade only to be replaced by new ones.
I am not saying that my mother didn't love me. That wouldn't be true. My mother had this wall about her, an invisible armor that said 'don't touch'. In my early life, I somehow always managed to get under that armor enough for her to take pity on a 'fair haired sprout'. She would show me off to her allies, teach me how to wield a sword and be there to say good night. Nonetheless, as I developed and became a young adult we seemed at loggerheads. In her words, she was keeping me tough. She said that for my own future and the future of our empire, I needed to be more than strong. But to me our relationship and our arguments were fraught with unspoken jealousy and competition and at the center was always Gabrielle.
My mother was the most powerful woman in all of Greece who took to her bed what I believed to be the most beautiful of all women anywhere. Yet for all intent and purposes, that woman was nothing to her. She had no position at my mother's table, no place at her side publicly. It shouldn't have mattered. But ultimately I knew Gabrielle went without the simple right of kindness, the one thing I knew my mother could have easily have provided.
And as I grew, so did the gap between my mother and myself because of it. It grew until my feelings, unaired and without actual form even in my own head, became an obsession and the time I spent watching Gabrielle at a distance or listening at my mother's door could not quell my desire to free Gabrielle. I loved Gabrielle but could not have her for my own. My mother possessed her without loving her. The fact that I knew much more than a child my age should have about what they did in my mother's chambers made it all the more twisted and unthinkable in my mind.
Then once when I was feeling particularly brave, I followed Gabrielle as she was escorted to the Conqueror's quarters for an evening of 'entertainment'. Gabrielle had been dressed in a low cut gown, her hair left free and shining around bare shoulders. After the guards left, I took myself to the second access point my mother often used to enter her room. It opened up on to a small bathing chamber with glass plated shutters that in turn opened onto the grandness of her bedroom. I had the perfect view that would go undetected.
They ate dinner together, sitting at opposite sides of the servery, each sipping wine. After they'd finished, Gabrielle cleared the plates away, stacking them neatly on the trolley they'd been delivered on.
My mother was lounging on a sofa watching as Gabrielle bent over to perform her task. The look on my mother's face was clear unbridled lust.
"You know," My mother stated as if savoring the very taste of what was on offer before her. "That is your best asset."
I expected Gabrielle not to answer, or if she did, with a certain shame caused by the position my mother placed her in - an unwilling participant in some weird sexual game. But no, she simply looked up, smiling with unfamiliar commonness.
"Does that mean you wish to waylay your drink until after you've enjoyed that asset?" She said, her eyes holding not an ounce of regret.
I couldn't believe it. Gabrielle was flirting with my mother. I watched as my mother lowered her head in agreement. Yes, she wanted to forgo her evening spirit until after Gabrielle had serviced her and indicated how she would have her by sitting up and beginning to open her robe. In turn, Gabrielle ceased her activities with the crockery and went to kneel before her.
The thought of Gabrielle naked and writhing had become agonizing fuel to my adolescent fantasies long ago but it had also always been accompanied with the belief she had no choice. The words and gestures she supplied felt like an axe blade to my skull. For years, I had fretted over Gabrielle's apparent poor treatment, while all along she was reveling in her place in my mother's bed. She liked it, this strange service that she provided. She encouraged and responded to it and the realization infuriated me.
I didn't stay to watch my mother take her pleasure with Gabrielle. I couldn't. Instead I withdrew hastily back the way I had come without looking back or caring.
Gabrielle didn't need or deserve my pity.
I stopped sneaking up to watch them after that and sulked for weeks, mentally berating myself for being sucked in by the petty concerns of my mother's bed servant. Driven by puerile thoughts and anger I tried everything to distract me from my feelings for Gabrielle. I drove my horse as hard as my mother on our mornings jaunts, I fought like an animal possessed at drill practice and took as many of the harlots and young bucks that caught my eye.
None of it quenched my thirst for what Gabrielle had conjured in me for years. Or stopped my dreams being filled with her body or my mother's pressing down upon her.
Six months after seeing them together, of being finally privy to Gabrielle's pretense, I decided what I must do to redeem myself. Ignoring her existence had failed miserably. If Gabrielle wanted to be no more than my mother's whore then I would treat her as such. I too would take what she was given free reign in the Conqueror's palace for.
Why would she care? It was her function, after all.
The night my mother's army returned victorious from Mani, a celebration to mark their grand success was held in the main dining hall . As expected, their ruler presided over it all, drinking equal portions of ale to men half her age and being just as captured by the entertainments of dancing girls, jugglers and comical bards offered as part of her faithfull's reward. For most of the celebration I sat by my mother's side sharing the feast and joining in the general discussions that passed around her table. Several, including my mother had young courtesans perched on their laps, all the better to boast their lurid humor with.
I alone sat unaccompanied choosing instead to let my gaze wander about the room. I no longer bothered searching for Gabrielle amid the many faces that shared in the merriment or felt disappointment at realizing her absence. I knew now where she was, where she had always been at the previous festivities. She would be reading quietly in her cell for the most of it, then at sometime later into the evening, she would be washing in a deep fragrant tub, oiling and pampering her skin. Later still, she would be selecting and dressing in garments that not more than a candle mark after stepping into them would be torn from her shoulders. Or worse still, not removed, only pulled up so my mother could access her without her disrobing at all.
I tried in vain to steer away from the images that plagued me of the preparations Gabrielle would be making a few corridors away or of what would ultimately transpire. But as the torches burned lower around me, my mind left the party and stood specter to her ritual. In my mind I imagined her skin, pink and sweet smelling from her bath, her dress deep crimson and low cut, picked solely for its seductive style. Of my lips pressed to hers when I joined her.
I don't know if my mother realized exactly when I made my retreat from her party. At the time, I had only one thought and that was to rid myself of her chains and restore my pride.
I found Gabrielle where I knew she would be by then, waiting in my mother's quarters. Because of the hour and the celebrations taking place elsewhere, she was alone as I had thought. At first she appeared a mix of surprise and delight in seeing me, aware that something had changed between us over the proceeding months yet unsure precisely what. I bolted the door behind me. As I moved closer, I know she could smell the liquor on my breath. She seemed to get a sense of what was on my mind then and tried to act coy about it.
She tried avoiding me, moving about the sizable space like a skittish horse as she aimed to talk me down. I thought at the time she was making quite a show of it and wondered why she was bothering. But as I caught her and finally forced her to the ground I realized the one thing I had countered on was for her to fight me too. And she did fight with everything she had in her, kicking and striking out at me like a woman crazed.
At that point I didn't care and seeing her so worked up just fired me on. She got a clear punch at me while I was trying to ready myself and I had to stop to catch her wrists. It made me mad and almost ill timing everything in my britches. So I struck her just so she'd be quiet. I told her she needn't be pretending just laying there was such a chore. She kept crying and continued thrashing at me. She split my lip and I tore her blouse clean open, ruining what she'd so carefully chosen.
I dragged her up and to the table top I'd seen her straddle years before and with her face pushed into the wood I upturned her skirt, wedging larger limbs between to keep hers apart. None of it had gone how I imagined in my head and no matter what coaxing I used, she didn't stop trying to fight.
The next thing I knew was being flung backwards, my pants about my knees as my body became airborne before landing heavily on my ass. I saw my mother's face. I swear in that moment I understood she intended to kill me.
Something distracted her thankfully, Gabrielle pulling herself up from her position over the servery and she turned to tend her. I didn't wait to see or hear what would follow. Regaining sufficient thinking, I took my cue and fled as fast as I could get to my feet. Fleeing was pointless I realized and only delayed the inevitable. She drew a halt to the celebrations and stalked me through all the turns of the palace, finally catching up and cornering me in the stables.
"Never touch her!" She'd screamed at me. "Never ever touch her!"
As I said, I was young and hurt by all the silences, betrayed by the love I couldn't understand would never be returned in the way I wanted and by the one who could have made all our lives so different.
"It's what you do to her!" I screamed right back along with a stream of obscenities about how I knew she did that and more at any given opportunity, so what was the difference. Wasn't the property of the Conqueror also the property of the Conqueror's heir?
She masked her shock but only just. A shadow of something, I don't know what, passed over the normally stoic features before she regained her focus. She went on ranting then about how she'd been responsible for the breath that gave me life but she'd squeeze it out of me with her bare hands if I tried anything remotely similar with Gabrielle again.
At sixteen, I thought I knew and understood everything. Worse still, I thought because I would take my mother's place one day as ruler, I had a scratch of her dignity and sense of station.
"You can not. Ever," She kept bellowing. "Take any one or all of the women or boys you wish, any but her."
I had nothing to lose. My life was over and I cared little what I said or how deep it went. Words spilled out of me that had been left to fester all my existence. Everything she said to me I threw right back tenfold with a vengeance she herself had fashioned. Why was she so possessive of Gabrielle if she was no more than a thing to her? I had seen everything that went on between them - everything! I said she didn't deserve Gabrielle and when I became ruler I would outlaw slavery. No one had the right to own another human being - not even her. And finally, that I loved Gabrielle and would do everything to win her over.
The stony silence my mother was renowned for followed. In fact I hadn't been sure that she had heard a word of what I said for quite sometime.
"Sometimes, life breath is shared..." She told me eventually, failing to meet my eyes. "...You are my heir, borne by..."
If I had known hate for my mother before, it had been nothing, not one iota to what I felt right then. After all she had done, there it was, yet another twist of the dagger she had plunged into my heart long ago. All the lies, the absolute mockery she made of me. Why had she ever allowed my life at all? I knew what she meant immediately but if my life was to end then and there I would take her too. I wanted to hurt her in a way she would never recover from. But enraged and grief-stricken by the obvious collaboration between them both, I spat my last shred of venom at her, knowing it would rip her asunder.
"So I am the bastard of a peasant slut?"
The blow popped one of my teeth and smashed another. I couldn't have cared if she smashed every last one of them. I stayed my place as still and cold faced as she, waiting for her to take my head off, hearing our breathing lock in a dangerous battle of who would die there and who walk away. Except as my mouth filled with blood and remnants of my shattered teeth and my mother drew back again about to land a second, a shadow fell across the loft.
It was Gabrielle. She was dressed in fresh clothes and had fixed her hair. My heart stopped. The words of what I had called her still rung in my ears as her movements brought her nearer, bringing light to the bruises forming on her face. Then with only the slightest hesitation in her step, the woman I now knew to be my real mother approached us, stopping short of me to fall on one knee at the Conqueror's boots.
If I could have taken my mother's sword, I would have saved her the trouble and fallen on it myself.
"It is late, my lord," Gabrielle told her, in a voice confident and without regard to the fact she had an audience. She leaned in closer, pressing the side of her face I hadn't marked against my mother's ribbed trousers. "And if it pleases you..."
There was no pleading attached to the words nor attempts to hide their full intent. Then to punctuate their meaning, she made a pushing motioning against the muscled thigh she leaned against. It seemed to speak volumes between them. My mother understood it, even if I did not, and reached to stroke the upturned face, fingers skirting delicately over where a graze had appeared.
"They will all heal with nothing more then air and ointment, my lord," Gabrielle tendered gently, answering a question I had not heard posed.
Without a word, my mother pulled her up to her feet. Then as they stood toe to toe, she tilted Gabrielle's chin, running her thumb along the fine cheekbone again speaking the silent language only they could hear.
"Return to my chambers." The Conqueror commanded in an even tone.
Gabrielle nodded her accord and turned away without ever acknowledging my presence, leaving me and 'her lord' to finish whatever my mother intended to be my fate. I watched Gabrielle disappear into the night shadows, totally enthralled by the modest act of a slave relaying not only her readiness but willingness to serve. Her unabashed display of exactly what she was to my mother, in light of exactly what she was to my mother's heir, made her clearer to me than she had ever been. I made no effort to hide the tears that brimmed and spilled out so easily.
And the final piece I thought I needed to complete the puzzle was suddenly in front of me.
My mother seemed to consider the matter closed and, casting away the blade she'd picked up to use on me, turned to leave.
"Does Gabrielle know?" I called after her, thinking I would still have the last say. I would finally know it all.
She stopped, not turning back.
"Does Gabrielle know what?" She inquired, finding the frequent sarcasm in her voice in an attempt to warn me off.
She couldn't scare me anymore and she knew it.
"That you love her?" I announced. I don't know what I expected her to say. Certainly not what she did.
When she finally spoke, her words which barely registered above a whisper were laced with a bitterness I'd never heard before or after.
"Masters can not love their slaves."
Then she too was gone, leaving me to my wounds and first real taste of what it meant to rule.
As I said, my mother never did tell me that she loved Gabrielle. And Gabrielle never did come right out and say that she loved her back. Or that she was after all that time, content with what had become of a slave girl purchased so many years before. I assumed it and could be totally wrong in my conclusions. My perceptions of who they were and what they were to one another could very well have been twisted and construed to fit an image I wanted to see rather than what was real. Contradictions between them abounded till the end.
But I'll tell you what I do know without a doubt as I stand here now.
I know whatever drove my mother the night I tried to force myself on Gabrielle had little to do with simple retribution for potentially damaged goods.
I know on the eve we lost Gabrielle, I saw my mother - a woman well into her 60's - pick Gabrielle up as if she was a sack of corn and carry her from the servants' quarters to the palace tower just so she could see out onto the fields that bordered the eastern gates. She held her throughout the night and past the dawn. And when it was over and Gabrielle was gone, I had to coax her fingers free so the healers could take the body from her.
I know that after Gabrielle was laid to rest, my mother never slept in her chambers again. And on the nights that brought me down to check on her, I would often find her tucked up on the pallet still left in the empty cell that had belonged to a slave.
I know a few nights ago when my mother was readying to leave us too, she stayed sitting up in the same chair where they'd shared their last moments together. She said it was to watch the sun come up but I wasn't the only one who believed it was more likely she was waiting for Gabrielle.
I never told Gabrielle that I knew she had been the one who delivered me into the world. I realized after my mother's disclosure when I pushed her to break her silence that it made no difference which one of them had borne me. They were both my mother in their own ways and I harbor little ill will for what they thought they had to hide.
Last night as I was clearing away some of my mother's personal things, I came across a chest that she'd had kept tucked away for years. Inside I found numerous scrolls, many gone yellow with age. All of them were sealed with Gabrielle's mark and a thin strip of lace about their center. At the time, I could only bring myself to unravel one and read but a few lines of what lay set out in perfect hand.
Perhaps one day, I will sit and take the time to open and read them all. Perhaps, if you wish, I'll read them to you.
Continue on the follow-up series, The Conqueror's Property, beginning with Emergence