Announcement - Thanks to my savvy, diligent and extraordinary beta-reader, Nancyjean – Both Lord Conqueror of the Realm and Queen of the Realm can now be found on an Ebook format as well. (epub, MOBI, PDF) on the
Xena Library web site. It is listed under the LORD CONQUEROR OF THE
REALM SERIES, so scroll down to the L's.
SPECIAL THANKS : My humble most ardent gratitude to the excellent, most brilliant Beta readers Nancyjean and Alexandriaruth whom I can't thank enough.
Comments, thoughts, questions & feedback : MOST WELCOMED – The more you write me, the quicker I post – I mean it!
Go To Part 1
Just before suppertime, in a sizable villa in the outskirts of Athens , a servant holding an oil lamp in her hand opened the doors and nearly fainted as soon as her eyes fell on the Conqueror's Heir standing at the threshold in full military regal attire, and two Imperial guardsmen holding burning torches standing to each side of her.
The servant became dumb with shock and immediately knelt before the esteemed visitor.
"Is Lady Demetra home?" Princess Athena inquired.
"Who are you kneeling before, your silly boy?" A feminine voice called out from behind the petrified servant as her footfalls neared the door. She grabbed him by his shirt and shoved him away from the doorsill before she noticed the familiar face.
"Your Grace!" she exclaimed at the pleasant surprise and curtsied, but less than a moment later, before she even completed the gesture, a dreadful realization hit her that there could only be one reason for being paid with such an eminent tribute.
The older Noblewoman began to tremble.
"Do not bow before me on this day, dear Lady," Princess Athena spoke with a grave and heavy heart and looked down at the older noblewoman who kept her head down still as if not wishing to witness her worst nightmare being confirmed by the look in the Heir's eyes.
"Please, your Grace…" Lady Demetra begged with a broken voice. "Please do not tell me, I beg you…" Inwardly she tried with all her mental strength to contain what her heart already feared to be true, and when she failed and a lump began to rise in her throat she dared to look up and behold the Conqueror's Heir, whom she had known since the latter had reached her waist, and began to bargain as a last resort. “Which of them survived?” she asked frantically, ignoring the inner voice insisting on telling her that if the future Sovereign of the Realm had shown up on her doorstep in person, then none of her children had survived.
Princess Athena did her very best to maintain her composure but her eyes began to weld up with unshed tears as she watched the heartbroken lady going out of her mind with grief – unable to do anything about it.
“Please, your gracious Grace,” Lady Demetra began to cry, “which of my boys survived? Cleon or Dexios?”
Feeling as though her tongue was trapped under a heavy rock, the Heir just kept on standing there without saying a word.
“They are both dead! By the Gods!” the Noblewoman broke down.
Princess Athena caught the older woman half way to the ground and held her tightly in her arms.
“I am so sorry, Lady Demetra,” Princess Athena said, and after a while, she led the sobbing Lady to a nearby settee.
“Guards!” she called out through the gap in the door that was ajar.
Two Imperial guardsmen entered, each carrying an urn in one hand and a shield in the other.
Princess Athena stood in front of Lady Demetra. “Lady Demetra, it is my sad duty to present you with your sons' ashes and your sons' shields.”
The guards placed the urns and the shields on the table in the middle of Lady Demetra's main chamber and left. Princess Athena took a seat next to the bereaved widow and wrapped a comforting arm over the quivering shoulders.
"I am so very sorry for your loss, dear Lady," the Heir murmured. "The battles in the Nordic Lands were hard and bloody. I had to command my forces on the field."
"Of course. Your Grace could not have watched over every single soldier on the battlefield," the widow nodded with understanding. "They were warriors. They thought that they knew what was to be expected… they just never truly believed that they would…"
"None of us truly know what it is like to fight on the battlefield, when the enemy is so close that you can see the color of its eyes and smell the stench of its sweat," the Heir explained thoughtfully. "We all think that we are invincible because the Lord Conqueror is invincible, but the truth is that while the Lord Conqueror is - some of our loyal warriors inevitably fall. Such is the nature of the beast that is war."
Fresh silent tears streamed in the grief-stricken widow's wrinkles that grew deeper by her sorrow. "The last time I saw them was eleven moons ago when they were given leave by their commanders to attend their father's funeral. As I watched them leave to return back to their posts in Gaul , I missed them more than I missed my dead husband," she almost sounded embarrassed.
Lady Demetra's words suddenly made the Heir think about her parents and their great dissension.
"It is understandable, dear Lady," she said and meant it.
The older woman wiped the tears from her eyes and said, "Please, forgive me, your Grace, for bothering you with an old woman's ramblings. I am simply too emotional at this time to mind what I say."
"Do not trouble yourself on my account," the Heir assured and tightened her hold around Lady Demetra's shoulders.
After some quiet moments passed between them, Lady Demetra asked, "They were fine soldiers though, were they not?"
"Not just fine soldiers, dear Lady," stated the Heir, "But the best of men as well, not just in my sight but in that of all those who knew them."
"I am so very grateful to your Grace for bringing me the news in person rather than send a messenger as is customarily done," Lady Demetra muttered and softly caressed both urns resting atop the table.
"For me, it was the only honorable course of action," the Heir said firmly and without hesitation. "I remember the graces you have shown me when I was attending the Roman Military Academy with Cleon and Dexios . You came to visit with me as well as though I was your third child, whenever the Lord Conqueror and the Queen's Majesty were otherwise detained in Corinth by their duties. Your sons were the closest thing to a friend one in my position can afford to have."
Lady Demetra took a cease from her lament and watched the Heir intently with an examining look, and for the first time since first the Conqueror's Heir had set foot in her place of abode, she understood that the warrior in the regal attire who had been the bearer of bad news that day was not the mischievous, self-indulgent and entitled pupil she had visited at the Roman Military Academy.
"If your Grace would permit me to say - The Lord Conqueror and her Majesty the Queen must be so very proud of your Grace." Lady Demetra said.
"They are," Princess Athena spoke as if she was saying a half-truth, but Lady Demetra didn't notice it.
"Your Grace would make a true and honorable Sovereign one day," Lady Demetra said and crossed her legs one over the over, making her dress crinkle with the movement beneath it. She then sighed deeply as if the calamity that had befallen her had drained her completely.
"Thank you for your kind words," Princess Athena accepted the compliment with a smile.
"And how is her Grace, Princess Sieglinde?" Lady Demetra asked both out of genuine interest and out of want for a distraction from her plight.
The Heir's smile widened on her lips. "Well, I trust. I haven't seen her in nearly four moons. I came here first, you see."
"Thank you, your Grace," Lady Demetra quickly said then added with a motherly softness about her, and sparkling eyes, "My boys were on duty at the time and could not attend, but I attended your Grace's wedding. I was so thrilled when a messenger delivered the invitation. I could hardly wait to see your Grace's bride. I was confident that she would be beautiful, of course," she said with a knowing smile on her lips.
The Heir thought it strange, surreal even to be reminded of her wedding day at that particular time. For many moons since that day and onwards she had been cursing that miserable day. It was interesting to hear another's account of that day's events, and from one who experienced something far different than she had.
"And was she?" the Heir finally asked and wondered if it was possible that one day she would look back and her perception of her wedding would alter and soften, and whether time passed would dull the sting of her resentment of having been forced into it.
"Oh," gasped the widow and fanned her hand over her bosom, "Her Grace looked so beautiful, so majestic and virtuous on your wedding day. Your Grace must be eager to see her, already."
Princess Athena rose to her feet. "I am," she replied.
Lady Demetra stood as well, and then slapped her forehead with her palm like she'd just remembered something of great importance. "I haven't even offered your Grace refreshments… Pray, forgive my gross -
"There is nothing to forgive, dear Lady," the Heir said with an upheld hand.
"I urge your Grace to please take supper and stay the night in my humble home. What's mine is yours," Lady Demetra almost insisted then pressed on, "Surely it is better than to travel or spend the night in the open…"
Princess Athena suspected that the invitation was rooted not only in the inherent kindness and generosity of the widow's nature but in the need for company, or more precisely, the reluctance to remain alone on the night when she'd been informed she had lost her boys.
And with that in mind, the Heir accepted the invitation wholeheartedly and throughout that evening and well into the small hours of the night they sat together and reminisced about the good old times at the Roman Military Academy with Cleon and Dexios, where the only mayhem existing was in the form of youthful indiscretion and mischief and the horrors of war had been theoretical and existed only in scrolls and lore of tutors and instructors.
Meanwhile, in the Imperial chambers, Queen Gabrielle waited for her Lord to join her in bed. The doors to the Imperial bedchamber were opened, turning the Queen's attention from the flames in the hearth to the entrance. She watched the Conqueror clad in her robe enter.
“Have you kissed Terreis for me, too, my Lion?” she asked, turning to lie on her side.
“As you asked, my Love,” the Conqueror replied. “She exhorted me to relay a message to you.”
“And what is it?”
“That you owe her two stories at bedtime tomorrow on account of you not telling her a story tonight,” the Conqueror smiled with satisfaction.
“Look at you, all smug,” the Queen remarked and observed the Conqueror as she shook down her robe from her stalwart shoulders, which made her biceps flex, much to the Queen's delight.
“This family breeds strong-headed, demanding progeny,” the Conqueror replied and sat next to where her wife was lying and placed a kiss on her exposed neck.
“You have only yourself to blame for it, my Lord,” the Queen giggled.
The Conqueror retaliated with a bout of merciless tickles to the Queen's sides, till the Queen surrendered, too weak to laugh any more.
The Conqueror looked intently at her wife, who still maintained a smile on her lips, and said, “I have just received word that Athena is in Athens . She will arrive at Corinth tomorrow.”
“At long last!” the Queen exclaimed. “Has Sieglinde been informed?”
“I had Lady Satrina tell one of Sieglinde's ladies in waiting,” the Conqueror replied.
The Queen sensed a change in her Lord's mood and noticed grooves of worry adorn the firm, proud forehead and the beautiful, blue-blazing eyes narrow.
“I know what you are thinking,” she commented gently and caressed her Lord's forehead.
“What am I thinking, my Lady?” the Conqueror asked, pensively.
“Battle-lust will be upon Athena when she returns,” the Queen stated matter-of-factly, “And you worry about Sieglinde.”
The Conqueror nodded her head in silence, feeling her forehead move beneath her wife's divine fingertips.
“Something that Sieglinde said to me… She said ‘ Your Lord has an appetite for you'…” the Queen started to say.
It made her Lord wonder what had been the occasion for such a private matter to be broached between the Queen and her daughter-on-law, but she said nothing so as not to interrupt her wife's speech.
“And the way she spoke,” the Queen continued, “it sounded to me as if it was a mere oversight on her part not putting the words ‘At least' at the beginning of her sentence. It made me think as though she envied me and so you see, my Lord, I am not even entirely certain that they have ever been… intimate. ”
The Conqueror rubbed her chin, contemplating whether she should tell her wife or not, but decided it was better not to keep secrets from her. “They have been intimate at least once.”
The Queen shot her Lord a surprised looked. “How do you know?” she asked.
“I have ordered Athena to take her wife to bed and consummate their marriage,” she answered with a dry throat.
“Oh, my beloved Lord…” the Queen sighed. “Forcing intercourse on the unwilling and unready won't make their hearts grow fonder.”
Being a former body-slave, the Conqueror thought, her wife was in the position to know and it pinched her heart.
“Please, forgive my outspokenness, my Lord, but intimacy is not something you should force on any two people, least of all on members of your own family.”
“I wanted Athena to perform her duties rather than make a mockery of her marriage by keeping her wife intact. I admit - I would have been better equipped to manage it if I had had your guidance, Gabrielle. I should never have shut you out…”
The Queen placed a finger over her Lord's lips. “I wasn't being a wife to you. You were well within your rights.”
The Conqueror kissed her wife's finger. “What do you think we should do? Should we intervene?” she asked and wrapped her arm around her wife's waist, enjoying the simple joy of feeling close.
“I have already tried, my Lord,” the Queen said as her fingertip traced a distended vein on the Conqueror's forearm that rested over her belly.
“Have you?!” the Conqueror asked, surprised.
The Queen nodded her head in the positive. “She was short with me and seemed reluctant to discuss the matter, saying only that she would not be the objective of Athena's lust and that if she was to be its objective, she would perform her duty."
"She is nescient and unprepared, my Lady," the Conqueror commented decisively.
"I agree," the Queen concurred.
"Will you go to her and speak with her again?" the Conqueror asked, then rubbed the back of her head and murmured, "It is not appropriate for me to address her with such matters."
The Conqueror's words and the way she said them made it impossible for the Queen to avoid mentally imagining her Lord trying to broach the matter with their innocent daughter-in-law, and it made her laugh to tears.
The Conqueror suspected her wife's reason for laughing and frowned.
When the Queen's laughter subsided, she turned to her Lord and asked, "Would you want me to go to her now?"
"Yes," the Conqueror answered.
"Hmmm…" the Queen pondered aloud. "I think you are brewing a scheme in that wonderfully devious mind of yours, my Lord," she said as she climbed off the bed and reached for her nightgown.
The Conqueror grabbed her wife by the arm, twirled her around to face her standing between her legs, and cupped her wife's buttocks, pressing the smaller frame against her own. "Indeed. I intend to stick my hand into Athena's beast's cage and rattle it when Athena returns. Such a long road home from the battlefield can make the dark lust simmer down and burn low, but I want it to be as ferocious as it can be… I want it to be at its very peak."
The Queen smiled knowingly, quickly following her Lord's mind. "A woman, who refused to bow before Athena's wife in the market, is not likely to capitulate to Athena's battle-lust either… and the worse the battle-lust she'll face, the worse her reaction to it will be."
"How I've missed you, my Love," the Conqueror said hoarsely and amorously buried her face between her wife's breasts.
The Queen pressed her Lord's head harder against her breasts and weaved her fingers through the black, thick main she adored. "You simply cannot restrain yourself from meddling, can you, my Lord? You leave nothing to chance and refuse to let nature take its course," she playfully teased, raising a feigned reservation against one of the traits that endeared her Lord to her – her need for control over all things.
"Meddling, my beloved Queen, is the most efficient way to insure the desired outcome," her Lord argued, equally playful. "With the benefit of your guidance and wisdom and with her inherent traits, as I'm sure you've noticed, I think Princess Sieglinde has what is required to face Athena."
"Very good, my Lord. I shall go and speak with her," the Queen said, displeased for having to extract herself from her Lord's alluring touch. "May I ask of you, my Lord, not to mention the feast that Cynna entertained during the rebellion when you rattle the proverbial cage? I gave Sieglinde my word that I would not."
"You have my word." The Conqueror released her wife's flesh from her grasp and allowed her to dress. "Do not forget to tell her…" she asked, but the Queen sealed her Lord's lips with her own.
"I shan't forget to tell her the most important thing of all, my Love," she mouthed her words against the Conqueror's lips.
"Thank you, my Lady," the Conqueror said.
Clad in her nightgown, the Queen was about to vacate their chambers when she turned to her Lord and asked, "Will you please keep awake until I return?"
"I will not close my eyes without you lying in my arms, Gabrielle," the Conqueror assured.
The Queen relished her Lord's answer. "And will you grant me your carnal love?" she further asked.
"You know I will."
And with that, the Queen made her way to Princess Sieglinde's chambers. She was glad to discover that the Princess was not yet asleep but rather staying wide awake perusing through some scroll she was holding to the dim light.
The Princess, the Queen thought, was perhaps too excited to sleep. That sentiment had not been unfamiliar to her. She had always derived great pleasure from merely anticipating her Lord's return from the battle front.
Upon seeing the Queen standing at the doorway of her bedchamber in her nightwear, Princess Sieglinde laid down the scroll and was about to rise out of bed and curtsy, but with a gesture of her hand, the Queen signaled her daughter-in-law to remain in her bed.
The Queen pulled out a stool and placed it near Sieglinde's bed.
"I was assured that you were informed that Athena shall arrive at Corinth tomorrow, your Grace," the Queen said.
Princess Sieglinde wondered as to the reason for her Mother-in-Law's unorthodox visit to her chambers at that time of night. Her initial thought was that the Queen meant to discus the matter of her brother. She knew perfectly well that traditionally the highest ranking was the one to present the Sovereign with the defeated enemy, therefore she had little doubt in her mind that Princess Athena would not return to Corinth to appear before the Lord Conqueror empty-handed. Baldr would be in Corinth soon, as well, and the closer to Corinth , the closer he was to his end and the closer she was to losing the family she'd originated from.
Towards her brother she bore a myriad of emotions varying between anger and shame to love and compassion.
She did not, however, regret appealing to the Lord Conqueror on the Queen's behalf rather than her on her brother's. Even though his end was nearer than ever, she trusted the Lord Conqueror's benevolence to allow her to speak to him one last time and afford her to properly depart from him.
"I was indeed, your Majesty," Sieglinde replied.
"How are you feeling?"
Princess Sieglinde took several moments to consider her answer then replied, "It is odd, but I feel more restless than I did before my wedding."
The Queen chuckled. "It is understandable, your Grace."
"I shall tire myself soon. Your Majesty needn't trouble herself on my account."
The Queen leaned closer to Sieglinde and said, "Some time ago I made a somewhat unsuccessful attempt to explain to you about battle-lust," she spoke gently and quietly.
Princess Sieglinde lowered her gaze. "Majesty," she tried to say but this time the Queen was more insistent.
"It is my belief, as it is my Lord's, that intimate matters between you and Athena are on the verge of altering very dramatically."
And before Princess Sieglinde managed a vehement denial, not wishing to nurture false hope within herself, the Queen asked her, "Tell me, before Athena departed, what transpired between the two of you, for I noticed a change in her when she left for war."
Princess Sieglinde gave a short account of their farewell to the Queen, and the tender yet passionate kiss they shared, inadvertently strengthening in the Queen the belief that she had been correct in her assumption that a major shift had been developing in her daughter's heart.
When she began to explain, as delicately as possible, what the act of feral intimacy might entail, Princess Sieglinde repeated her argument that she would not be the one who'd receive it, but the Queen would have none of it.
"I am telling you this," she said most fervently, "because you need to know."
And after that, Princess Sieglinde offered no resistance and just listened carefully to what the Queen was teaching her. The young Nordic Princess blushed red like a ripe tomato hanging under the summer-sun all throughout the Queen's lecture. Inwardly, she was grateful that the Queen took it upon herself to tutor her on such delicate matters as her own mother, Queen Ortlinde, had not had the chance to instruct her daughter before her death.
"The most important thing you should know is - " the Queen spoke most deliberately, "Do not think that being dominated means that you are powerless. You are not without power, for you possess great power. You have the ability to stop it at any time. You are even capable of taming it.”
“Am I?!” Princess Sieglinde asked almost in disbelief.
“Absolutely,” the Queen said, very confidant and studied her daughter-in-law's face. She saw a question there and goaded the young woman to ask away.
“Did your Majesty ever tame it?”
The Queen smiled as if savoring a delicious memory. “Twice,” she said, “Once, when I was with child, and my Lord returned from battle. To protect Athena in my womb, my Lord first suggested we should sleep apart, but I was dying of longing… and the second time – was several days ago.”
“May I ask, Majesty, did you ever stop the darkness?”
“I never wished to stop it, but I know that if I ever wanted to then all I ever need do is say the word and my Lord will stop… as will Athena, for my Lord has educated her well.”
A few long moments passed between them in silence.
“Thank you, your Majesty,” Princess Sieglinde said.
“The darkness would want the whole of you, and it is demanding and uncompromising, but I have learnt that more than it wants your submission, your awe and your desire, it needs your love – it needs it the most.”
The Queen's words soothed the Nordic Princess like warm, smooth mead in a snowstorm. She believed she had a better comprehension of what she realized was the unbreakable bond shared by the Realm's Sovereigns - Not just profound and extraordinary love, but the mutual knowledge and understanding of souls and all-encompassing mutual acceptance were its foundations. It was something to envy, to covet, to strive to and to aspire to. She wondered whether it was possible between herself and the Heir. Her own parents hadn't had such a bond and their marriage, she knew had been the cradle of her yearnings. For the first time since she had begun her journey to Corinth , she allowed herself to cultivate her childhood dream to be truly known, protected and loved anew.
“I am so grateful for your Majesty's guidance,” Princess Sieglinde said and began to feel sleep pressing down her eyelids, about to overtake her.
“It is I who is grateful to you,” the Queen said and bade the Princess goodnight before she left her chambers and returned to the Imperial chambers, where her Lord had been waiting for her, awake as promised.
Bright and early the next morning, when dew still covered the overgrown grass around the villa, Princess Athena stood again at Lady Demetra doorstep and along with her goodbyes she promised the widow with the black circles around her eyes and whose agony had just begun that she would visit with her as often as her position afforded her and that her heart and doors would always be opened to her.
The Conqueror's Heir joined her men who escorted her all the way from the Nordic Lands and began to cover the short distance back to Corinth .
The sun had yet to reach the highest point in the sky when Princess Athena, at the head of the small detachment of the Imperial Guard forming a cavalcade of sorts, rode victorious into Corinth with her long, smooth gilded-main fluttering widely against the blowing wind. As the Princess and her entourage passed through the streets of the city, people poured in masses into the streets and gathered on balconies and rooftops to glimpse at the conquering Heir, throwing flowers and petals on the path before her.
Athena waved at them, absorbing their freely and happily given adoration, and the cheers were loud enough to pierce the clear blue skies above, but the loudest of cheers came from Corinth's young daughters, and as the Heir passed by them, those who did not swoon danced in her honor and to her pleasure.
Her heart pounded and in her chest and heated lifeblood pumped through enlarged veins, spreading rejuvenation and vivacious gluttony to devour the world. As her flaring eyes skimmed over the countless faces in the crowd, she discerned Cynna's face.
Their eyes met and locked. Athena pulled at her horse's reins and slowed down the animal. She was pleased to see Cynna. She had been missing her during their time apart.
Cynna pushed forward through the crowding people, urgently paving her way to the main road where the Royal cavalcade passed through.
From the abyss, a low growl only Athena could hear was made by the beast making its presence known and alerting her to its awakened state, reminding her that it hadn't had its pound of flesh yet. The long journey back to Corinth behooved the dark beast to be cooped up by the Heir's will, but occasionally, when the road home had summoned a lady to cross paths with the Heir, the beast would growl and the Heir would tug at its leash to deaden it.
But Princess Sieglinde waited for her not half a candle-mark ride away in the palace and the whole of Corinth was in the streets that day. The Heir would not shame her wife so publicly by embracing her mistress for all to see.
Cynna did not make it in time to accost the Royal cavalcade and when it passed her by she saw the Heir respectfully nod her head at her in acknowledgment and then keep on moderately riding on route to the palace.
When Princess Athena reached the palace gates, they were opened widely before her, accompanied by roars of joy and admiration of the guards on the palace grounds and sentries at the wall.
Princess Athena dismounted her horse, took the Conqueror's crown out of her saddlebag, handed the reins to the stable boy, and ordered him to have luggage unpacked. To the company that rode with her, she gave the order to take her prisoner, Baldr, down to the dungeons.
Lady Satrina was the first to greet the returning Champion at the palace's main entrance.
"Your Grace," the steward curtsied with a joyous smile on her face.
"Lady Satrina," the Heir returned a warm smile. After so many years of service in the Corinthian palace, Lady Satrina was synonymous with home to her.
"Your Grace's brilliant victory is talked about in every tavern, bathhouse and street corner in the Realm."
"How odd," Princess Athena replied with a rise of her brow and a wicked look that the seasoned steward thought was a perfect mimic of the Conqueror's expression, and rightfully so. "On the road back from the Nordic Lands, all I've heard them talk about in taverns, bathhouses and street corners was some fantastical story about the Lord Conqueror siccing lions on Likos' men by command."
Lady Satrina burst into laughter.
"With respect, your Grace," she wiped the dampness from her eyes with a handkerchief, and said , "you possess the same brand of mean spirit in you as the Lord Conqueror," then she lowered her voice and leaned closer to the Royal, making the latter lean down so to better hear her. "Besides, the Nordic Lands forces sounded to me like a tougher opponent to defeat."
"Lady Satrina," came the Heir's jaunty rebuke, "that's treasonous rhetoric," she said when they came to stand at the entrance of the Great Hall, but then the Heir's countenance became serious. She took Lady Satrina's hand in hers – a personal gesture that gave the steward pause, and with a soft, concerned tone of voice she asked, “How are my parents?”
The smile that lightened up Lady Satrina's face told the whole story. “See for yourself, your Grace,” she said and signaled the ceremony master at the entry to announce the arrival of the Heir.
The doors were opened and the Heir's title was called into the Great Hall.
Princess Athena strode into the Great Hall with the Conqueror's sparkling, heavy crown under her arm, the soles of her leather boots knocking in accurate military rhythm that echoed in the vast space.
She saw the Conqueror sitting casually on her Throne, surrounded by advisers and other courtiers. The Queen was sitting next to her. Over the lion's head at the fore of the Conqueror's Throne armrest, the Conqueror and the Queen's hands rested together, fingers interlaced. Even from that distance, Athena noticed the Conqueror's thumb caressing the side of the Queen's hand. Princess Terries sat on her mother's side. The seat at the other side of the Throne, her seat, was empty and to its left, her wife sat at the edge of her seat – and her eyes – her grey, modest eyes, Athena thought, spoke sublime happiness and longing. It seemed as though she had to be tied down to her seat to keep from leaping off of it and running to her.
She was in the Conqueror's presence and in a formal capacity. Otherwise, the Heir thought, she wouldn't have been able to tear her eyes away from her wife, nor would she have been able to keep from running to her and holding her in her arms, close to her body, as close to her body as her own skin.
Princess Athena stood before the Throne and bowed before her parents. “Your Majesties,” she called.
“Your Grace,” the Conqueror and the Queen greeted back.
“I have restored ordered and reclaimed the province of the Nordic Lands as the Realm's in your name, Majesty,” Princess Athena stated.
“Good,” the Conqueror said. “And the traitor Baldr?”
At the mentioning of her brother's name, Princess Sieglinde, on her mettle, moved uncomfortably in her seat. The courtiers around her averted their eyes to her in order to examine her response out of sheer curiosity – her loyalty to the Realm was never questioned.
Abruptly, Princess Athena's gaze was also moved to her anxious wife. “In the dungeons awaiting your Majesty's justice.”
“ I am pleased,” the Conqueror said.
“I have returned your Majesty's crown to Corinth, and I can assure your Majesty that the Nordic Lands shall never forget who conquered them,” the Heir announced and took one step closer towards the dais and outstretched her arms forward, presenting the Conqueror with her crown. Protocol in the Realm dictated that the crown is never given to the Sovereign but presented for her to take.
The Conqueror released her hold from over her wife's hand and regally stepped down the dais.
To Princess Athena, it seemed as though the Conqueror's response to her brilliant victory was arrested, lukewarm. It piqued her that she had received a warmer welcome and a more enthusiastic reaction from strangers on the streets of Corinth than from her own Sire.
The Conqueror took the crown off her Heir's hands and placed it over her head. “Clear the Hall,” she ordered the courtiers.
All but the Royals vacated the Great Hall and once gone, the Queen, Princess Terreis and Princess Sieglinde clomped down the dais and ran towards Princess Athena's opened arms.
However, the reunion was short leaved for after a few short moments the Conqueror whispered a few words in her wife's ear and then declared: “I wish to speak with her Grace alone.”
The Queen nodded her head knowingly, which made Princess Athena wonder what had passed in secret between her parents. The Queen took her younger daughter's hand in hers and led her, not without protest, towards the Great Hall's doors.
For Princess Sieglinde, letting go of Princess Athena and coming out of her embrace proved to be difficult.
“Will you come to me afterwards, Min Herre?” she asked, feeling like she was being robbed.
“I will, my Lady,” Princess Athena promised.
And with that promise, Princess Sieglinde left the Great Hall.
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