|White Slaves Pt. III
by FarGalaxy ©
Tahir Arrani took his place at the banquet, his prime assassin by his side and Princess Esmerelda lounging at his feet. Eight other sheiks from various cartels in Calimport and neighboring countries were in attendance. Each of the dignitaries had two slave girls chosen from the pens. Seated on his throne at the middle of the banquet table, Hafez Makhi watched his guests as they drank from gold goblets and feasted on the mounds of rich food. His normally stern face was broken by the smuggest of grins as the chosen moment approached. Using the edge of his dinner knife, he struck a small bell that produced a high, clear tone.
"My friends," he gestured to the assembled sheiks, "today we begin a venture greater than any other in the history of the Guild. We have proved what this citadel can do on the open sea. No merchant vessel can get by us. No fleet can stand up to us. In three days time, Calimport will belong to us! We shall claim the city and control the entire coastline. The merchants will have to deal with us, and Bandar will become the economic capital of the three continents! The agents of our guild are in place and have made preparations for our landing. Once Calimport is occupied, we shall sail our barges up the Camroot River, deep into the Berlandic plains, taking what the rich farmlands and mining towns have to offer. We shall take anything, ANYTHING, that we desire..."
On this verbal cue, the curtains to a vestibule parted and out stepped Milan, leading Xena. He was naked except for a leather loincloth, his bulging muscles glowing from the oil rubbed into his skin. In his hand, he held a silk cord that was clasped to the gem-studded slave collar around Xena's neck. She wore the diaphanous veils of a concubine and gold bracelets around her upper arm and a slim chain around one of her ankles. The eyes of the assembled crime bosses and harem girls crawled avidly over the bodies of the two performers. There were whispers as the rumors of Makhi's latest accomplishment were now confirmed.
Makhi clapped his hands twice, nodding to Milan. The costumed ranger undid the clasp at Xena's collar and seated himself on the couch in the middle of fur-lined floor. The musicians began a tune, then Xena started to sway her hips to the hypnotic rhythm. Her shoulders joined in, moving in counterpoint as she shifted from one leg to the other in the classical form of a harem girl's belly dance.
Milan, like the others, found himself absorbed by the undulations of her sleek abs. She moved her legs farther apart and snaked from side to side, the sinuous motion of her torso causing the men, and a lot of the women, to wet their lips. She danced around the edge of the floor with spins and leaps that allowed the slits in her veils to show long flashes of warm skin.
She stopped in front of one party. It was made of a man in his twenties, who was the youngest sheik, and a pair of dark-skinned women. She stepped in between his legs. He looked up at her as she twisted sensuously, barely an inch away from his face. She gave him the end of her skirt and spun on her toes away from him, unwrapping the skirt and freeing it with a quick snap of her hands as she reached the middle of the floor. She pranced forward as she shed her sheer harem blouse and came up to a man across from them. This time she dropped to her knees, her legs spread and her hands cupping her breasts for the man and the breathless women.
The man swallowed hard as she put her hands on his shoulders. She arched forward three times, pushing her chest out, her nipples grazing against him. She whipped her head forward, her hair floating around his face so that they could only see each other. He closed his eyes as she moved forward, her lips parted for a kiss, but then she turned and kissed the slave girl instead. She held the teen's face between her hands and offered him the girl's lips, which were still moist from the kiss.
Xena leaned back onto the floor, twisting over to her belly with a turn of her long legs. She crawled forward on her hands and knees like a sleek jungle cat to the next sheik. As she rose, she gathered her hair up and let it cascade back down to her shoulders, a motion that threw her breasts up and out. She placed a foot on his chest, then shoved him playfully onto his back. She stepped forward and placed her feet at the sides of his head, then squatted down as she spread her lips for him. His eyes were locked on the teasing strokes of her hands as she slid a finger inside her cunt, playing with herself to coax the moisture onto her lips. She ran her fingers around her clit, pulling the top of her pussy upward so her pink bud peeked out at him. The man stretched out his tongue towards the welcoming folds of her cunt. Xena let him lick there a few times, then moved on.
She plucked the berry that Esmerelda was going to feed Tahir Arrani out of her fingers. She slid the tip in and out between her lips a few times as she looked into the assassin's glassy eyes, then nibbled on the end of it to release the juice from it. She rubbed the berry around her lips, on her chin, down her neck, around her nipples. She held the berry out for him to finally take into his mouth.
Xena resumed her dance around the room. Arrani placed a hand on Esmerelda's shoulder and spread his legs apart. She reached into his caftan and pulled his cock out, pumping it soothingly as they watched the dancer. It was a scene that was being repeated around the room as the crowd anticipated what was coming next.
She returned to Milan, passing her hands over the warmest curves of her body as if they were extensions of his imagination while she continued her serpentine dance. She spun around and dropped into his lap. When his arms went around her in reflex, she latched onto them, guiding his strong hands to her breasts and thighs as she writhed on top of him. She slid two of his fingers into her pussy, then waved them under his nose before she let him suck on them.
She turned over, her arms around him and her tits smashed against his hard chest. Some of the slave women watched with envy as she squirmed on his lap and ran her hands over the symmetric muscles of his back. Xena got up and lay on her back, her knees pressing his ankles until his legs were spread. She held one tit up to her tongue while she spread the lips of her pussy open for him. She ground into the plush fur as she fingered herself, letting the throes of her pleasure enchant the crowd.
She turned over, her ass up in the air and pumping at Milan, giving him a good look at the way her fingers slid in and out. She spun over again and put her legs up at the sides of his neck and arched into the air, her body undulating. Milan kissed the smooth skin of her legs, which only seemed to inflame her more. She rolled back to the floor and held his knees as she pulled herself up, her tits brushing the insides of his legs and her smooth belly coming to rest against his cock as they kissed.
She hooked her fingers into the top of his loincloth, pulling it off and freeing his cock. As she took his thick shaft in her hand, the audience closed in to watch. A couple got down on the floor behind her, staring at her exposed vagina. Others watched as she ran the tip of her tongue over his cock, tracing the outline of the large vein that trailed on the side. She sucked noisily and let plenty of saliva run down his cock, performing for their benefit. Milan did likewise, panting and groaning whenever Xena did something exceptional with her mouth.
Their torrid display was having the desired effect. One of the sheiks lay on the furs with a harem girl who mimicked Xena's fellatio as they watched. Milan got up with Xena's legs wrapped around him, her weight like feathers to the knotted cords of his arms. Xena ground her crotch over his as they kissed and eased down to the fur.
Some of the people were bold enough to reach out and stroke their bodies as they coupled, squeezing buttocks, tits and hard muscles. Xena climbed off, stroking Milan's cock to keep him warm and titillated as she scanned the audience. She picked out a petite, slim, brown-haired girl with innocent eyes.
Xena grabbed the girl by the shoulders, licking the side of her neck and kissing her as she pulled her over to Milan, who was stroking his cock and breathing harder as he looked the wench up and down. The girl gasped as she forced herself down on Milan's cock. Xena picked out the young sheik and pulled him down to the furs. He kissed her wetly as he grabbed her hips and entered her.
Milan looked over at Xena, who gave him a subtle gesture to wait. She caressed and licked at the young man until he tensed up, growling behind bared teeth as he locked his hips forward. She put her arms around his neck, moaning as she felt him cum inside her. The girl riding Milan dug her nails into his shoulders as she came, whimpering as Milan pushed her on her back and drove hard into her slit. He locked his mouth over hers as he filled her with sperm. When he pulled out of her, his cock made a small, soft pop, like the cork out of a bottle.
Xena moved Milan out of the way and moved over the girl into a 69. The harem girl opened her mouth to catch the jism as it dripped from Xena's pussy lips, while Xena probed with her tongue to lap up Milan's cum. The young sheik was back, still hard as a rock and wanting to penetrate her again. Xena smiled and lay back with her knees drawn up and wide for him.
Milan saw her give a get-ready signal, and noticed that the guards were eyeing Xena as she screwed the horny pirate and the two women that were licking the wetness from his own cock. The others had moved away in sticky pairs and were oblivious to the surroundings. Xena's partner came again, collapsing into her arms, and this time she seized his chin and wrenched his head brutally, snapping his neck with a subdued crunch.
Milan sprang forward and flung two of the thick furs at the guards. They were entangled by the heavy skins long enough for Milan to latch onto one's neck and lever himself up to plant a heel explosively in the other's windpipe. Xena heaved the deadweight from her and the crowd scattered in sudden panic. The slave girls milled about in a daze as their masters abandoned them.
Milan caught a hold of Esmerelda and held up the pendant that he had hidden, an ivory likeness of Thetis, goddess of the oceans. Esmerelda suddenly choked and heaved. Milan steadied her as a trickle of dark fluid dripped from her mouth, the herb's toxins expelled from her body by Thetis's grace.
"Milan?" The princess's voice was faint and the recognition in her eyes was faltering. Milan grasped her hands as if she were hanging from them over a cliff.
"Yes, my princess! We must flee, all of us. Can you walk?"
"As long as it's away from this horrid place."
"I'll gather the rest of our women. Xena will free the ones in the being held in the pens. We need to find a ship to get away."
"Milan! More guards!"
He rushed to help Xena stop the squads that had arrived. He relieved the corpses of the bodyguards of two heavy, fearsome scimitars, found another and flipped it to Xena. With a fierce war cry, he waded into the first wave of corsairs. His cry was joined by the shrieks of the dying as the pirates fell before the whirling blades of the ranger.
Xena met her own opponents with unbridled fury, scattering them like chaff before the wind. The pirates' escape was thwarted by the fluttering roar and thunderous impacts of missiles launched by vessels of the Dunwich navy. The rogues scattered about the guild house, knowing that they faced certain death outside as the catapults flattened the fortifications as well as inside as the two warriors slew their fellow pirates until the floor of the audience hall was slick with blood. They decided that they stood a better chance against the bombardment and fled toward the frigates that had not been sunk yet.
When the last of the remaining guards fell dead, the two warriors led the kidnapped women out. Milan checked a girl who had fallen, then looked over at Xena.
"Are you hurt?" He could not tell from the arterial explosions of their victims if any of the blood was hers.
"Makhi will hurt worse." She said as she dropped the scimitar and reclaimed her weapons from a guard who had taken them for his own.
"The Lord of Corsairs will answer for many crimes after I drag him back in chains. Justice will be swift to claim that monster."
"It had better. If I find him first, you can stop looking."
"Good hunting, mistress," he said, crossing his weapon with hers in parting. He gathered his charges to leave for the docks as Xena ran through the gloomy passageways to the slave pens.
"Quickly, loyal ones! We must flee to the docks!" Esmerelda hurried the last of the slave girls to follow Milan and pried a broadsword from a dead pirate's grasp. She blocked the doorway as three buccaneers moved to intercept them.
The thugs laughed at the naked girl with the sword, but Esmerelda was no novice to combat. She remembered when Justin ordered her to fight nude one session. At first she was amused, thinking that he had finally worked up enough nerve to attempt seduction, but ceased laughing when she noticed the stern expression on her tutor's face.
"There are some moves that you cannot make while fettered by armor," he had told her as he executed a spin and leap that seemed to belong in a ballet, except for the wicked jabs and cuts of the blade that would kill a man horribly. He taught her how to use her smaller size, speed, and acrobatic talent against larger, slower, armored foes. She was now grateful for the lesson.
The first pirate sheathed his sword and pulled a coiled whip from his belt. He was intent on taking a prize along on his escape. A whip was no match for a broadsword, but the scorned princess offered no quarter. The pirate saw the flash of steel and heard a sound that he was accustomed to hearing around the cook's butcher block, but by the time he realized his arm was missing the princess had already run through one of his comrades. The third was quicker to react, but not quick enough. He sliced through empty air as the princess hacked through the flesh between his neck and shoulder.
Esmerelda had just delivered the coup de grace to her first opponent when she heard mocking laughter behind her. She turned and saw Arrani waiting, licking the blade of his jeweled dagger as he sneered.
"So, my pet, you prove that the most beautiful things are always the most deadly." His leer changed to malicious snarl. "Time for play is over. Now I will carve more openings in your flesh for a different sense of pleasure."
"That kind of talk may cow a slave girl," she said, her eyes flashing as she raised her weapon, "but now you face a daughter of the Royal House. My retribution is at hand."
She lunged and dove between his blubbery legs, as if ducking into a small tunnel, except for the hand wielding the sword. With one smooth stroke, she emasculated Tahir Arrani, almost splitting him to his navel. The assassin, in shock from the speed of the attack and the pain of the awful wound, doubled over and tried to face her. She turned and delivered the final blow, just as in her lessons. It was silent in the chamber except for the whistle of the blade, followed by the sound of the head of the assassin landing at the princess's feet.
"For you, beloved," she choked. Dropping the gruesome weapon, she walked out of the guild house, into the light.
Xena found the slave pens and saw, to her relief, that the women were not drugged. With no time to find the keys, she smashed the locks off the doors and helped the women out. A dozen guards appeared at the entrance of the cell block, baring their weapons. Xena flew at them with her sword poised and a curse yelled at the top of her lungs, not caring that she was practically naked against the wall of thugs and ranks of archers who were leveling crossbows at her. Athena, Blessed Goddess, she prayed, protect me as a strike my enemies. At least let me fight them long enough for the innocents to escape.
To her surprise, the archers pulled up their weapons, and the guards faltered in their advance. There was a deafening cry as the women of Dunwich rushed to their rescuer's aid. The guards, still stupidly thinking of the profits they would loose by killing the captives, held their fire and set in a position in front of the doorway. But the women, fighting for their freedom and filled with the fierce mettle of their city-state, joined the Warrior Princess in the fray.
They fought with tooth, nail, broken furniture and bricks that had been loosened in the bombardment, screeching and striking until no marauder was left standing. When it was done, seven of their sisters lay dead, and several others with serious wounds, but all the guards had been slain, pulled out of their armor and torn to pieces by the enraged women.
Xena organized them to carry the wounded out and sent them on their way, then stalked back into the main hall in search of Makhi. She did not have to search very hard.
"Come, Xena," he said as he drew his sword. "Show me what the mainlanders feared in you so much."
Unlike Arrani, who lived a soft life in his palace, Makhi was still one of the deadliest swordsmen on the Blood Sea. He met Xena's attack with ringing steel, sweeping her blades wide and pressing in for a quick kill. She brought a knee into his midsection, foiling his attack, but it left her flank open to the reverse of his swing. She barely dodged the lethal cut, feeling the bite of steel as the tip of the blade grazed her. The two opponents disengaged and circled, now conceding greater respect for each other.
The two battled without anything but near misses and glancing blows telling, but the aging pirate could not hold out for long against Xena's acrobatic defenses and the hammering of her twin swords. He faltered, overextending when he tried one last ferocious attack. She waded in behind a wild swing and thrust with one weapon, jabbing him in the shoulder, then the other knocked his blade out of his hands. She gripped the hair of his head, the tip of her sword leveled against his spine for the fatal thrust.
"If you have a god to pray to, corsair, pray that he's listening. In the name of all whose lives you destroyed and the scars that will never heal, die!"
Athena forgive her, she felt glorious!
Milan was relieved when Xena appeared at the dock. He had loaded the last of the women aboard a naval vessel and had sent them on their way back to the mainland.
"Where's our princess?"
"She's not with you?"
"She never left the guild house."
They backtracked and found her on the edge of the dock's watch post. Milan was struck with horror as the princess stepped out on the ledge. Her intentions were made clear by the anguish on her face.
"Let me die, Milan," she wailed desperately.
"No, my princess. I will not let the vile slavers claim final victory over us with your death."
"I'm broken. They've taken my virtue, my dignity. They've taken Justin! Everything that mattered is gone."
"Everything but hope, and Justin's love for you. It takes more courage to live than to die, Esmerelda. Justin loved you, he would want you to go on, to live for him. He knew that if he should fall, his love would live on long after him, that it would comfort you when you were lost, would sustain you when you suffered."
Esmerelda's grief receded, the grotesque horror of the citadel faded with her memory of Justin's kind face. Wise, cheerful, smiling and saying that it was a good day for a ride out in the countryside. Her grief was no longer for her fallen champion, but for herself, for having to continue without him by her side.
She stepped away from the ledge and fell to her knees as she let the sobs finally come. Milan took her in his arms and carried her back to the ships.
Xena remained a respectful distance away to leave their grief private. So he has held and comforted me like that, not long ago. The princess has done no wrong, but how many women have suffered at the hands of my men while I laughed about it? Hercules, my friend, my love, when you held me in you arms, I felt so secure, so supported, that I had a dream of stripping off my armor and weapons and burying them as symbols of the part of me that hated, that lusted for dominion and the blood of those who stood in my way. But then I realized that I must bear my arms still, this time to defend. I will defend those who cannot defend themselves. I will defend those who would suffer at the hands of people who are like what I once was.
"Milan, we must go," she called.
"We must finish this place. Listen, this beast we ride, it does not normally roam about the waters like this. Someone is keeping it active. It takes strong magic to do so. We must stop them and release this beast from its enchantment, or the citadel will be occupied again. Follow me!"
They paused to do battle with small knots of brigands along the way. Dunwich ships had docked and marines were routing the pirates stranded on the floating citadel. The ships cast off and chased down the frigates that were escaping. Milan ordered the marines to fall back as Xena led him towards the massive head of the zaraten. They were stalled by archers who were holed up in the heavy bunker until marine grenadiers threw flasks of burning oil through the arrow slits. The two warriors led the charge into the complex.
"Kill the one with magi's robes," Xena said as she cut down a brigand who had survived the flames.
"I see him," Milan said as he picked a harpoon from a rack on the wall. The magician was too busy trying to steady the wounded zaraten to cast another spell. The ranger heaved the missile and it smashed through the body of a man in black and gold robes, almost passing completely through him. With the enchantment dispelled, the zaraten acted in its own defense and started to dive. The heroes headed for the edge of the shell where a Dunwich ship had came alongside. Princess Esmerelda waved for her soldiers to hurry as the living island sank. A wave of panicked slavers swarmed to board the ship, but were repelled and cast back into the foaming sea.
"Looks like we've won," said Milan, "We've destroyed the black heart of the beast, now its tentacles will die off."
"I'm afraid not," Xena said grimly, "The limbs will grow new beasts. The factions within the guild will now vie for power, and when they reform, they'll be back for vengeance.
"It will be their last mistake," Esmerelda said as they watched the burning ships slip beneath the waves. The water was thick with the flotsam of the ruined fortress and the bodies of the marauders. "When we get back, the first thing I will ask of my father is the curettage of the port cities. The guild and the slavers will be no more."
"Bandar's government is rife with corruption," the captain of the naval ship interjected. "The city will go to war to protect the guild."
"Then let there BE war! These wretches kill our neighbors and sell our children. They will not be able to hide behind the throne of a spineless noble anymore. It won't matter if we keep our mining colony across the Blood Sea when our own city is not safe."
Princess Esmerelda went to Willow River as emissary, with Milan and Xena as her escorts. They completed the task, and the objective of Dunwich's military shifted from holding the mithril mines to patrolling the borders and sea lanes. Xena was right about the slavers. Though the might of the guild had suffered from the defeat at Calimport, and even more so in the weeks that followed as the bid for power was on, the markets had already appeared in other cities. As long as Esmerelda and Milan lived, though, they vowed that the women of Dunwich would not be among the unfortunate females sold there.
Xena accepted the princess's offer to stay in the keep. She was happy to be close to Milan, who had elected for garrison duty. But as the days passed into the cool winds of fall, she had begun to think more of the hills of her homeland, of the songs of the women during the harvest season. The pleasant citizens of Dunwich, all of a sudden, seemed indifferent. Their easy charm seemed to pale as her need to return home deepened. Milan sensed the change in her and tried to get her to talk about it, but she could never bring herself to say what was going on inside of her. She didn't know how to tell him why she must leave or, more importantly, how to convince him that she needed to go on alone. Esmerelda had noticed Xena's plight. She asked her about it one night.
"You have been a very gracious host, Princess," Xena reassured her,"and I've felt very welcome here. Everyone has been kind, but I must leave you now. I must return to my homeland."
"I wish you well, Xena. You'll be welcome in our city if you ever come this way again." Esmerelda worried her lip and shook her head, saying softly, "I wish we had more warriors like you. And it looks like I loose my personal guard once again."
"What do you mean? With Justin gone, Milan is even more committed to ensuring your safety."
"Not likely," she said. "I've seen the way he looks at you, how his heart opens every time he hears your voice."
"He can't come with me. I've too far to go to reach my home." She shut her eyes, remembering her last words with her mother, remembering the words of defiance and bloody ambition. "It may not be my home anymore."
"He loves you, Xena."
"He may love me, but he needs you. That's more important to his own happiness than being at the side of his first lover."
"Will you tell him?"
"When I can find the heart to. If I ever can find the heart to."
"You can. You must. Your feelings are strong, but they have a price."
"It's too great!"
"Yes, Xena. But even though it hurts, there's comfort in such pain."
"I don't understand."
"Poor woman. I guess you don't. And there's nothing that can be done to change how things are or to lessen what you feel. Alas for you, Warrior Princess. And alas for the man dear to us both."
Milan was writing at his desk. It was his fourth draft, finally one he was willing to sign, and he did so carefully. He spread a pinch of sand to dry the ink and rubbed his eyes. Tomorrow he would promote his lieutenant and they would both be there when he presented his resignation to the castello. He had turned the problem over many times in his mind, but he always came to the same thing. Something was bothering Xena, something that she wouldn't talk about. And if there was a solution to her troubles, she wasn't finding it in the city. He was determined that she wouldn't have to search for it alone. This time, he would not let his career defeat his feelings for a woman. There was a soft knock at his door.
"If that's you, squire, you're dismissed for the night."
He gawked as Xena entered the room. She was clad in a silken gown. A pale blue, see-through garment that...
It was the first time he had seen Xena like this. When she was in her armor, weapons in hand, she had always projected power , but this was a different kind of power. Different, but by no means weaker.
Esmerelda was right, Xena thought. There was something precious in the pain itself. A lump formed in her throat and she looked shyly at the floor as she tried to remember the speech she had rehearsed all afternoon in her suite. The words evaded her as Milan rose and opened his arms for her.
You never showed me this side, Hercules. When we parted, I knew it was for the best. But now I want to stay! I want to ride with him through the meadows in the spring. I want to share my dreams with him, as he has with me. I want to not have to wonder where I can spend the night safely or when I'll be eating again. I want to be able to greet people without worrying if my weapons are within easy reach. I want to hold his power when we are in bed, to feel his heartbeat against my breast and hear how sweetly my name sounds in his whispers while we make love. But it cannot be so. I have a dark road to follow, and he cannot be part of it. This part of me cannot live right now, not with the wraiths of unforgiven sins grasping for me in my sleep.
"Why are you crying, mistress?"
She looked at him, the desperation almost wrecking her. "Don't call me that, Milan. We are more than warriors."
"Aye, dear one," he said as ran his hands through her dark hair, brushed his lips against the delicate skin of her neck, the soft spot behind her ears.
On the brink of tears, she was robbed of any chance to tell him. The comfort of his arms was something that tore away her resolve. She had faced sword and arrow and fist, most of the time without so much as a flinch, but she fell to his gentle touch, cowered at the aspect of losing him to the cold, empty future she faced.
She stepped away from him as she slipped the straps of the filmy gown off her shoulders. The sadness gave way to something else, something that was much more urgent and replaced the ache in her heart with fire. The gossamer fabric floated down to her feet, and she stepped out of it as she took Milan's hands, tugging him onto the bed with her.
Xena's body was feverish, insistent as she arched against him. Her strong thighs squeezed him as they kissed. Her fingers locked in the lengths of his hair as he kissed her chin, her throat, the hollows of her clavicles. He could feel the throb of her pulse beneath her skin as his lips caressed the curve of her neck. His hips rocked powerfully with a slow rhythm. She rubbed her calves along the back of his legs, squeezed his ass and felt the muscles there flex as he continued his wonderful strokes, but he wouldn't come yet. Her hands clenched the sheets of the bed into sweaty bunches. Milan took her hands in his, raveling his fingers with hers, pulled them over her head as he sped up. Xena screamed out as their flesh pounded together.
In a few minutes, they were interrupted by banging at the door. Milan poked his head out the door and whispered a lame, embarrassed excuse to the alarmed servants while Xena giggled. She'd rarely done that, especially not around a man, but she could not deny the feeling as they grinned at each other sheepishly and laughed together once the servants' footsteps receded.
He climbed back into bed with her, rolling and tangling in the sheets while they rained soft kisses over each other. This time their embraces were relaxed, more tender, as the flames of lust softened into the warmth of affection.
Afterwards, she got up and looked out the balcony at the city that was still asleep. The evening air was crisp and her joy was tempered as she realized she still didn't know what to say to him. She realized that she was hurting them both, but she didn't know what to do. Milan was sitting on the edge of the bed, reaching out to her.
"Come back to bed, Xena, there's still some night left."
"Hold me, Milan," she said, grateful for the darkness that hid the suffering in her eyes. She knew that this would have to last her a long time.
The morning sun streamed through the window and warmed Milan's face. He shifted in the pleasant feeling of drowsiness, reached out to put his arm around Xena. He felt only the rumpled sheets were she had been, already cool. The room was silent and empty when he sat up and looked around. He pulled on a robe and started to go to her quarters, but he stopped before he even reached the door. He already knew what he would find. And even though he was bitterly disappointed, he wasn't too surprised. He looked from his window at the world that was waking. It was a clear day that was indifferent to his sorrow as the woman of his heart rode out of his life.
The lands where she was riding were sunlit, the sky was the same soft blue as her eyes. He watched it all through his tears.
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