Forest Elf
Part 13

by J. Falconer

Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle etc belong to MCA/Universal and Ren Pics, and anyone else who has an interest in Xena Warrior Princess, not me.

Copyright ã 2000: The characters in here belong to me. All rights reserved. No part or whole of this work may be copied or used in any shape, form, or manner whatsoever without the author's express written consent. If you want to use them, all you have to do is ask...nicely.

Violence disclaimer: This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Bit more graphic than usual (enter, stranger, at your riske – here there be icky bits), but readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.

Love/Sex warning: This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live - move along, move along, nothing for you here ...

Major vote of thanks to my ever patient beta readers Foreva Xena and Diamonddog for taking valuable time out to read this. Without their support this would still be an idea floating around in my head. BTW, please remember to feed the bard...


Slowly the weeks passed in the encampment. The soldiers from all the outposts had come at the call of their Queen, sickened by the atrocities committed under Darkstar, most exiled to their outposts, never to return to their husbands, wives, children, lovers. All had lost something of value to them.

Sunstar promised them a return to what they had been.

Every day, she walked among her growing number of troops, trying to give hope and sympathy. It was hard; she could not feel much of either for herself.

All around her there were lives that had to be mended, even if hers was over. They were what she lived for. The aching emptiness in her heart that her father and Nightshade had left could never be filled.

Windwalker and Eveningstar tried to comfort her, but neither one could; both had to be content to let time heal the deep wounds on her spirit. They offered her friendship, and she gratefully accepted.

The season changed all around them, the leaves gradually turning golden, falling off the trees as the cold seeped into the world around them.

Sunstar had promised the elves that they would Winter in their city, and she would carry through on the promise. She had stayed out here as long as she was able, listening for Nightshade, speaking to her in her heart, but there were never any answers, just the gentle rushing of the cold wind through the trees.

She looked out at the camp, the soldiers sparring and exercising easily with one another, raucous shouts and cheers, showing their slowly healing spirits. She too would heal; but Nightshade had stolen such a large part of her soul, and she knew she would never be able to enjoy her world with the same carefree pleasure she always had.

She turned to Windwalker, eyes quiet and sad, arms folded.

"We leave tonight. I want to be in the city by the end of the week."

They packed up and marched through the forest, as their Queen had commanded, glad to at last be returning to their homes. The bloodshed of civil war was something that Sunstar had wanted to avoid at all costs, but as they approached the city late in the afternoon, bands of soldiers began to attack the force under Sunstar's command. Sunstar bitterly noted that Darkstar's soldiers were dirty, half starved and disorganised.

The fighting was fierce and bloody. Sunstar stood at the back, listening to the agonised screams of the soldiers, the rivers of blood, and was sickened by it. She sank to her knees, eyes dull.

So much blood had been shed already, more than enough innocence lost.

In the midst of the chaos and carnage, she found a small island of peace. She reached deep within herself, and began to sing.

All around her, soldiers began to drop, deeply asleep, firmly in the grips of the spell she had used to allow Nightshade and herself to escape from the Bordertown, so long ago.

The odd magic she cast did not flow from the earth as it always had, she had taken it directly from her own soul, and the notes had been ever so much more clear and haunting for it. As it had sapped so much of her energy, she was exhausted, almost too tired to move.

The forest was quiet, all around her the fallen bodies of soldiers, still clutching arms, fallen where they stood. She saw it all with dull eyes, the pain of the aftermath of their savagery sinking deep within her soul. Why had it not ended with Ishmael? Was it still somehow alive?

From behind her, she heard a stirring in the forest. She thought it would be more troops, but she could not fight them. She simply did not have the energy. Well, they could take her and haul her off to prison again. She did not mind all that much – this time Eveningstar and Windwalker would be there to take her from that vile place. That was, of course, if Darkstar did not kill her first.

Two sets of footsteps were close to her now. Suddenly she straightened, wide awake and fully alert, despite her tiredness. They sounded so oddly familiar. The hair on the back of her neck stood on end as denial raced through her weary mind.

"Sunstar," came a soft voice, from directly behind her, and sheer amazement flowed through her system. She stiffened, eyebrows shooting skyward, and turned to the source of the voice, which could belong to none other than Morningstar.

Behind her, in tattered clothing, was the familiar form of her mother.

She leapt to her feet and threw herself into the aged looking elf's arms.

"Mother!" Why had Morningstar left the monastery? How had she known to do it?

The loving arms encircled the elfmaid, and Morningstar's cheek rested on her head, their tears mingled, as each elf felt the joy of seeing the other.

"You are not lost," said Morningstar softly, stroking her daughter's hair. "A friend of yours was convinced you were alive and was intent on joining you in your quest." Sunstar was alive! She had not really believed it until she had seen it. Her beloved daughter was alive!

Sunstar looked up, into her Mother's tearstained eyes, seeing the teasing flicker in the pools of hazel.

"N - Nightshade?" stammered Sunstar softly, a lump in her throat. Could it be true?

"I am here Sunstar." The half elf stood quietly, some distance behind Morningstar, gentle smile twitching about the corners of her full lips, glowing blue eyes shining. Sunstar, sad and tired as she was, was the most beautiful thing that Nightshade had ever in her long life seen.

"Nightshade!" Sunstar let go of her mother, forcing her frozen legs to work, entranced by the half elf's loving eyes.

Before either one quite knew what was happening, Sunstar was in Nightshade's arms, tears raging down the front of the half elf's tattered and dirty shirt, breathing in the wild scent that was purely Nightshade.

Nightshade was alive and had found her again.

Nightshade quietly cupped Sunstar's face, ducked her head gracefully, and brushed the young Queen's lips with her own, a gentle question. It was something she had never dared hope she would be able to do again. Sunstar was alive, blessedly alive, and mercifully in good health.

Sunstar was not about to let her go that easily, and pulled the half elf's head down for a lingering and passionate kiss, as Morningstar looked on and laughed gently.

"Don't do that to me again, Nightshade," murmured Sunstar, pulling the half elf in close. She knew the quiet half elf would never leave her again, but was irrationally fearful of Nightshade slipping away.

"I love you Sunstar," said the half elf gently. She had not said it in the prison in Dragonar, and had never forgiven herself for it. Sunstar had almost died...she cut the thought off before it threw her severely off balance again. They had found one another again, hadn't they? They would always find one another again.

Sunstar's breath caught in her throat. She had never heard the words from Nightshade before.

"I love you too Nightshade," she said softly, looking deep into the half elf's gentle eyes. It had always been true, and the time they had had together had always been so short. She was determined that she would not let one more moment of her life pass without the half elf knowing what shone so brightly in her heart.

They held one another for a few moments, simply glorying in the blessed life of each other.

"I don't understand," said Sunstar softly into the half elf's ear. "How did you survive?"

"I don't know," murmured Nightshade, shaking her head, eyes clouding in confusion. "I woke up in the place Ishmael had taken me from. I was uninjured." Her mind gave her a flash of the forest canopy, beam of sunlight, the soft leaves of the forest floor beneath her back.

Sunstar pulled back and stared at her lover, feeling the half elf's arms holding her close, lost in the sensation of the strong, smooth body she held in her own arms. The half elf's sky blue eyes, which had bound her heart and soul so securely, glowed softly and shone with unshed tears. She was dimly aware that something had changed, but could not decipher what it was. Then, suddenly, she saw it. She reached up and touched Nightshade's face.

"Your scar," she said softly, fingers delicately outlining an elegant cheekbone. "It's gone." Nightshade's face was the most beautiful thing Sunstar had ever seen, and the feel of the soft skin beneath her fingertips was exquisite.

Nightshade reached up and touched her face, fingers gently brushing Sunstar's, capturing the Queen's small hand in her own larger one. It was true, but she could not remember how it had come about. It did not matter; all that mattered now was that they were together once again.

"Was it the magic?" asked Sunstar softly, anxious. How had Nightshade escaped? Had she made it through the portal?

"I don't know," said Nightshade, gazing deep into her eyes. "I don't remember a thing. I wonder what has become of the drow?" It was more simple curiosity than anything else; Nightshade was almost entirely consumed by her love for the elfmaid she held in her arms.

Sunstar leaned up and gently kissed her. "The drow will take care of themselves for the moment. We still have my Kingdom to rescue." She wanted nothing more than for Nightshade to simply stay with her and to resume her throne.

"I'm here to help you," said Nightshade, equally softly, and leant down to capture the young Queen's lips in a deep and heartfelt, loving kiss. After a moment or two of gentle exploration, Nightshade broke the kiss and gazed at her lover, passion burning bright in her glowing blue eyes.

"I know," whispered Sunstar, utterly helpless in her lover's arms. She longed to continue their reunion, but knew it was neither the time nor the place.

"You look exhausted." Nightshade's voice was gentle, after a pause in which she searched the emerald green eyes that had captured her heart and held it so hard. She could see the exhaustion lurking in them. "Time to rest."

With that, the strong half elf lifted the elfmaid off her feet, and somehow Sunstar found herself cradled in Nightshade's arms, as the half elf leant back comfortably against a friendly tree. Safe and content, Sunstar relaxed fully into the strong, gentle arms and soon fell into a deep sleep.

Morningstar smiled at the half elf, and quietly went and joined the two by the tree. She was exhausted; the emotional and mental strain of the past months had worn her almost to the bone.

She had been at the monastery two weeks ago, watching for her daughter at the gate, as she always did. She knew she would wait in vain, but did not openly admit it to herself. Late one afternoon, she had been fully immersed in her silent vigil as always, when she had seen a tattered figure walking up the road. Struck, recognising the clean lines, disbelief running through her mind, she was sure it was Nightshade. But Nightshade was dead. She hadn't survived the trip from Highgate Monastery, surely?

A cluster of brothers had run to the gate, smiles of disbelief and welcome on all faces.

Nightshade had approached them, smiling quietly, returning the greetings, then singled out Morningstar. She had quietly introduced herself, and had told Morningstar that it was time to go forth to meet her daughter. They had to stop and rest first though; she was anxious to speak to Choranthus, and tell him of what had transpired.

They had left the following day, to the well wishing of the monks.

Morningstar had met the false Nightshade, spoken to her, and now understood what Sunstar had meant when she said that she would never have fallen for Ishmael's ruse if she had been thinking correctly. This Nightshade was as gentle as the copy had been, but the fire of her spirit shone strong in her eyes and in her actions. She would not be defeated, and would not accept the possibility of defeat unchallenged. With quiet determination, Nightshade had silently led her through the forest, and told her that Sunstar would be heading into the elven city of Shimmering Moon.

Nightshade was going to join Sunstar, whatever the consequences. She knew the elves would never exactly be sympathetic to someone such as herself, but she loved Sunstar, needed her, and knew Sunstar would be worried about her. Nightshade had promised Sunstar that she would not allow anyone to harm her. The promise had been broken once already, but she would never allow it to be broken again.

That, of course, had not been one speech; Morningstar had swiftly learned that the half elf was a very quiet elf, and wasted no words. When she spoke, it was always with a simple directness.

It had not taken long before Morningstar realised she loved the half elf, not with the passion of her daughter, but as a good friend. She understood why Sunstar was so obsessed with Nightshade. The beautiful and thoughtful half elf was exactly the right counterbalance to her young daughter's spirited and sometimes impetuous nature. Sunstar would have her half elf, if Morningstar had any say in the matter, and she intended to have just that.

Nightshade gently cradled the sleeping Sunstar in her arms, deeply pleased to have finally found her beautiful, beloved elven Queen again. The half elf had awakened in the forest, in the place she recognized as being where Ishmael had taken her. She had quietly returned to the monastery, remembering Sunstar's words that her mother had remained behind, waiting for her. Nightshade had intended to take the red headed elf back to Shimmering Moon, as she was sure Sunstar was alive and headed that way. Sunstar would need all the support she could get.

The half elf intended to be in Shimmering Moon with Sunstar, as she was more than a little anxious to see the elfmaid. Nightshade had no doubt at all that they would all be in need of her services. She had a special, intimate relationship with the drow, and knew what ugliness elves could get up to if left unchecked. The elven guard that Sunstar would undoubtedly have in tow would not be up to the task of disarming their countrymen. Sunstar loved her, she now knew that, and her own heart would not allow her to remain separated from the young Queen for long periods of time. She had had enough misery in her life, and did not intend to spend any more time without her young lover than she had to. If the elves protested...well, they would just have to get used to her. She was not an animal, and had abandoned her drow heritage with nothing more than a great sense of relief. If the elves could not see she was not a typical drow, well...she and Sunstar would think of something. They would make this work.

Nightshade had taken them towards Shimmering Moon, slipping past the elven scouts with almost contemptuous ease, much to Morningstar's surprise. Nightshade intended to be in Shimmering Moon either when Sunstar arrived, or perhaps before if they were lucky. She did not doubt for one second that Darkstar would have something especially nasty planned for her sister if she was caught in the city.

Then, wonder of wonders, they had accidentally encountered the young elfmaid on their way. They had not seen the magic that Sunstar had woven, but Morningstar had gently confirmed her suspicions that it was the same spell they had used to escape the Bordertown.

When they had finally been reunited, Sunstar's eyes burned with passion that mirrored Nightshade's own. When they had kissed, Nightshade had felt utterly content, knowing that Sunstar felt the same way as she did – they would never be parted again, if either one could possibly help it.

Nightshade guarded her young charge, watching the forest carefully, as both Sunstar and Morningstar slept. They were safe for the moment; Sunstar's magic had seen to that.

Nightshade was mildly surprised that it had worked. The elven forest did not feel as it previously had. It was almost as though the forces that bound the elves to the forest were unravelling. The elves had always used the magic inherent in the land to perform their wonders, and Nightshade had seen Sunstar use her magic before, but it had never left her in this sad state of exhaustion before. What had happened?

She suspected that it had something to do with Ishmael, Incantata and Paris.

She did not remember the final moments in the Ring; she had been well and truly at death's door when Ishmael's magic had back lashed. She had no idea what had happened – the world had gone black when Incantata had pointed the magic towards her. The next thing she remembered after that was waking in the forest, feeling well and truly free for the first time in her life. Something had been lifted from her.

Always before, she had had the sensation of keeping something in check. Her dark side, perhaps? Who knew? It had always been the side that had enabled her to kill other creatures, to commit brutal acts, the side that had sickened her triumphant forest elf blood. It was gone, for some reason, and she wondered if the drow were feeling the same thing. If they did, and the black malice that had always firmly kept them in its grasp had fled, then did that mean they were now indigo skinned forest elves? Nightshade was uncertain, but did not think so. Their barbaric customs were surely too deeply ingrained.

Would they ever emerge from their mountainside again? Nightshade did not know, as indeed she did not know whether the drow race still existed. That last explosion of Ishmael should surely have killed them all.

But she and Sunstar were both still alive, though neither knew how. Perhaps some drow had also escaped? What of them then?

Well, they would have to cross that bridge if the drow ever showed themselves again.

Just at that moment, she watched two elven men sit up, groaning softly. The taller of the two focussed on her in shock.

It was more than an hour after Sunstar's spell that Windwalker lifted his aching head. He felt as though he had been kicked by one of his horses. Sitting up, moaning and clutching his head, he forced his watering, fuzzy eyes to focus. All around him, elves lay either dead or sleeping, bar the equally pained figure of Eveningstar, just sitting up next to him, still dazed.

"What happened?" mumbled Eveningstar to no one in particular, rubbing the back of his stiff neck.

"I think it was that," said Windwalker nudging his companion, forcing Eveningstar to turn in the direction of his gaze.

Leaning comfortably against a tree was a wary Nightshade. Sunstar was passed out in her arms, with the equally tired Morningstar leaning against the hard, broad shoulder of the hauntingly familiar, dirty and dishevelled half elf.

Both elves exchanged a puzzled glance and raised identical sets of eyebrows as Nightshade's unwavering stare continued.

Nightshade watched them, calm and unafraid, deciding whether they were friend or foe. They certainly did not look like the thin, unkempt soldiers that lay scattered around the clearing, still deeply asleep. Well, if they were a threat, Nightshade would take care of them quickly and quietly.

Windwalker slowly got to his feet, and crossed to the half elf, Eveningstar trailing behind him. Sunstar had been right all along. This Nightshade already looked totally different than the one he had met. Her eyes were determined and calm, her gaze keen and intelligent. The wicked, winding red scar was nowhere to be seen on her calm face.

Windwalker stopped short of Nightshade and sank to his knees. He still felt incredibly weak as the after effect of the spell made itself clearly felt.

"You are Nightshade?" he asked quietly, as Eveningstar knelt next to him. He shook his head, trying to clear away some of the lingering fuzziness.

"I am," the half elf said simply, deep silky voice eerily familiar, yet not. "Who are you?"

"I am Windwalker, the Captain of the Elven Guard," he said.

So this was the famous Windwalker that had been vying for her beloved Sunstar's heart.

"I am Prince Eveningstar, the head of the Elven Rangers," said Eveningstar softly from next to Windwalker, also amazed at the calm half elf's appearance.

Ah, and that was her brother. They were friends, then.

Nightshade smiled broadly and it transformed her face. Instead of a brooding stranger sitting before them there was a playful, if still slightly wary, half elf. "I feel as though I know you both well. Your patrols are well trained and surprisingly difficult to avoid."

Windwalker stared at her in shock for a second, then saw she was teasing him and burst out laughing. She was tall, even for an elf, and clearly quite graceful, and he had certainly not expected her to display the ability she evidently had at hiding. She had led the border patrols on merry chase in the forest months ago. Beside him, Eveningstar smiled ruefully. He knew what she meant; his rangers had tracked an elusive elf into the elven forest, but had never managed to catch her, much to their considerable embarrassment.

"Well met," he said, and all three smiled at each other, Eveningstar still cautious.

Nightshade sighed internally. Windwalker was obviously willing to accept her, but Eveningstar was going to be another matter.

At that moment, Sunstar opened bleary eyes, and yawned, stretching in her lover's arms, as though it were the most natural thing in the world. She looked up into Nightshade's eyes, and they exchanged a look that left both Windwalker and Eveningstar blushing.

Nightshade gave her a gentle, loving smile. It was all too brief an interlude of peace before the fighting began again. They still had to battle Darkstar. After that, the transition into elven society would not be easy, and this was a moment to be savoured.

Sunstar awoke completely refreshed for the first time in a very long time. Her beloved Nightshade's arms were finally around her again, and she quietly hoped that this time they would never leave her again. She saw Nightshade's smile, and returned it with one of her own. She felt confident; with Nightshade by her side, Darkstar and her followers would not be in power for much longer.

"Yes," said the Queen regally, as she leant back, relaxed, in the half elf's arms. "Is there something wrong?"

Windwalker smiled again and shook his head. They were clearly very much in love, and Nightshade was equally clearly devoted to his Queen. The half elf he saw before him was very different than the one that had entered the city all those months ago, and that brought up the same tired old questions again. For him, now, the following hours would be a time of judgement, to see if she were worthy to stand at Sunstar's side. He realised that he did not have a chance for Sunstar's heart, and the resulting upset was sinking in, quietly put aside for another, more private time.

"No, Your Majesty," he said airily, waving a hand in denial.

Sunstar grinned. After one quick squeeze, she regretfully slipped out of Nightshade's arms and stood.

"We had best be going," she said simply. "We have a throne to retake."

Nightshade very gently disentangled herself from Morningstar and stood, after a quick check to make sure the old Queen was all right. It would not be easy in the coming days in the Elven city. Perhaps it would be best for them to hide her out of harm's way in the forest.

"What about Mother and the troops?" asked Eveningstar.

Sunstar looked at all the fallen bodies, deciding. Morningstar they would need in the city, and the troops could not be brought back in en masse. It was best to keep them out here until they had retaken the palace.

"The troops are safe for the moment. They will not be out here long. We do, however, need mother to guide us back through the passages in the palace."

Nightshade and Sunstar traded a determined look, and Nightshade nodded gently and smiled. Her chief task, as it had always been, was to watch over her young lover until they had reinforcements.

Windwalker watched in amazement. This was not the silly young elfmaid and weak as dishwater lover that he had once known. Sunstar was a Queen who wanted her Kingdom back, and nothing would stop her. Her lover was an experienced warrior, who had sworn to herself protect their Queen.

Looking deep inside, Windwalker found he liked that.

Eveningstar crossed to his mother, and very gently took her into his arms, a tear in the corner of his eye. Like his sister Sunstar, she had always supported him, and respected his decision to abandon any hope of the throne, knowing him to be more comfortable out in the forest. Gently he woke her, and held her tight when her arms slipped around his neck.

"Welcome home, Mother," he whispered softly into her ear.

"Thank you my Son," Morningstar whispered back. He was such a gentle elf, and not for the first time she was deeply happy that he had not fallen prey to the madness that had gripped the elves. It would have destroyed him. Unlike his daughter, he would not have been able to survive the guilt of his past actions.

It was full night, and Nightshade took the lead, guiding them through the forest with the help of Eveningstar and Windwalker, eyes penetrating the darkness of the night with contemptuous ease. The avoided several patrols, sloppy and disorganised, as the elves looked on in disgust. Getting into the city was also surprisingly easy, although the guards roaming the streets enforcing the curfew looked to be well trained and vicious. It soon became apparent that they were more interested in arresting citizens and beating them senseless than they were in making the streets safe.

The elves as a group noticed this with disgust. Nightshade privately promised herself that she would personally put and end to their activities. It was so reminiscent of Dragonar. She took in Sunstar's worried expression, and gently squeezed her hand.

"We will restore order," she said quietly, and Sunstar smiled gratefully. She faced the challenge of restoring order to her home with mixed feelings. On the one hand, she had believed Nightshade to be dead and had been determined to return for her people and in honour of Nightshade's memory, but had not realised that the task would be such a formidable one. Now, with Nightshade by her side, she knew that she would be able to rely on Nightshade to end the brutality while she struggled to rebuild their once gentle and harmonious existence.

As they approached the external entrance to the secret passage, Morningstar and Sunstar exchanged a relieved glance. There was no sign of the shimmering blue light that had been such a signal of the wrongness in Shimmering Moon. Sunstar promised herself that she would go to the library and gaze out of the window to prove to herself that the drow were really gone.

They entered the side passage under Morningstar's guidance, unnoticed.

When they paused for a brief rest, Sunstar looked at Nightshade questioningly. "Why are the guards still so vicious? Ishmael and the portal are gone." The question had preyed on her mind. It was not really something she expected to hear an answer to.

"I think they enjoy what they are doing too much to give it up easily," said the half elf softly. "Your sister is undoubtedly insane." Nightshade's personal experience with the drow gave her the answer easily. From her own internal battles with her drow blood, she knew that the bloodlust was not something that could be given up easily. The elves of Shimmering Moon had been completely unprepared for what had visited them, and had not known it existed. Since the darkness for them had now become habit, it would be hard to break.

Sunstar looked outraged. Darkstar could not be insane! She had only ever been the puppet of Ishmael.

Nightshade raised a hand to forestall her angry comment. "Think for a moment, Sunstar. Ishmael's power was almost boundless. He changed an entire civilisation that was like your own into the most cold-blooded, murderous race the world has ever seen. Darkstar was just one young elf, quite hot blooded from what you have told me, and Ishmael turned her into a monster." That was true. Could Darkstar ever recover from what had been done to her? Sanity would eventually return, that was certain, but would her mind allow her to ask for forgiveness, or would it remain locked in self justified rage?

"When he withdrew from her mind," cut in Eveningstar, who had been listening closely, agreeing with the half elf, "she would have been disorientated and confused. Who knows if she is still a reasonable being?" He had not been prey to the madness, but when Windwalker had first sought him out in the Elven forest, he had been confused and emotionally out of kilter. They had become firm friends as Eveningstar had listened to him and tried to help him through the backlash of realisation of what his actions had wrought.

Further conversation was interrupted by Morningstar. This was all undoubtedly true, but for healing of the people to begin, they would have to waste no time in removing Darkstar from the throne before she could do any further damage.

"We must move quickly," she said firmly. "It is almost morning."

Nightshade and Sunstar exchanged a glance. Philosophical conversation could come later.

They all nodded quietly.

Darkstar was fast asleep, lying next to her chambermaid. She had had Oak executed; he had begun to get on her nerves. The chambermaid was an able replacement. What she lacked in energy and enthusiasm, she certainly made up for in skill and imagination.

Darkstar's dreams were troubled. Lately, paranoia had set in, an unhealthy fear that someone was trying to take her throne, and her dreams had her running through the palace corridors for hours, trying to escape some nameless, dark adversary. The other dreams where she found herself in a sea of blood, dead and dying screams of butchered elves ringing loud in her ears were fading, as was her favourite, the one where the long sword of Windwalker pierced the cold Nightshade's warm heart.

The corpse still lay there in the market square for all to see; an ugly reminder of Elven a vicious queen's spite, driving all away from that public place. That suited the new Queen; the market place was best used for her executions, anyway, not some silly whims of commerce. Her people were slowly starving all around her, unnoticed. The farms had been all but destroyed, farmers and their families for the most part either dead or fleeing from her rage.

Still she remained convinced that she was the best Queen ever to have graced Shimmering Moon. Why it was only yesterday she had looked out the windows of the throne room, and seen a group lining the streets, raising their arms to their mother. None with her dared to point out to her that they were the impaled figures of a group of citizens, that had been arrested the previous night, charged with breaking the Queen's curfew.

One by one the Queen lost her followers, but they did not dare leave her side. If they did, they knew they would be hunted down, one by one by her bloodthirsty soldiers. She had no friends, but none would oppose her barbaric reign.

Darkstar's eyes opened, as she slowly became aware of a ring of elves surrounding her bed. She sat up, reaching for her bedmate, but found the space beside her empty, though with the ghost of warmth from the body that had been in it.

"What's this?" she snarled, struggling to regain her sleep-fogged wits.

"It's me, Sunstar," said one of the figures, moving forward with a lit candle, dancing flame lighting up her golden face.

"Sunstar," Darkstar said coldly, reaching for the weapon she always kept beneath her pillow, as the rightful Queen of Shimmering Moon sat on the edge of her bed.

"Looking for this?" asked a silky voice from right next to her.

Darkstar swung around to stare directly into glowing blue eyes, holding a long, wickedly curved drow dagger in her hand.

"You! I killed you!" Darkstar hissed. Her face contorted with rage as she lunged forward, hatred shining bright in her fevered eyes, intent on finishing the job that she had started so many months ago.

Nightshade easily avoided her, only dimly aware of the hissing intake of Sunstar's breath, and pinned the struggling elfmaid on the filthy bed with ease. It was so sad; would the poor elfmaid recover?

Windwalker leaned over, staring directly into Darkstar's face, trying to control his stomach, which threatened to revolt at the stench filling the chamber. How had he not seen this?

"As the rightful Queen's captain of the guard, I am here to arrest you on the charge of high treason," he said, voice carefully neutral. "You will be escorted to the castle prison."

With that, he carefully took the struggling, naked elf, and held her wrists at arm's length. Grabbing a soiled tablecloth, the least filthy item in the room, he tossed it over the long unwashed body of the elfmaid, and hauled her away, trying not to acknowledge his sneaking sense of satisfaction.

Sunstar wrinkled her nose in disgust. "Let's go to the throne room," she said. Turning to the frozen chambermaid, firmly held by her mother, she said, "Let it be known to the castle staff that Sunstar has returned to the throne. Have the contents of this room burned. It is beyond disgusting." She was careful not to show her distress at the close encounter Nightshade had just had with Darkstar's precious knife.

Morningstar nodded, and led the chambermaid out of the room to attend to the Queen's bidding.

Eveningstar turned to his sister. "With your permission Your Majesty, I will return to our soldiers and bring them into the city," he said, face carefully expressionless, bowing. Darkstar's habits had sunk to somewhere beyond vile, and he struggled not the throw up.

Sunstar nodded. "Please," she said, smiling gently at him.

She turned around, and looked at the soiled chamber that had once been hers. It brought back such unkind memories, and she never wanted to see it again. Shuddering, she gratefully grasped Nightshade's hand. The half elf squeezed her hand gently, and then leaned down for a kiss.

"Let's go," said Nightshade softly, smiling gently at her beloved Sunstar. "We have a Kingdom to govern." She would stand beside Sunstar as long as the young Queen allowed her to.

Sunstar returned her smile, love shining bright in her eyes and heart. It had been without a doubt the worst year of her life, and the beginning to the most wonderful day of the rest of her life.

Nightshade had come home at last, and they would finally be able to rule the elven nation together, as it was always been meant to be.


AUTHOR'S NOTE: This was a shocker to write, because half way through it, RL leapt up and bit me in the ahh...well, it just did :-)

Thank you to all the people who hung in there and read it and offered encouragement along the way! It is deeply appreciated :-)

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