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...
Sunstar had taken the time to do as her mother suggested and bathed and changed her clothes. She was still dressed in her customary shirt and breeches, but she looked every inch the elven Princess. The guards saluted her crisply, no signs of their recent lack of respect in evidence as she approached the door to her father's council chamber. One of the guards quietly opened the door.
The huge, oak table was already filled; she was the last to arrive. At the head of the table sat her father and her mother, speaking to one another quietly, their position clearly displaying that both were equal rulers of the Elven nation, and no judgements would be passed unless they were in full agreement with one another. On her father's left, sat an empty chair, hers, on the other side of it her red haired younger sister Darkstar, obviously struggling to hide a smirk. To Darkstar's left stiffly sat the leader of the elven rangers, her older brother Eveningstar, looking slightly uncomfortable, as always.
Across from her sat the calm and inscrutable Oak, her parents' advisor, her uncle, the sign of his advanced age the silver at his temples. As with all elves, he still had the firm skin of youth, eyes clear blue, darkened with centuries of wisdom. On the other side of him sat Windwalker, relaxed, smiling easily at her entrance. On the other side of Windwalker sat the still furious Jarrod, steadfastly ignoring her. He was completely unable to deal with what amounted to little more than an elven whore.
Sunstar quietly seated herself.
"Sunstar," said Darkwood disapprovingly, leaning forward to stare at her intently. He had not expected her to attend; she would not be capable of viewing the situation with lack of emotion required. She had amply demonstrated her youth with her childish defence of her bastard lover.
"Your Highness," said Sunstar coldly, and bowed formally. If he thought he could decide the fate of her heart without her, he was sorely mistaken.
Darkwood drew in breath at the tone, ready to have her bodily removed from the council chamber. It was only the gentle encouraging squeeze of his wife's hand that stopped him from doing so. She had told him she had spoken with Sunstar, and assured him the Princess would behave herself. Well, he would wait and see. He leaned back in his chair to eye her critically.
When Sunstar had settled herself, hands easily resting on the surface of the table in front of them, he began.
"I don't believe any of you need to be told of our current dilemma," he began quietly, meeting everyone's eyes.
All around the table, the grave look was returned, and heads nodded.
"We have a drow in our midst. One my daughter here - " he inclined his head towards Sunstar " - is intent on keeping by her side. What are your thoughts?"
"A drow, you say?" asked Darkstar, tone tinged with sarcasm and mock surprise, leaning forward and savouring the words. She had always been a little jealous of her older sister. Sunstar was the golden girl, the heir to the throne, an easygoing, good natured girl, outgoing, while Darkstar had always been seen as the more cold and serious of the two. She was currently studying to be an elven magician, but not as powerful as either Darkwood or Sunstar, much to her dismay. Doomed to be second to her older sister always, this particular trouble her wonderful sister Sunstar had brought upon herself was a source of no small amount of private joy to the younger elfmaid. "The law is clear on the matter. We must dispose of her."
Darkwood inwardly sighed. Darkstar was a very intelligent girl, but completely without compassion, ruthless, particularly where her sister was concerned. The main reason she was in this council, or any other, for that matter, was because she had a very keen mind for points of law.
Before an outraged looking Sunstar could display another childish fit of temper, Darkwood quickly held up his hand and spoke. "Is there a precedence for this in Elven law?"
Darkstar thought for a moment then shook her head in barely concealed disappointment. "No," she admitted, clearly hating to do so. "But let's think about this for a moment. It is a drow. How on earth can you say it enters our city with peaceful intent?"
"First of all," cut in Sunstar smoothly, leaning toward her sister easily and quietly ticking off points on her fingers. "Nightshade is not an 'it', Nightshade is a she. She is a half elf. Her mother was a Forest Elf, just like you Darkstar. Second, she has displayed no hostility towards any one of our people. Thirdly, she saved my life, or have you forgotten that already?"
"You would not be in need of saving if you had not been behaving like a child to begin with," cut in Jarrod coldly, leaning forward tensely to openly glare at the Crown Princess. Why on earth were they sitting around talking about any of this when the answer was so clear?
"That's enough Jarrod," said Windwalker coldly, placing a warning hand on the soldier's shoulder. He wondered what had gotten into the hot tempered bodyguard. He normally hid his opinions behind a respectful façade. He was one of the most well mannered elves that Windwalker had ever met.
Darkwood raised his eyebrows at the Jarrod's outburst, and stared at him with cold eyes. "Jarrod, I will not tolerate such outbursts. Sunstar's past actions have no bearing on this."
"With all due respect Sire, they do," said Jarrod coldly, leaning forward to stare at his King earnestly. What on earth was the matter with these people? Couldn't they see Sunstar had brought home a drow as though it were no different to a stray puppy? "If your daughter had not behaved like a young elfling, we would not have to make these decisions at all."
"Jarrod, kindly remove yourself," said Darkwood softly, dangerously, icy eyes pinning the scout.
Jarrod flushed, a stream of pure hatred directed squarely towards the young princess clearly visible. "Yes, Sire," he ground out, and stood noisily. He bowed to his King and left the room, stiffbacked. Darkwood was taken aback; clearly this decision could divide the Elven people. What on earth had gotten into Jarrod? He felt the encouraging squeeze of his wife's hand, thankful that the entire decision did not rest with him. He cherished her gentleness and clear sightedness, the perfect balance to his strong and sometimes impulsive nature.
"Now," continued Darkwood easily, leaning back in his chair comfortably. "What are your thoughts on the matter?"
"As I see it Sire, we have four choices," said Oak thoughtfully, leaning forward, hand resting together easily on the table. Up until now, he had stared at all the outbursts passively. Not one to waste words, or repeat the ones he had spoken, he normally waited until the bickering had stopped, and he could speak without interruption. "We can exile her, we can imprison her, we can execute her, or we can free her."
"We cannot execute her," cut in Morningstar smoothly, reasonably, before any of the others had a chance to react. "We have not executed anyone for centuries. In and of herself, Nightshade has broken no laws." For her, execution, a shockingly barbarous act, had no place in civilised society.
"But she is a drow," said Darkstar emphatically, staring at her mother, tapping her forefinger on the table as she spoke. "We know the drow. They are a bloodthirsty race. The bloodlust has been clearly documented throughout the centuries. It will not be long until she shows her true nature." Darkstar did not care one way or the other who lived or died. She had never had much empathy with other elves, despite the elven teachings of reverence for life.
"Did you know," began Sunstar conversationally, facing Darkstar with a friendly grin, eyes easygoing and good natured, "that the guards beat her senseless before they put her in prison? Oh, and she didn't fight back. If that had happened to one with a pure drow nature, as you claim she has, we would not have one guard still alive to guard our almost empty prison."
There was a collective horrified intake of breath around that table at the barbaric behaviour Sunstar had described. Elves simply did not do that sort of thing.
"Is that true?" asked Darkwood incredulously of Windwalker. The Captain of the Guard looked just as shocked and outraged as the other elves seated around the table. He had merely handed the drow over to the guards, instructing them to escort her to the prison.
"I am not aware of it," he began slowly, cursing himself for not having seen to her personally. But then, why should he have done so? The guards had never done a prisoner any harm before.
"It is true," interjected Morningstar smoothly with a rueful half grin, eyes cold at the thought of the badly disciplined guards. "I spoke to Sunstar after she had seen Nightshade."
"But you did not see Nightshade herself?" cut in Eveningstar softly. He did not often volunteer any comments during council. He felt uncomfortable. Although he was the oldest of the King's children, he had renounced the throne, knowing himself to be more at home in the forest that with matters of state.
"A good question," said Oak thoughtfully, nodding his head in agreement.
"No, I did not see her personally," Morningstar was forced to admit, eyes widening in surprise. This was ridiculous. Why would Sunstar lie?
"Are you accusing me of lying?" asked the incredulous Sunstar. Lying was not in her nature; it never had been. Forest Elves in general were not known for their deception, preferring to tell the truth, believing that falsehood served no purpose to either themselves or others.
"No, no," said Oak hurriedly, instantly backing down. At least, not yet.
"I did see Sunstar with blood on her clothing and person," said Morningstar softly, ashamed to make the admission. She had taken Sunstar at her word. Sunstar would never lie about such a thing. She had always held true to her mother's teachings that violence was not to be taken lightly by any means, and was always to be spoken about with the utmost seriousness.
Sunstar eyed the other elves, making certain that the triumph she felt inside at her mother's words did not show. They may accuse her of lying, but it was totally another to insult the Elven Queen in such a manner.
Darkwood sighed, digesting Sunstar's news. He also had no reason to believe his daughter was lying. He had been stunned by the news, but it had to be put aside to be dealt with in due course. Sunstar had undoubtedly only said it at all to shut her younger sister up. The report of violence had merely diverted them from the real decision they had to make and that was what to actually do with Nightshade.
"Do we," he asked, turning to Darkstar slowly, tone carefully neutral, "have any precedent on this matter?"
Darkstar thought for a second, sour that no one could see her sister for the impulsive, immature wretch she was. Sunstar was only trying to sway the council with emotion. Who on earth could have believed that the guards would ever beat a prisoner? Her father had asked her a question. What was it? Yes, that's right - had any past Kings just locked up a drow and thrown away the key? Had they just executed them? "No," she was forced to admit, shaking her head wryly.
"We cannot execute her," the King mused. "So she is to be kept alive." He leant against the arm of his chair, cupping his chin thoughtfully.
"We could imprison her until she proves she is not a danger to our society," said Eveningstar softly, still uncomfortable, staring at his father anxiously. It was reasonable, plus it would offer Sunstar a chance at happiness after Nightshade had shown she was of good character, as his sister so firmly believed.
"How is she meant to prove she is not a danger to society if she is not allowed to interact with it?" asked Sunstar archly, raising an eyebrow, staring at her father, face carefully expressionless.
"How can you be willing to risk the safety of your people like that?" said Darkstar angrily, openly glaring at her sister. Obviously, the golden elf was not finished with making a fool of herself.
"At this point in time," said Windwalker, flushing, looking pointedly at the younger Princess, "we can't trust our people not to harm her."
Darkwood nodded thoughtfully. Nightshade herself was not safe in prison.
"We can't let her go," said Oak quietly, almost absently. "Yes, she is half an elf, we can see that. However, what assurances do we have that she's not loyal to the drow, and that this is not a ruse by them to harm our people? She is, after all, half a drow as well."
"Nightshade could pass for one of us," said Sunstar confidently, with a small smile. "I know her capabilities. If she wanted to hurt us, she could have done so by now, believe me."
All the gathered elves turned to stare at her in surprise. Instead of being comforting, the words rocked them to the core. It meant that Nightshade could murder them at any time if she was loose, either in the city or in the forest. If they exiled her, they would make her angry, and who knew what wickedness she could find to do then? How far did her drow stealth skills really go?
"If that is true," said Darkwood slowly, eyes hooded, "then house arrest is not the answer either. By your own words to me, Nightshade is a strong half elf. If she did intend to do any of us any harm, then who could stop her? Behind bars, she is no threat to any of us or ours."
"Our last option is exile," said Oak quietly. At this point in time, only execution seemed the most reasonable course of action, as it would remove the drow menace from their city. He was careful not to show any of this to his colleagues and his King.
"I do not know how good that would be," said Morningstar thoughtfully. "It seems to me that we cannot do that without all the drawbacks of letting her loose amongst our citizens. If she wanted to get back into the elven forest, then she could do so." She was becoming more and more curious about what the half elf was really like. Was she the black menace that Jarrod had painted, or the tame puppy that Sunstar loved?
"So we can't kill her and we can't exile her," mused Darkwood. "It seems as though we must keep her close. Now the only question remaining is how much of her freedom should we return to her?"
Sunstar sighed inwardly. The flame of hope her mother had ignited in her at the mention of speaking to the council guttered and extinguished. It seemed as though her father was semi tactfully pointing them towards permanent imprisonment. Together forever, but eternally apart. Romantic though the notion was, it would be pure torture to be forced to live in the same city while her lover was just beyond her reach in chains. It was no life at all for Sunstar.
"We will make our decision on this," Darkwood said with finality, nodding to his beautiful Queen, who bowed her head elegantly. "We will inform you what we decide. The last matter remaining to us is the one of Sunstar and her attachment to our new guest. You, Sunstar, will have no contact with Nightshade until we decide what we will do with her. You will cease your pursuit of her, you will not speak to her, you will not interact with her. You have done enough damage as it is by bringing her home with you. If you do not follow my commands, then I will exile you and keep Nightshade close, and you will never see her again, is that understood?"
Although Morningstar remained expressionless, she was shocked at her husband's words. The punishment he suggested was unusually harsh. Sunstar would never have been so stupid as to try and free her lover while the royal house kept such a close watch on them. Exile was certainly reasonable for aiding a drow prisoner to escape, but keeping them apart after being caught...this was without a doubt the most brutal thing he had ever suggested.
Sunstar also did not change expression, though inwardly she sobbed. A life without Nightshade if she disobeyed her father, a life without Nightshade if she obeyed her father. The only thing that gave her some glimmer of hope was that if Nightshade were kept in prison, then she would at least see the owner of her heart. There was that, and also Nightshade's quiet suggestion of escape. The forest elves would never find them if Nightshade did not want them to. Sunstar inwardly grinned, suddenly heartened. Exile it would be; only not in the manner her father had envisaged.
All around her were insanely narrow minded beings, no different to their mortal enemies. Prejudice and spite ran rampant among them. They were worse than the lowest drow because they hid their brutality and cruelty behind a gentle, cultured façade.
When Sunstar did not answer him, merely favouring him with a level, expressionless stare, Darkwood spoke again, pinning her with bright green eyes, eerily similar to her own.
"I said, 'is that understood?'" he asked coldly. Would that keep her under some semblance of control?
"Yes, Your Highness," replied Sunstar respectfully, tone revealing nothing, plans of escape taking place behind her expressionless eyes.
"You are all dismissed," said Darkwood, satisfied now that he had gotten Sunstar's assent.
Oak, Windwalker, Sunstar, Eveningstar and Darkstar all stood. They bowed deeply and respectfully, and left their King and Queen.
When the room was empty save for the two monarchs, Morningstar turned to Darkwood.
"Darkwood my love," she began gently, with a small smile. "I know you have seen Nightshade, but have you actually spoken to her?"
Darkwood was distracted. He had never seen such a level of malice at any council meeting. He was shocked at Jarrod's outburst, and the idea that they had accused his very own daughter of lying. The whole idea was simply ridiculous. What had gotten in to all those elves? He was barely paying attention to his wife.
"No," he said distractedly. "I haven't."
Morningstar smiled fondly at him. His mind was elsewhere, that she could clearly see. She had some questions of her own, and, kissing him gently on the temple, left her King to his thoughts.
"So you are the mysterious Nightshade," said Morningstar quietly. She stood outside the cell, taking in the battered appearance of her daughter's lover, trying not to cringe. Sunstar had indeed been telling the truth. Nightshade's skin was a forest of fresh bruises and dried blood. One eye was swollen shut, the other purple with bruising. Her mouth was swollen, dried blood from her split lip trickling down one side of her face. The huge, winding, livid scar down one side of her face had been torn open, and was black with crusted blood. Both elegant cheekbones also bore heavy bruising, the once creamy skin mottled and scarred.
Nightshade still sat crosslegged in her cell, but she was stiff backed, her torn clothes and uncomfortable demeanor clearly suggesting to Morningstar that the rest of her body probably was the same as her face, ribs almost certainly broken.
"I am Nightshade," said the prisoner calmly, slowly opening her eyes, a softly glowing blue, shockingly gentle for the representative of such a bloodthirsty race.
"I am Sunstar's mother Morningstar," said Morningstar quietly, smiling gently. How to begin?
"Well met, mother of my heart," said Nightshade respectfully, inclining her head, slight smile curving her injured lips.
Morningstar inclined her head at this courtesy. She had not been expecting it; the others had made Nightshade out to be such a monster. All of them except for Sunstar, of course.
"I have heard much about you," said Morningstar curiously. She took a good look deep into the tall, beautiful half elf's meek, glowing blue eyes. She could see no trace of drow depravity in the calm depths.
"Not a lot of it good," said Nightshade sadly, shaking her head, breaking the cool gaze of the Queen.
"Well," said Morningstar encouragingly. "Sunstar has been your champion." There was no trace of any hostility apparent in the drow's demeanor. It was very unusual. Perhaps Nightshade truly was different to her brothers.
At the mention of the young elfmaid's name, Nightshade's face lit up in a pure, loving smile.
"Sunstar," she said softly, eyes lost to memory.
"You love my daughter," said Morningstar softly, testing the half elf's reactions.
"With all my heart and soul. I should not have left the forest with her. I should not have come," said the half elf, voice still soft, losing her smile. "But I couldn't leave her."
"I understand love," said Morningstar gently. "My daughter was not any better off without you. She truly loves you with all her heart." To all intents and purposes, Nightshade was telling the truth. Morningstar felt her heart melt for the two lovers, despite herself.
"I know," said the half elf sadly. "I never intended for any of this to happen, but I could not stay away from her."
"I understand that also," said Morningstar quietly. The half elf had to date displayed none of the deception that the drow normally could not live without. She appeared to be speaking the truth when she declared her love for Sunstar. She seemed awfully tame, displaying none of the fierce spirit and determination that Sunstar had ascribed to her.
"You are not full drow," began the Queen questioningly. How much forest elf really lay in Nightshade's heart?
"No," said Nightshade softly, blue eyes focussed on the Queen. "I am half drow. My mother was a forest elf." There was open honesty in her expression.
"What was her name?"
"I don't know," said Nightshade, forlorn. "My father forbade her to use her name. He called her his whore." Memories of her mother trickled in, and Nightshade welcomed them with an open heart.
Inwardly, Morningstar winced. A forest elf cruelly denied use of her name, her young daughter bereft of the teachings of her people, it was an ugly thing indeed. How much did Nightshade truly remember of her mother? Nightshade's drow blood could not be denied; when would it resurface? She had spent a lifetime absorbing their cold blooded teachings, surely she could not abandon them so easily? Yet the drow Morningstar saw before her looked so weak and harmless and she did speak of Sunstar with such gentleness in her eyes.
"I never forgot her. I will never forget," said the half elf shyly, eyes lost in her remembrance, bowing her head.
Morningstar nodded and with one long, gentle, last look, left.
Nightshade's mind turned inward, focussed on old pain. She had seen the Elven Queen, knowing she was there to sit in judgement of a half drow, and had tried to answer her as honestly as she had always answered Sunstar. Sunstar's mother had the same gentle nature as her daughter, and her hazel eyes had been so kind, so like the blue of her own mother, so long ago...
It was late in the evening of the following day. Morningstar looked at her husband fondly as he stood in their chambers, staring out into the clear night sillouette of Shimmering Moon. There were no lights in their rooms, and he stood outlined in the ghostly glow of the full moon, unseeing. She smiled inwardly, deciding that he had stewed enough.
"Darkwood," she said softly, questioningly. "You still haven't decided what to do with Nightshade, have you?"
She could feel his rueful grin. "No," he replied softly. "You've already made your decision, haven't you?"
"Well," she began, smiling, and he laughed softly. They both knew each other so well.
"What is it to be?" he murmured, interested.
"We should let her go in Sunstar's care," she said firmly, knowing directness was best with Darkwood.
"What of the danger to our people?" he asked quietly. He was still not convinced that it was the best course of action.
"I don't think Nightshade is a danger to anyone," Morningstar said softly. "She truly does love Sunstar. She also does not look like any drow you have ever seen before. The only thing that marks her as a drow are her eyes." The gentle, meek eyes had been what had finally decided Morningstar. Nightshade may have looked like a drow, but her forest elven heritage had clearly won out over her bloodthirsty upbringing.
"We know she was one of the most feared drow before now," said Darkwood, still quiet and grave, turning to look at his shadowed wife.
"Oh?" She waited, knowing he would come to see her way of thinking on his own. He had not seen Nightshade, she knew that, and would rely on her for a more objective opinion of the half elf's character than Sunstar had given.
"I asked Darkstar to do some investigation for me. It seems there is much talk in the outside world regarding a drow with glowing blue eyes and dark hair, who has done fearful harm to our neighbours."
Darkwood had asked Darkstar to examine Nightshade's past. That did not bode well for Sunstar's case.
Darkstar, now she was an elf of a different calibre. Morningstar had always been quietly aware that Darkstar was jealous of her sister, but now that had flared up beyond reason. She appeared to be deliberately looking for ways to make her older sister miserable. Morningstar sighed. What had gotten into the elfmaid? What had gotten into all of them, for that matter?
Morningstar considered her husband's words. He was right about Nightshade's past, of that there was no doubt. But she had seen Nightshade, the gentle blue eyes, love shining bright when speaking of Sunstar, the pain at the mention of her mother. No, Sunstar had been right: no matter what Nightshade had done in the past, she had definitely changed.
"Nightshade does no harm to anyone anymore. I went and saw her in prison on the day of our council."
Darkwood stared at his wife with considerable shock. What if Nightshade had tried to kill her? "Why did you do that? Put yourself in harm's way in such a foolish manner?"
"Sunstar is not a foolish elfling, despite what you may currently think of her. She has always been quite even tempered. You know that. One important thing we all seem to have overlooked is that Nightshade did indeed bring our daughter back to us unharmed. Do you have any idea how much courage that it must have taken to walk away from the drow? She renounced her family, made herself a fugitive, forever homeless, for our daughter?"
Darkwood thought about this for a moment. As usual, his wife was right. "That is true," he sighed.
"Not only have we not thanked her for that, but we have put her in prison, and are contemplating leaving her there for centuries. It is not a fitting end for anyone, particularly one who has never shown anything other than honorable intent."
"The risks are enormous. What happens if Nightshade undergoes the bloodlust? There will be a trail of corpses, you and I amongst them, which will destroy the elven people."
"We do not know where she was in the time she was away from Sunstar. As Sunstar said, Nightshade did not so much as lift a finger in self defence when the guards beat her, and believe me, they almost beat her to death. If anything were going to draw forth the bloodlust that we are all so afraid of, it would have been that.
"She never raised a finger, Darkwood, not once."
Darkwood walked slowly back across the room, to sit comfortably on their bed, taking his wife's hand with infinitely gentle fingers. "It is no small thing you ask of me Morningstar. Are you really willing to risk the safety of our entire people on our daughter's lover?"
Although she could only see shadows in her husband's face, she met his eyes squarely and unwaveringly. "I am," she said simply. "And only because I don't think such risk exists."
There was a hissing intake of breath, and Darkwood stood again, and began to pace the room restlessly.
Morningstar smiled gently. She knew her husband of more than a century would take her words to heart.
Morningstar's words had cut right to Darkwood's heart.
Morningstar, his beautiful, beloved wife. She had stood by him through so much, had had fine children by him. There was the gentle Eveningstar, carefree and outgoing Sunstar, and thoughtful Darkstar.
Morningstar had done the one thing he could not do - she had gone to speak to her daughter's lover, Nightshade. He had not wanted to do it, wanting to decide the matter purely on facts, not on the basis of emotion. But in so doing, by her gentle account, had not let Nightshade speak for herself. Sunstar adored Nightshade, he had already known that, she herself had told him, but he had feared that her words would reflect a bias towards her lover.
Sunstar had so fiercely defended Nightshade, and Morningstar was now also defending the drow. Drow? He snorted. Perhaps he should call her a half elf, as she was indeed of Forest elven heritage.
What should he do with her?
He would not kill her - he did not want elven history to know him as a cruel, unjust tyrant. His entire reign had been one of peace, and that was because he had always insisted that there were two sides to every disagreement, and both needed to be listened to, to ensure that judgements were fair and just. But he had ignored Nightshade's side of the story. He was uncertain of whether it was because Nightshade was half drow, and he did not like the drow, or because he had wanted to be impartial.
Was he now basing his decision on pure bias and prejudice? He did not know.
His beloved wife had been right - Nightshade had shown unusual courage and strength of character to rescue his daughter. He did not know why she had done so, and had not thought to ask. All he had been concerned about of late was whether she would suddenly launch into a fierce killing spree.
She had not done so in the one situation that would have instantly given away any loyal drow. The guards had beaten her to a pulp, and by all accounts she had not defended herself.
No drow, pure blooded or otherwise, would allow such a thing to go unanswered.
There should have been broken bodies from the prison to edge of the city, but there hadn't been.
So the bloodlust was not something that they had to fear.
He did not have to condemn her into a half life in prison. Although his daughter would not believe it of him at the moment, he did understand something of love.
Exile also seemed such a harsh punishment for someone who had committed no crime except to have a drow for a father. Yes, she had been bloodthirsty in the past, but she had rescued Sunstar from the drow. She had shown no signs of hostility towards the elves when Sunstar had found her in the forest a few days ago.
Did he trust Nightshade?
He tried and tried, but was unable to do so.
So what should he do with her?
Was it to be house arrest? Or could he let her go free?
Total freedom was not a choice either, as it seemed the castle guards could not be trusted to see to the safety of Nightshade. Nor could he do it because the people would be in an uproar. To all of them, bar Sunstar, Nightshade was a true unknown quantity. A drow quantity. Clearly not violent, but perhaps a spy of some sort, a traitor in their midst.
That left only one choice.
He had to release Nightshade, but he would have to do it into Sunstar's care. The condition of her freedom would be that both would be exiled if Nightshade displayed any murderous hostility.
Although he was not fully comfortable with the choice he made, he would live with the consequences - and so would Sunstar once she found out what they were.
Major decision made, he turned his mind to the matter of the brutal guards. Just the thought of their lack of discipline caused his temper to fully ignite and flare almost beyond control.
Going to the outer room of his chambers, he rang the bell, and waited for a servant to answer.
It was the same young girl that had brought him news of Sunstar and Nightshade. The elfmaid hesitantly entered and stood before him, eyes downcast.
"Child," he said, smiling encouragingly, knowing she was still feeling awkward and uncomfortable in her new duties of serving the royal family directly. "Please go and fetch Captain Windwalker for me."
"Yes Sire," she said, voice hushed. She bowed deep and low, awkwardly backing out of his chambers.
Darkwood spent the minutes waiting for Windwalker wondering what punishment would be enough for the prison guards. So they wanted action, did they? They enjoyed causing harm to others? Well, perhaps action against bloodthirsty bandits and drow would do nicely.
There was a soft knock at his door, and Windwalker, clearly drawn from a deep sleep, entered the room and bowed low.
"Windwalker," began Darkwood quietly, emerald green eyes boring into his Captain of the Guard. "There is a matter I have overlooked during the past few days. The guards you have on prison watch, I want them reassigned."
Windwalker had already decided to do so, and was just contemplating where he would put them. Perhaps on border duty, and he would not recall them for the next five years?
"You will send them to the furthest outpost you can find, on the most active post you can find, and you will not send them relief until my direct say so. They are to be under the command of Jarrod."
"Sire?" asked Windwalker, taken aback. The most active outpost was in the West Wood? Despite the peace of recent months, there was another flare up of activity on the border. If the drow did not kill them, then the masses of human bandits in the forest would.
"You heard me," said Darkwood coldly and firmly, body tense with rage. "Do it at once. If the guards are still there when I go to the prison tomorrow, then you will be joining them."
Windwalker paled. Darkwood was truly furious. Windwalker had never seen him so angry, and angry enough to virtually order an execution. He truly pitied any poor elf on the receiving end of the King's current foul mood, the foulest Darkwood had ever been in.
"At once," said Windwalker quietly, and bowed respectfully. No longer even remotely tired, he went out of the room, intent on seeing that the King's orders were carried out personally, and to the letter. There was a fleeting regret that he was losing an able second in command, but he already had the perfect replacement in mind. Galain was a loyal and even tempered soldier, and the elves respected him. He would also do nicely as a bodyguard for the Princess.
Nightshade blinked as she was gently shaken awake. The swelling in her eye had gone down somewhat, so now she was able to see with both, but her vision was still blurry in one eye.
The guard who had shaken her awake was a new face, and he backed off respectfully when he saw the glowing eyes of her drow heritage.
"The King has requested your presence. Windwalker has asked us to see to your comforts before we take you to the King," he said, shock on his face at her disgraceful condition. The previous guards had not allowed her to bathe, preferring to throw a bucket of icy water on her in the mornings. The cell itself had also never been cleaned, so she made quite an unpleasant sight.
"Alright," said Nightshade quietly, carefully pulling herself to her feet as the slightly shorter elf backed away respectfully.
"This way," he said cautiously, and led her out of the cell, past the guard's room and into a private chamber, which had been clearly set up for her to bath in.
The tub was full of clean, gently steaming hot water. On the edge of the tub rested a clean, rough towel, and a bar of soap. Someone, perhaps Sunstar, had also seen to it that she had a clean set of clothes lying to one side.
As she stripped and washed, she could not help but feel dread at what was to come. They were not going to execute her, that much was clear, but would they allow her to stay? She did not think so. It was more likely that they were going to give her a hearty meal and send her on her exiled way. The thought of parting with Sunstar was almost more than she could bear, but she comforted herself with the cheerless knowledge that at least Sunstar was safe and out of harm's way. Before now, Nightshade had been out in the wild world, and had sampled some of the delights on offer. She was not at quite the same loss as she had been when she left the drow city.
Life without Sunstar would be hard, but she had done it before and she could do it again. That of course, was if Sunstar did not follow her, which she thought was highly unlikely. Sunstar would follow her.
She remembered Sunstar's words to her: if Nightshade were out of the city, Sunstar would find some way to join her. She did not want a life without her beloved half elf, any more than the half elf wanted one without her. They would simply roam the world together, and although homeless, they would be together. Perhaps Darkwood would forgive them, perhaps not, but at least they would be together.
With those cheerful thoughts, Nightshade finished bathing and pulled her clothes on again quickly.
She emerged from the room, and the two guards, who had been quietly talking, eyed her expressionlessly. They had heard what had happened to their predecessors, and were desperately trying to avoid the same fate. It did not matter what they thought; they would have to trust in their King to put the people ahead of any on individual, even if it were his daughter. He would exile the drow.
"Please come with me," said the more senior of the two guards, tone carefully neutral. He was the one who had gotten her out of the prison cell. He gracefully held out an arm, indicating she should walk ahead of him. Both guards followed her close; there was no question she was a prisoner, even if she had the freedom to walk without their hands on her arms.
They led her to the throne room, and this time there was no waiting for the doors to open. Inside, the King and Queen sat on their thrones, plainly dressed, circlets of gold being the only indicators of rank, gravely eyeing the half elf.
"Thank you Galain," said the King quietly, nodding his head to the guard who had led her from her cell. "That will be all."
Galain and his guard companion both hesitantly bowed, uneasy at the idea of leaving their King and Queen with a drow, and backed slowly out of the throne room. Nightshade stood in the centre of the room, beam of sunlight lighting her up, allowing the King and Queen to bear full witness to the brutality offered at the hands of their guards. She stared boldly at them, eyes and face giving nothing away, half blind in the sunlight. She could only barely see them, but she did not drop her eyes. She knew fate was going to be unkind to her, and she wanted to meet it square on, without fear as she knew she could.
After five minutes of mutual regard, the doors to the throne room opened again, and Nightshade felt footsteps walking up behind her, and she knew it had to be Sunstar. She could feel the gentle, encouraging presence of her lover. Resisting the urge to take Sunstar into her arms, she silently continued to eye the monarchs expressionlessly.
The relief Sunstar felt at finally seeing her lover again was so great, a tear came to her eye. She went and stood directly by Nightshade, the brief squeeze of the half elf's hand the only sign of any emotion. Like Nightshade she was carefully expressionless. Also like Nightshade, she vowed to follow the half elf to the ends of the earth if her father foolishly exiled Nightshade.
When they both had had the full cool regard of the elven regents upon them for a few minutes, Darkwood spoke.
"What is your full name?"
"I am Nightshade, daughter of Nightsbane, and a forest elf he called whore."
The sharp words did not have any apparent effect on Darkwood or Morningstar. Both knew eachother intimately, and they did not have to look at each other to know that they were both wincing inwardly together.
"Nightshade, we have decided what is to become of you," said Morningstar evenly, inclining her head in the half elf's direction.
"We will not exile you, or execute you," said Darkwood quietly, more for his daughter's sake than for anyone else. He stared intently at the pair. "You may stay here with us. We are concerned about your drow blood, and for this reason, the following decision has been made.
"You may stay with the Forest Elven people in the city of Shimmering Moon. We will not allow you to go into our city unfettered, however. Do you agree to this?"
Nightshade smiled ruefully. It was more than she had hoped for, and they didn't say that she was not allowed to interact with Sunstar. So they could, at least, could stay together. Perhaps the sanction would be lifted after a while.
"I agree to that," Nightshade responded calmly, gently giving them a nod.
Beside her, Sunstar fumed. Her mother and father had not decided to kill her, that was good, but now they insisted that she be escorted by the palace guard wherever she went? What next? Would she ever be allowed to see her beloved Nightshade again? What would they do to their daughter?
Morningstar and Darkwood exchanged a glance and smiled at oneanother.
"As you have agreed, we must now ask you if you will abide by Elven law and custom. Will you do so?"
Nightshade again nodded slowly. It was a small price to pay, and she hadn't planned anything otherwise.
"I agree," she said firmly.
"Excellent," said the King heartily. "Then you are welcome among us. You are never to go out into the bounds of the city or surrounds without a military escort. We release you into the keeping of our daughter, Sunstar, and if you ever violate any of our laws, or bring harm upon the royal house, you will be executed. If you, Sunstar, assist her in any treasonous wrongdoing, you will also be executed. At best you will spend the rest of your natural life in prison. Do you agree?"
Sunstar and Nightshade exchanged a broad smile. Their fates were inextricably linked. Darkwood had bound them together, closer than marriage could.
"We agree," they said joyfully, smiling lovingly at one another.
"Not so fast," said the King quietly, holding up his hand. A smile played about his lips, as he took in their smiling faces. "There is one more condition you must agree to. You will never be allowed to marry each other. You, Sunstar, are to find yourself a suitable Elven partner. Do you agree to that?"
"That's outrageous," thundered Sunstar, leaning forward and glaring at her father. Darkwood's face took on a matching flushed hue, while both Morningstar and Nightshade tried to restrain their respective partners.
"I'm sorry Sunstar," said Morningstar quietly. There was genuine regret and apology in her eyes. "If you do not agree to that final condition, then Nightshade will be sent from here never to return."
"And you daughter," hissed the King, glaring at Sunstar, "will find yourself in prison so fast, you will not know what hit you. You may govern your people from a cell."
Although Nightshade was upset by this condition, her fate was much brighter than she had hoped for. Being a drow, the notion of multiple lovers was not strange to Nightshade. She would speak to her young lover, and they would work through this latest setback. Over time, Darkwood could be made to see reason, Nightshade was sure.
"I agree to this condition, as does Sunstar. Don't you Sunstar?" asked Nightshade emphatically, capturing her with blue eyes, gentle and loving. They would discuss this later, the look said.
Sunstar could not for the life of her see why Nightshade was so calm about this. This was an act of barbarity she did not think her father had in him, and she was surprised her mother had agreed to this foolishness. Nightshade's eyes promised to explain, so for the sake of temporary peace and to get her lover alone again, she pinned her father and mother with a cold stare.
"Yes, I agree to this condition as well," she ground out.
With a complete lack of respect that her parents did not realise was in her, she grasped Nightshade's hand and turned and pulled her from the throne room without a backward glance at both furious parents.
Sunstar led her lover blindly through wooden corridors, seething, back up to her chambers.
Once inside, Nightshade calmly sat on the bed relieved at the mere fact of being alive, while Sunstar stalked all over the room, ranting and raving.
"Who does he think he is? That fool!" Sunstar snarled. "Forbidding me from marrying whomever I please! It's unheard of."
She paused in her fevered pacing to kick a footstool across the room, so hard it crashed into the wall on the other side of the room with a solid thunk. The cushion split open and stuffing went flying.
"I could just kill them both for this!" The rage had set her face into an ugly mask of fury.
Inwardly wincing that her normally gentle lover was furious beyond the bounds of reason, Nightshade pulled herself off the bed, and slowly crossed to Sunstar.
Glowing eyes timeless in their patience, she slowly opened her arms and pulled Sunstar in close. Suddenly it was all too much for the Princess. The sweetly feminine scent of the half elf teased her senses. The strong arms encircled her only to silently remind her that they could not truly be united and no matter how her father phrased it, Nightshade was a prisoner to the elves. Tears of misery first slowly trickled from Sunstar's eyes, then became a raging torrent, soaking the front of the half elf's shirt.
"Sunstar," said Nightshade soothingly, stroking Sunstar's head, gently rocking her until she began to quiet. "It's not as bad as you think. I am still alive and we are still together."
"But you aren't an animal. You don't need to be caged," mumbled Sunstar into Nightshade's chest.
"That's not really what's bothering you is it? You know that I could break the bars of my cage whenever I choose to."
"No, it isn't," sobbed Sunstar, fresh tears tracking down her face as she looked up into the gentle glowing sky blue of Nightshade's eyes. "I want you and only you. I don't want any other to sit by my side when I take the throne to the Kingdom."
"I will always be by your side," said Nightshade softly, reassuringly, gently wiping the tears from Sunstar's face with her thumbs. "You may choose yourself a husband or wife in name only. We do not ever have to be separated."
Sunstar sighed, and buried her face in the half elf's shirt. The scent was so hauntingly familiar, memories of six months previous returning in fits and starts, particularly the last time she had ever felt the half elf. The pain of that final parting had been so great it had almost destroyed her. Now, her beloved Nightshade was with her again, never to leave. Perhaps Nightshade was right. Perhaps she could find and elf who would be willing to sit beside her in name only.
But the seed had been planted. It would always rankle Sunstar that Nightshade was forever in the background, not sitting at her rightful place by her beloved's side.
After that, life returned to as near normal as it could under the circumstances.
Over the next few months, Nightshade and Sunstar's love grew in leaps and bounds, and did not remain unnoticed by Darkwood and Morningstar. They would sit and watch the two lovers, as they spent hours together, gently laughing and touching, enjoying their lives and each other. They were silently pleased that the half elf appeared so weak and docile. Sunstar did not actively look for another partner, almost content to allow her father to push her towards marriage with Windwalker.
For the first time, Sunstar discussed this with Windwalker and asked him if he would agree to marriage. She did not do it because she was willing to do so; she did it because her beloved Nightshade had asked her to do it. Windwalker was dubious about the entire suggestion. He was truly in love with Sunstar, and it rankled him that she would never consider him a serious mate. It irritated him that she expected him to be a puppet to her whims.
His temper began to disintegrate, and the guardsmen began to avoid him, as he was moody and almost always ill tempered when dealing with them. He looked to Nightshade with jealousy in his eyes, and almost unconsciously began to plot her swift demise. Surely no one would notice if the drow was no longer there? She certainly put a strain on elven society in general, though the people at large appeared to accept Sunstar's choice if not with gladness, then with a dull resignation.
Windwalker began to notice that the people had changed in their interaction with one another, assuming it to be a sign of the discontent they felt at the presence of a drow. There was more than one savage beating, the latest victim of an attack hovering precariously near death. The healers did not hold much hope for him. The Captain of the Guard had also noticed that theft, another almost unknown occurrence in elven society had arisen and was apparently flourishing.
He was too concerned with his failing pursuit of Sunstar to pay any serious attention to these problems, merely putting them down to hatred of the dark elf, just as he was experiencing.
Darkwood and Morningstar had also noticed the unrest in their people. They now sat again in judgement of neighbours' disputes. It was a task Sunstar had once embraced, but now ignored in favour of spending time with Nightshade. The disputes were increasingly petty, and harsher judgements were demanded by plaintiffs.
Once there had almost been a brawl in the throne room, much to the mutual dismay of the Elven regents. It had been so shockingly sad to see their people engaged in such uncivilised behaviour. Both combatants had been hauled off to the prison cells, beaten soundly and thrown out into the street, never to be allowed in the presence of their King again.
Sunstar had also seen to the removal of the young serving girl that had once cast a careless eye upon her lover. It was unknown what had happened to the girl, and Sunstar's parents suspected that Nightshade had had a hand in her fate, but they were unable to find any evidence of wrong doing on the half drow's part.
Although Darkwood and Morningstar reserved their judgement on Nightshade, they listened to their daughter's urgings to try and get to know the half elf a little better, much to the everlasting revulsion of Sunstar's younger sister Darkstar. She solidly ignored the half elf with a rudeness that soon had her sent from the palace at the Crown Princess's orders. Sunstar had always been aware of her sister's jealousy but her open pursuit of Nightshade left Sunstar with a lasting disgust that did not allow her to so much as stomach the sight of the young elfmaid.
Elven society was almost being destroyed all around them by frequent hatred and unrest, but Darkwood and Morningstar paid no serious attention. They were singlemindedly concentrating on attempting to re-establish their once carefree relationship with their daughter, pleased that she was apparently adjusting to her new life.
Darkwood found himself spending many an evening playing chess with the half drow. She had not known how to play, but had picked up the ideas quickly, and with a keen mind that he truly appreciated. She was also a highly attractive, desirable elf, and he was not blind to her physical charms. Almost unconsciously, he often found himself flirting with the half drow.
Sunstar watched this with jealous eyes. It was only the knowledge that Darkwood was deeply in love with, and married to Morningstar that stopped Sunstar from hurling accusations at him of attempting to seduce her dark lover.
It was early one evening, after yet another lazy lust filled day, that Nightshade and Sunstar found themselves tangled together, holding each other close, basking in the warm afterglow of their lovemaking. Nightshade looked out the window, noting the sinking sun, relishing the feel of her young lover in her arms.
She finally felt some measure of peace. She was with Sunstar, and although the King would not allow them to marry yet, she was sure that they were slowly wearing him down.
"Sunstar," Nightshade breathed gently, nibbling her lover's ear.
Sunstar sighed. "Is it time again?" she asked, softly, regretfully. She hated it when Nightshade left her to go and play chess with her father. When she got married, they would again be torn from one another, especially if Windwalker was her husband. She suspected that he was not as easy going as he appeared over their little arrangement. He had finally come back to her with a date. They were to be married in a matter of months. Her parents were ecstatic; she herself was grief stricken that Nightshade would not be the one standing with her pledging a lifetime commitment.
"It's time," said Nightshade shortly. She smiled gently, and leaned down to kiss her lover on the lips. They almost did not break for air; it was only Nightshade's unwillingness to be late to her chess appointment that made her stop.
She relished Sunstar's company, and hated the fact that Darkwood had imposed the no marriage condition on her. It should have been her standing with Sunstar, pledging vows to her, spending their wedding night together. But it was not to be; Darkwood had seen to that. She felt an instant of malice, but she banished the thought quickly. At least she was still alive, and they could spend time together. Perhaps, though, she could find some...way...to convince Darkwood to allow her to marry Sunstar.
"I love you my Princess, but I have to go to your father," she said breathlessly, barely suppressing a groan, gently stilling the hungry hands that roamed her body. She climbed out of the bed, and began to pull on her clothes.
Sunstar grinned - she knew what effect she had on her gorgeous lover.
"I'll be waiting for you," Sunstar said playfully, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively. Although her tone was light hearted, her thoughts directed toward her father were black and ugly. Just who did he think he was anyway to interfere with the life of one of his adult subjects?
"Then I will not be long," said Nightshade happily, smiling at her lover.
Nightshade blew her a kiss and made her way out into the corridor. She passed the guards who ignored her, and made her way towards the offices of the King, where she knew a goblet of warm mead and a cheerful fire awaited her.
She knocked on the door, and heard the King call for her to enter.
"Ah, Nightshade," he said cheerfully, face lighting up into a smile at the sight of his daughter's lover. He was strongly attracted to her. His wife was young looking and undeniably beautiful, but she did not have the stunning good looks and dark, untamed beauty of the half elf. He envied his daughter, and of late had been subconsciously wondering if he could interest the half elf in a more...active relationship. If his daughter caused trouble, she would find herself spending the rest of her natural days with the hot tempered Jarrod out on the border. Then he idly remembered that Jarrod had been killed several weeks previous. All the better, he thought. The west wood was sorely in need of a good commander, and who knew where his daughter's talents lay?
"Your Highness," said the dark elf smoothly. She carefully watched his eyes, seeing the tiny glint and decided that their continued pursuit of chess may not have been such a good idea. "Let's play."
The guards never knew what happened. Several hours later, long after the time when the demon bitch and lovesick King's chess game should have been concluded, there was still no sign of the drow. The two guardsman exchanged a glance, and decided to break with protocol and make their presence known.
"Your Highness?" said the elder of the two, Galain, hesitantly, deciding to take the lead. If the King sent him to the West Wood, he would simply slip off into the wilderness. He had heard of other guardsmen doing just that. Who cared, really, if one more soldier went missing?
"Your Highness?" he asked again more confidently, and a little louder. He knocked discretely.
There was no response, just that odd, dead silence from the room.
"Your Highness, we're coming in to check if you are alright," he said loudly, very concerned. He waited a moment and then looked at his companion. If they were engaging in bed sport with one another, it would be ample time for them both to pull their clothes on. If they had any measure of common decency, of course.
Galain tried the door, and found it locked from the inside. Alarm bells started ringing inside his head.
Rattling the doorhandle, he again nodded quickly to his companion. "On a count of three. One, two, three!"
Both elves barrelled forward and kicked the heavy door. It groaned, and gave a little. They nodded to one another, and tried again. They did it three more times before the door finally gave way.
At first they did not notice anything was amiss as they stumbled into the room. Then, as Galain's eyes adjusted to the flickering firelight, he took in what his frantic eyes had been telling him all along.
Nightshade was leaning over the body of the King, which was stained an odd crimson. She was holding something in her hand, and as she shifted to take in the guards with her glowing blue eyes, Galain saw it was a long knife, wickedly curved, of drow design.
"What have you done to His Highness?" he snarled, rushing over to take a look at the ashen Elf King, throwing Nightshade away with strong uncaring hands, fellow guard hot on his heels. He already knew what he would find, and his heart sank. They had failed in their sworn duty to protect the Elf King.
His scalp crawled in shocked recognition. He hopelessly felt for a pulse on the too still body, already cooling in death.
"By the mother!" he exclaimed, utterly horrified. "The King is dead!"
Taking in with crawling disgust the blood soaked dark elf clutching the dagger, a dazed expression on her face, he turned to the shocked younger elf, leaning over the King behind him, wide eyed.
"Go and fetch the Queen and the Captain. The drow has killed King Darkwood!"
CONTINUED IN PART 4
original fiction <> homepage