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 © 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...
"The drow has killed King Darkwood!"
The words echoed through the mind of Sunstar. She sat in her chambers in her bloody clothes, her father's circlet resting easily in one small hand, a crumpled piece of paper lying by her feet, grief stricken eyes staring unseeing out into the rioting town square.
Her father was dead.
When the startled cries had rung through the hallways, Sunstar had been peacefully reclining in her bed, already missing Nightshade, jealousy flaring through her system at the thought of her lover being alone with her handsome father. She had been certain her father was trying to seduce her half-elf lover.
Her handsome father was dead. He would never try to seduce anyone anymore.
Sunstar was the new Elf Queen.
She had leapt out of bed, frantically dragging on her clothes, and run as fast as she could to her father's chambers. When she had gotten there, it had only just been in time to see a shocked and distraught Nightshade, covered in the dead elf's blood, being bodily hauled out of the King's chambers. She had gaped at the spectacle, completely unable to think, aware only of burning shock and horror raging throughout her frozen system.
She barely noticed her half-elf lover, still trying to process the idea that her father might be dead.
"No! Sunstar, I didn't do it!" screamed the dark elf to her deaf lover, as Sunstar found her legs and stumbled into the blood soaked chamber.
A desperate cry had escaped the Princess's lips as she slipped forward in the rapidly congealing blood, staggering over to her father's cold corpse. He had looked as though he was sleeping, although too pale, and the gaping, ragged hole in his chest had screamed a different story.
"No, father, please speak to me," she had sobbed, tenderly cradling his cold head in her lap, scalp crawling with horror. "Please father, don't be dead."
She had squeezed her eyes shut, tears still spilling through the tightly closed eyes, coursing down her pale face. The reality of her father's death slammed into her and she was inwardly knocked sprawling.
That was how her mother found her, not two minutes later.
"Darkwood?" came the hesitant voice from the doorway. "Darkwood?"
Her mother had seen the agonised Sunstar covered in the Elf King's blood, and screamed a wordless cry of denial. Morningstar, too, had stumbled to the fallen King desperately tearing him out of her daughter's arms, holding him close and braying sobs filling the air.
"This is your fault," Morningstar had snarled, between bouts of sobbing. "If you had not brought your drow whore amongst us, my husband, your father, our King, WOULD STILL BE ALIVE!"
Sunstar had backed away, shaking her head in denial. No, Nightshade was framed she would never have killed anyone. Surely they could see that? Did they really think a vile murdering monster would be brought into their midst by their very own daughter? The mere thought was ridiculous! This was not her fault!
But could her mother be right?
She had stumbled from the room, back to her own chambers, and thrown herself on the bed, still reeking of past activities with her beloved half-elf, sobbing bitterly.
Memory had come flooding in then. A small elfmaid, crying when she had fallen over, strong male hands picking her up and cradling her, chasing the pain away, mother smiling on contentedly; his smile and subsequent loud laughter when she had come back from the elven races, covered in mud, but victorious, waving her hard won trophy around for her parents to see; lively debates by the fire over how best to govern the people; his gentle arms surrounding her, soothing her, battling the demons with her when she had come back from her adventures with the dark elves. It was to be no more.
Her young, strong father, the hero of her youth and wise friend as she approached adulthood, was no more.
She had not moved for two days, lying in her soiled bed, staring off into space, thinking of her father, and how much he had been loved both by her and his people. Servants had come and gone, delivering trays of food, only to remove them later, as the Princess never touched them. Only one servant had been able to rouse her out of her stupor, and that had been to give her Darkwood's crown.
"Please, Your Highness," said the young elfmaid, afraid to speak to the new Queen. "Your mother has asked me to deliver this to you."
Not waiting for an answer, she had thrust the crown and a hand written message upon the grieving Crown Princess, and backed respectfully out of the chamber, knowing that the almost catatonic Princess would never acknowledge her presence.
Eventually, she had read the note.
Sunstar, this is your father's crown. You are now the Elf Queen. I have no desire to sit upon the throne without my husband by my side. Morningstar.
So she had sat for two days, clutching the crown, note crumpled and forgotten in one hand, tortured by memory and guilt over her father's murder.
Her father was lying in state, for all the people to see and bid farewell to. She had not done so, though by instinct, she knew her mother had. In fact, she was sure that her mother would remain by her father's side for the entire week he would lie in state until his funeral.
The thing his daughter had hoped she would never have to plan.
But now she did. Her father was dead.
At the heart of it was Nightshade, who she had loved more than life itself.
How could Nightshade betray her in such a manner? Sunstar had welcomed the half-elf into her home, and championed her when no one else would do so. By all accounts, her father would have welcomed her into the fold, and lifted the sanctions against Nightshade, so she could live with Sunstar. Then Nightshade had killed him. Why? Why had she done that? What did she have to gain by such an atrocious act? Why couldn't Sunstar see Nightshade as innocent, as she surely must be?
Sunstar, although she did not know it, grieved for many things. A love so deep it was an inextricable part of her, now betrayed, yet still present; the loss of her father; the loss of her mother, as her mother now regarded her as the sole reason her father was laid out on a marble slab, instead of seated comfortably on his throne, where he should be; Sunstar's own untimely ascension to the throne in such a time of civil unrest, without one friend to watch her back.
It was time to regroup, and attend to her duties as the new Elven Queen. Although they would not have believed it, Sunstar had always loved her father with all her heart, and all her decisions over her people would be made with his kind voice whispering to her. Nightshade had been right so long ago when she had told Sunstar that she was a strong elf. Sunstar was a strong elf, and would unite the people again, whatever the cost. If Nightshade was guilty of this foul act, then she would pay for this crime.
She slowly climbed up out of her chair a changed elfmaid. Gone was the foolish young elfling, replaced by a strong, mature adult, determined to govern her Kingdom, as her father would have wanted her to do.
She rang for a servant, and when the young elfmaid appeared, calmly instructed her to draw a bath and lay out her clothes of mourning.
She had much to think about.
~~~Sunstar approached the body of her fallen father, each step a milestone. It had only been a few days ago, that he had smiled at her in the hallways, and laughed at some comment she made.
She would hear his laughter no more.
What would he want her to do now?
She leant forward, lips against the cold forehead, kissing him softly, no trace of his lively spirit present in the barren shell. What would he say to her? She could hear his voice now: "You must bring order to the people. Find out who did this. Do it with impartiality; there is no place for emotion in serving justice."
With gentle, small hands, she replaced the crown her mother had sent her on his head. She had not had the chance to learn about being a ruler properly from her father. She was but nineteen years old, and by rights it should not have been less than another ten to fifteen years before she took any royal duties on her shoulders. The King's crown was not her crown, and neither was her mother's; she still had to find hers. She knew she would never be the same ruler as her father, and was now robbed of his wisdom; but perhaps she could one day be better.
The first challenge that lay before her, one of the hardest she had ever had to face, to go and speak to Nightshade. The name impacted her like a long cold knife stabbing into her most tender place. Looking deep within herself, she knew that she could not tell if Nightshade had done this or not. She admitted to herself that she harboured her suspicions over Nightshade's involvement in her father's murder, but she had done nothing to either confirm or deny them. That would come later; first, she had to bid her father farewell.
The reason for her reticence in confronting her half elf lover was quite simple. Despite everything, she loved her half elf with every fibre of her being, and wanted with all her heart and soul to believe that Nightshade had been completely innocent of this heinous crime, but was terrified of what she could find. Her uncertainty nagged and gnawed away at her, until the simple task of facing her lover had become the largest mountain in all elven history.
She would have to do it sooner or later, but in her present condition, could only deal with one thing at a time. She had three tasks ahead of her: bury her father, bring order back into her realm, and investigate the guilt of her true love and put her on trial for murder. Plus, she would have to do all these things without the benefit of her mother's level-headedness and wisdom.
Shoulder slumping with the weight of the world upon them, a single tear trickled out of the corner of her eye, and she slowly left the grove, unmindful of her forlorn mother, who knelt next to the fallen King.
Morningstar knelt on the other side of the slab, watching her middle daughter with a dull interest, unable to see past the pain in her own heart and soul. Darkwood had been a good father, and a just King. She had no desire to govern over her people without him by her side. She had not said that to Sunstar from malice -- it had been a simple statement of fact. Already, the piercing grief for him had passed, although the wounds were still open and bleeding. The remnants of resentment towards her daughter lingered to some small degree, but she knew that Sunstar would pursue her father's murderer with the same energy and commitment that she had always possessed. The firmness in the emerald green eyes and haunting pain spoke volumes to the widowed Queen. Sunstar was a strong and practical elf, and would not allow this atrocious act to slip by unpunished, even if her lover were involved.
Sunstar's capture by the drow had revealed an unexpected steel spine in the young elfmaid, if Morningstar's conversations with Nightshade had been any indicator.
Nightshade. Now there was a name Morningstar could not approach without some turmoil. It was true, Nightshade had been kneeling over the corpse of Darkwood, but did Morningstar believe deep within that Nightshade had killed him?
When Sunstar had made her peace with her parents, she had begun to speak to her mother again, and told her in halting sentences what had happened to her when Nightshade had led her from the drow. Morningstar could still hear Sunstar's words in her mind. Sunstar had been able to recall, word for word, what Nightshade had said when bringing her back to the elven forest: I am sick of killing and death. I wanted to leave and be free. I wanted to learn what more there is to learn of this world. I don't want to hurt anyone anymore. Was that true? Sunstar had certainly thought so at the time. It was also, to all intents and purposes, a creed that the docile Nightshade appeared to live by. The creature they had in prison was so tame and colorless, so unlike the spirited and passionate half-elf Sunstar had painted her to be.
Was Nightshade a murderer? Was there any doubt? The answer was a resounding yes to both questions.
Sunstar had inherited a land in turmoil, blissfully and disgracefully ignored by both parents. All instances of violent crime had increased dramatically following Nightshade's initial release from prison, but Morningstar and Darkwood had both taken a step back from their people to try and reach their daughter, believing that they had time to attend to the civil unrest in due course.
How wrong they had been.
Darkwood, the Elf King, beloved of the people, was dead.
Apparently slain by his daughter's bastard whore.
Morningstar realised her daughter had no one to turn to. Sunstar's lover was behind bars, a murderer merely awaiting execution, the accused's story ignored in their thirst for swift justice; for all her daughter knew, Morningstar had withdrawn and harboured nothing but strong hatred for her; the people were crying for blood; Sunstar's beloved father had died.
Morningstar loved her daughter as much as Darkwood had, and she would not allow the elfmaid to stand before such insurmountable obstacles on her own. She would do it because her daughter needed her. Darkwood would have insisted on it.
Morningstar, Sunstar, Eveningstar, Darkstar and Oak stood around the body of the fallen King, lying peacefully in the grove. The marble slab had been removed, and the King lay naked, circlet resting upon his head his only sign of rank, as Sunstar had placed it several days previously. An elven magician, Fallingbirch, stood respectfully to one side allowing the mourners final moments with their King.
Soon Fallingbirch would sing, and the body of the King would sink deep into the earth, at one with the nature that the forest elves held so sacred. Normally an elven funeral was a time of rejoicing, but not for the current cluster of elves. They had loved their King, and he had been taken from them by unnatural means. Sunstar's tears for her father had passed, but the joy of his being able to meet his brothers in the afterlife had not come yet; it would not be until much later that she would be able to feel some joy for his spirit.
She felt a strong hand engulf hers and give a brief squeeze, then let go. She did not have to look at her mother to know it had been her. When she had finally been able to face her mother, she did not find the expected condemnation and anger, only a dull sadness and gentle love for her young daughter.
Sunstar had seen neither Eveningstar nor Darkstar for a very long time. Eveningstar had only just returned from the forest, unwilling to believe the messages that the runners had relayed to him. When he had found that his father was indeed dead, his head had bowed, and he had entered a state of depression no one was able to break him out of.
Darkstar had merely eyed her sister with disapproval, grotesque accusations of patricide springing to her lips. She had sought Sunstar out, only to berate her and abuse her. Sunstar had not been able to deal with this and had sent her sister away, not wishing to see her again until it came time for her father's funeral.
Each of the mourners knelt beside the body of Darkwood, and gently kissed him on the temple, whispered a farewell in his ear, and stood back.
When all were done, the Elven magician moved forward and began to sing.
The song normally sung at Elven funerals was a soaring song of joy, but that was out of place in this sombre group of elves. Instead, the magician had searched his archives, and selected a haunting song asking for forgiveness, and expressing hope for the future of the living. It commended the body of the fallen elf to the soil that had nurtured it, and encouraged the spirit of the Elven King to go forth with pride to greet his ancestors with joy and fond remembrance of the living.
Sunstar was thankful that the magician had broken from the customary songs, as she slowly watched her father's body become translucent, then disperse into the soil. Her father's life had not ended naturally, it had been stolen from him while he was still a strong elf in his prime. There was no joyful departure; the living had been robbed of an elf whose wisdom and courage they had all benefited from.
Sunstar's head was conspicuously bare; she did not have a crown and she did not feel that she was capable of wearing either Darkwood's or Morningstar's. Her reign did not begin in a time of peace; it began in blood and turmoil.
The people were openly revolting now, demanding the head of the drow as restitution for such a foul act. There were also whispers, unheard by Sunstar, but nurtured and cherished by Darkstar, that perhaps Sunstar should not assume the throne. Surely she only now assumed it because Darkwood had not had the time to name a new successor? Her deep love for Nightshade was well known, so they did not trust her to judge her lover with the impartiality the crime demanded.
None of her advisors or her family had spoken to her, their absence clearly sending the bitter message that the blame for this act was entirely hers for bringing a drow into their midst. There was no doubt in any mind that her lover had killed the King. They had neither sympathy nor time for her, and would not stand by her.
The people at large still did not know that she had not summoned the courage to visit her beloved Nightshade in prison. Of course, rumor ran to the contrary. There were those that said she visited her lover in prison every night, and they both laughed with the dark one over the murder that had been done and would go unpunished. Sunstar knew of the rumors, but not who spread them and could see no way to stop them.
When the death ceremony was done, they all adjourned to the throne room to crown the new Elven Queen.
Unbeknownst to Sunstar, Oak, Windwalker and Morningstar had all met the previous day, to decide the fate of the young Queen. The ex-Queen had argued that Sunstar should be allowed to rule and had urged haste. The people could not survive without a strong leader at the helm, and it had to be Sunstar, as Darkwood had not named any other heirs to his crown. The crown only ever passed down to the children of the regents. In the case of a monarchy dying childless, then another family member would take over. It would not be in this case, as the line of succession was clear and unbroken. Oak, Sunstar's uncle, had agreed with this assessment. He minded not at all, as it put Sunstar in a position in which he would have some control over her. He saw the young Queen as a weak child, easily led, foolish. It seemed to him as though his ambition to quietly rule the elven nation would finally come to fruition. Windwalker had been sceptical, but followed the advice of his former Queen, privately thinking that if Sunstar were to become problem, they could quietly remove her from the throne.
In the yawning emptiness of the throne room, Captain Windwalker, Morningstar, Darkstar, Eveningstar and Oak all circled Sunstar as Fallingbirch, the elven magician from the grove, sang. Sunstar stiffened as she felt the song take a hold of her. An elven coronation was no small matter. The Song took the candidate and held them frozen as it examined their inner self, putting it on display for the witnesses. If the candidate were not pure of heart, then the song would slowly seep the life from the elf, almost as though drawing them into a deep sleep. It was a sleep, of course, from which they would never awaken.
Sunstar felt helpless under its onslaught. She felt each moment of her life brought forth for examination by the assembled onlookers. They saw her drow imprisonment, the most intimate details of her time with Nightshade, her pain over her father's death, and her very thoughts in graphic detail. All of it was done in a matter of moments, but it was time enough to bring deep shame over some the things she had done in her life, leaving her in emotional turmoil. Shoulders sagging, Sunstar allowed the intense regret and embarrassment to flow through her, as the spell gradually released her.
The elven magician stopped singing, and stood back as Sunstar slowly opened her haunted eyes.
"Do you accept the crown of the Kingdom of Forest Elves?" he asked firmly, question a slow intonation.
Sunstar thought about that for a second. Her mother had abdicated; who else was left to take the crown? The Song had shown that she was worthy, even if she did not feel it.
"Yes," she responded with the same dignified solemnity as the elven magician.
"Do you promise to put your Kingdom and subjects above yourself and to serve them as their most humble servant?"
Again, Sunstar was forced to think about it for a couple of seconds. Was she capable of doing what the oath required of her? Perhaps her parents had been right she had indeed put her own pleasures ahead of the well being of her people when she had brought Nightshade into their midst. The people had not been pleased by her father's decision, and now they had paid a terrible price for her headstrong, selfish wishes.
"I do," she said slowly, and Darkstar glared at her, all the other elves remaining expressionless.
"Do you understand that if you violate the tenets of the oath, then you will at best be exiled from Shimmering Moon, never to return?"
As Sunstar intended never to violate any elven laws or customs in future without the oath in mind, she unhesitatingly responded, "Yes, I do."
"Then I now crown you as Sunstar, fifty-second Queen of the Elves of Shimmering Moon," he said. "The King is dead, long live the Queen."
Each of the unsmiling, solemn elves, bowed to their new Queen, and bent down on one knee.
"Do you swear allegiance to your new Queen Sunstar?" the magician asked, black eyes glittering as he took in the serious faces.
"We do," they replied as one, but Sunstar noted that there was some hesitation before they swore allegiance. The most notable of these was Darkstar, who now glared at her sister with dark anger in her hazel eyes.
At this point in time, the magician was supposed to place the crown on the head of the new Queen, but she had none; it was widely known that she would not wear the crown of either parent. Instead, he gently placed his hand on the new Queen's head, and offered a silent, sincere blessing to the gods.
"Your Majesty," said the magician respectfully and bowed low, seeking to take his leave of Sunstar. The ceremony had concluded and he had more important matters to attend to.
"Thank you Fallingbirch," Sunstar inclined her head anxiously.
Fallingbirch smiled slightly, and left the chamber.
When he was gone, the assembled elves stared at their new Queen, not speaking. The circle broke as she stepped from their midst, uncomfortable. She had already broken the vow of office by bringing her lover into their midst, and they all knew it.
"I would like to call a council," she said quietly. She did not want to hold it in the council room; the memories of the last council they had there were still too raw. She wanted to start off her reign with a clean slate.
"We will adjourn to my private chambers. I will see you all there in one hour," she said dismissively, turning her back on them, staring unseeing at the blank space on the wall which would house a portrait of her father in due course. Slowly, they all saluted her back and filed out of the room, save Morningstar. She remained behind to speak to her daughter.
"Sunstar," she said softly, as the elfmaid continued to ignore her presence.
"Yes Mother," said Sunstar absently, turning to face the older elf. She tried not to look startled at her Mother's appearance. Gone was the young elfmaid, replaced by a thin stranger, face haggard, once shining red hair limp and lifeless. Even the smile that had always danced around her eyes was gone.
"You are the new Queen," Morningstar said slowly, gently.
"I realize that Mother," sighed Sunstar, thinking this was going to turn into another round of shouting and bitter accusations.
"I just wanted to say that you are now my Queen and I am still your Mother," said Morningstar softly, shoulders slumping.
For the first time in what felt like an eon, Sunstar smiled. It was a small, wistful smile, a longing for a simpler time when the sheer presence of her parents was enough to chase all her childish demons away. "Thank you my Mother," she said softly as Morningstar left her, showing no signs of having heard the quiet comment.
When Galain and his younger companion had burst in on Nightshade, kneeling over the Elven King, she had been very groggy. She had held the cooling body of Darkwood in her arms with a sinking heart, covered in his blood, clutching the dagger, with no knowledge of what had happened.
The guards had promptly dragged her from the room, and she had seen Sunstar, staring at her father's collapsed body. Sunstar had only seen her for a second, but the shocked expression on Sunstar's face and the beginning of horrified understanding had been enough to tear her heart and soul in two. How could Sunstar really think that she had done such a gruesome thing?
Galain had thrown her in prison, but it had not been a simple matter of hurling her body into her familiar cell. The guards had had some sport first. She had been whipped to within an inch of her life, and brutally beaten, the entire time unprotesting, allowing them to do as they willed to her. By the time they had finally finished, she had been unconscious, spilling blood from a dozen wounds.
When she had finally regained consciousness, she realized with a sinking heart that she was still alive and deeply wished she wasn't. She was unable to move through the pain of the numerous cuts and broken bones.
The guards had not bothered to feed her, and rarely gave her fresh water. Even now she was in the grips of a fever, torn clothes allowing the cool air of the dank prison to caress her hot skin. She was dimly aware that days had passed, and that Sunstar had not come to see her. The guards came on a regular basis, hurling insults and spitting on her prone body, and she accepted all, filled only with a dull resignation and the pain of Sunstar's continued absence.
Trust had never been easy for her to come by, living with the drow. It had taken so long for her to place even the smallest amount of it into her forest elf lover. First, there had been a cautious testing of her companion's gentle spirit, then a simple faith that the elf was honest, and was indeed, what Nightshade had never had before in her long life -- a friend.
When love had blossomed between the two of them, Nightshade had always given it with absolutely no expectation that it should be returned. Away from her Sunstar for six months, she had learned that it could be given, and one could expect certain things in return from the people who claimed to love you, one part of that being faith in you and your good nature.
Sunstar had not visited her in prison, and surely that meant Sunstar thought she had betrayed her, believing her to have reverted to her drow ways. That was ridiculous, surely? Didn't Sunstar know any better? Why on earth would Nightshade have killed her lover's father?
The thing that hurt Nightshade the most was the Sunstar had clearly tried, convicted and sentenced her without even having spoken to her. Whatever they had was clearly gone, at least from Sunstar's side, although the half-elf still loved her forest elf. So Nightshade waited for whatever it was the elves would do to her, which was undoubtedly execution. At least it would be an end to the miserable pain of her existence and Sunstar's betrayal.
Sunstar had slowly gone from the throne room to her chambers, determined to sit and think about what she would do next.
She had her mother's support again, and for that she was grateful.
But what to do next?
She had to investigate her lover's part in her father's murder. She remembered the condition her father had imposed on them, that Nightshade was to be executed if she were to bring harm to the royal house. She had loved Nightshade with all her heart, still did, but had no doubts at all that she would eventually be forced to order Nightshade's execution or imprisonment, regardless of the half-elf's guilt or innocence. Her advisors and people had tried and convicted Nightshade already. The thought of that caused intense pain to knife through her. Her shoulders slumped, and she was unable to suppress the tears that flowed out of her eyes.
Sunstar would also have to stop the civil unrest in the Kingdom. The people would not accept her as Queen due to her close ties to Nightshade, she already knew that, and she would be forced to abdicate. She had no desire to stay amongst such a shallow, self-absorbed people anyway. When Nightshade was gone, there would be nothing left for her here anymore, she knew that as well. The only thing that would keep her in Shimmering Moon was her father's remembered faith in her, and her mother's desire to have order restored back to the Kingdom.
The final task was to find a successor for her position. That was something she was loathe to do, as all the choices available to her were not good ones. Her sister was a hard elfmaid, completely without compassion, and filled with anger and hatred; her brother, while sweet, was incredibly weak. Then she mentally hit herself. What did it really matter to her? She was going to leave. Let these silly, self-centred elves sort the mess out after she left. They all knew better than her how to govern Shimmering Moon anyway.
Her gloomy thoughts were interrupted by a soft knock on her door.
"Enter," she called absently, still too absorbed in her inner pain to readily deal with company.
Morningstar slowly walked into the room. Sunstar looked up and idly noted that she had taken the time to wash and brush her long, red hair.
"Mother," she said quietly.
"Sunstar," said the ex-Queen of the elves, just as quietly. "May I sit?"
"Of course," replied Sunstar, looking out the window, idly watching one villager apparently beating another to death.
"You are the Queen now," said Morningstar gently. "What is to be your first act?" Perhaps her daughter would accept her shared thoughts as her beloved Darkwood once had.
"I don't know," sighed Sunstar. The two elves grappled and fought, throwing furious punches at one another. Was this to be yet another parental lecture?
"You must bring order to your own house before you can bring order to the Kingdom," said Morningstar, following the direction of Sunstar's gaze, wincing when one particularly vicious blow with a piece of wood from one of the combatants resulted in a gout of blood from the other. They both staggered, one fell and clutched his almost shattered head.
"I know that Mother," said Queen Sunstar impatiently, watching the injured elf as he slowly collapsed and lay twitching in the crimson earth. She already knew what she wanted to do, but was curious as to her mother's thoughts. "But what do you suggest I do first?"
"Have you spoken to Nightshade?" asked Morningstar thoughtfully. The victor dropped his weapon and with his blood soaked hands rifled the fallen elf's pockets.
"No I haven't," said Sunstar guiltily as the elf looked around furtively and ran off. How could she face Nightshade and lie to her about her belief in the half-elf's innocence?
"Then do so. How do you expect to pass judgement on another if you do not have both sides of the story?" asked Morningstar, surprised. They now both looked squarely at each other, the spectacle below being over. That was the one thing that Morningstar and Darkwood had both tried to instill into their heir -- impartiality and fairness in all judgements.
"Alright Mother, if you insist," said the young elfmaid, defeated. "Although it is quite clear that it is irrelevant whether she is guilty or not."
"Perhaps, perhaps not. In either case, you must find out what her side is." Morningstar stood, and stared at her daughter, pity shining clear in her hazel eyes.
Sunstar knew her mother was right. One of the topics of her upcoming council was to decide whether to put Nightshade on trial or just execute her. Sunstar found the entire debate almost beyond belief -- they had to investigate the murder before anything else was done. Sunstar stood and looked at her mother dully.
"I loved her with all my heart," she said softly, the pain of Nightshade's suspected betrayal of her trust weighing heavily on her small shoulders. "I still do."
"I know," said Morningstar softly, regretfully, to Sunstar's back.
Nightshade was only dimly aware of a form entering her cell. Was it yet another guard who wanted a piece of the helpless half-elf? Did it really matter?
She felt soft hands cradle her head, the gasping intake of breath.
"Nightshade," said a soft, pain-filled voice.
"Sunstar?" she replied hesitantly, voice muffled. Most of her teeth had been shattered and it was painful to talk.
There was silence and Nightshade thought she had left; this was another dream.
Sunstar looked down at the broken body of her lover, unable to stop the tears from coming. Her lover had once been beautiful, but the guards had ended that. One of her eyes was gone, the bloody, swollen socket the only thing that remained. Her face was almost an unrecognisable pulp. The deep love that Sunstar had always had for the half-elf came back in full force, and the tears she shed now were just as much for herself and the rapidly approaching end of her love as they were for Nightshade.
There were rioting people in the city, and the guards had taken it upon themselves to beat a prisoner to death. Why were they doing it? Was it because Nightshade was a drow, or because their King had been assassinated? Did it really matter anyway? Her people were screaming for blood -- Nightshade's - and they would never allow order to be restored without half-elf blood being spilled. Guilt or innocence no longer mattered, since the half-elf was dying anyway.
This time, she could not heal her lover as she had done so long ago in the human city when they had been escaping from the drow. If Nightshade had to die, Sunstar would rather it have be in her arms, than at the end of a hangman's noose, though neither one was a fitting end for the half-elf.
The knowledge broke her, once and for all.
The resulting pain that tore through her heart and mind left her frozen, and she knew that throughout whatever long life was left to her, she would never find another that would replace Nightshade, and fill the gaping hole in her heart and soul. She knew that she would never be able to live with herself, and that she had not been strong enough to stop the sequence of events that had swept her up, leaving her spinning out of control.
"Why Nightshade? What happened?" she asked, voice thick with grief, the question coming out in fits and starts amid flowing tears.
"I didn't do it," said Nightshade painfully. "The portal opened and a drow entered. He killed the King before I had a chance to react. Then he left the same way."
The words were spoken softly, almost incoherent behind the bruised and unsupported lips. Nightshade could not say more, it hurt her to talk.
Sunstar could only look at her with sightless eyes and nod slowly, locked in her own private hell. The idea was unlikely though plausible; she could use it as a defence for Nightshade, useless though that would be.
There was no more to be said by either one.
Sunstar sat there for long moments, cradling the slowly dying body of her lover in her arms. There were so few moments remaining to them, before Sunstar was forced to order her execution.
CONTINUED IN PART 5
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