by Kathleen Wolf
COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER: Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and back story are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way.
VIOLENCE WARNING/DISCLAIMER: This story depicts scenes of violence. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.
LOVE DISCLAIMER: This story depicts a love 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, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story. Please note no graphic sexual scenes are contained within the story.
NOTE: This story is the fourth in my series and takes place almost four years after Sorrow's death. I strongly recommend reading the other three stories to understand what is going on in this one. You might find yourself a bit confused if you don't.
TISSUE ALERT: I've been warned to include this after not warning people of the sad nature of the last story. Although this story has a much happier ending then the last, there are some sad scenes. So you might want to keep some tissues handy just in case.
FEEDBACK: Any comments would be greatly appreciated.
SPECIAL THANKS: Thanks to Alina for beta reading and the wonderful encouragement. Thanks to Lizzy for beta reading despite my obvious grammatical impairments and for her suggestions and encouragement. To Gin, everyone should be thanking you for the happy ending, but I'm just gonna thank you for being my sounding board whenever the story got a little overwhelming.
Gabrielle sat listening to the rest of the council argue. Three full days of discussion had gotten them no closer to a decision.
"Listen," she spoke, bringing the other five members of the council to a quick silence. "My only choice is to go to Aldernon and meet with Prince Rike." She looked around the circular table.
"But to give into his demand for a meeting only means that you agree he has a legitament claim to a new treaty. Just because his father has died?" One of them challenged.
"No, I'll send word that I have only agreed to meet with him to find out why he is unhappy with the existing treaty. Maybe all of this can be solved with a little face to face discussion." Right now she didn't care if she had to walk to Athens and back, she just wanted out of this boring meeting. Xena and Madalene had gone fishing for the day and she had hoped to surprise them. "Any other objections?" All of the Amazons could see the Queen had made up her mind. None of them bothered to argue.
The hooded figure approached the Southern gate at a slow pace. The whistles of the forest patrol had notified the guards of the impending arrival. They stood at the ready.
Under the heavy cloak the stranger's features were indistinguishable.
"Halt! Declare yourself." Jumping down from the trees, Syn used her staff to block the visitor's path.
"I am a friend of the Nation and a close friend of Queen Gabrielle." A soft woman's voice floated out of the darkness of the hood.
"What do you want?" Syn didn't like the look of this self proclaimed friend.
"I ask only that you deliver this to your Queen immediately." A pale white hand emerged from under the cloth and handed Syn a scroll.
Syn's fingers moved to crack the scroll's wax seal, the stranger's soft voice made her stop.
"I don't believe your Queen like's to have her personal correspondences read by anyone other than herself." The tone remained unthreatening, but the point was not lost. "I will wait here, under your guard, for her response." Making a simple movement into a grand show, she dropped to sit on the ground below her feet. Her quick descent caused the cape to billow up, revealing that she was dressed only in a simple white top and black leather skirt. The other guards were startled by the motion and drew their swords. Seeing that she was unarmed and sitting cross legged on the ground, they felt foolish for being so jumpy.
"Deliver this to the Queen." Syn handed the scroll to another Amazon. Leaning in close she whispered to the woman. "Alert Eponin first. Tell her I don't like the look of this visitor."
Eponin entered the council chambers and went straight to the Queen.
"I'm sorry to interrupt." She bent down so that only Gabrielle could hear. "A mysterious woman has arrived at the Southern gate and has asked for this to be delivered to you." She held up the scroll and continued. "She claims to be a friend of the Nation's and a close friend of yours."
Gabrielle raised an eyebrow as she took the parchment. Examining the seal, she hoped it would give her a clue. The single thumbprint, held within the wax, told her nothing. A shiver went up her back as she broke the wax and unrolled the scroll.
"Have her brought directly to me." She rolled up the parchment and held it absently in her lap. "Eponin, please escort her yourself."
Eponin waited for an explanation, but none came. The Queen just sat there starring off into space.
Syn was surprised when Eponin arrived at the gate. She was still standing close to the seated woman, ready for anything.
"That will be all Syn." The command was stern. Eponin turned to address the stranger. "I will take you to the Queen."
"Thank you." Standing, she extended her arm to Eponin.
Looking down, Eponin's gaze fell onto her leather wrist band just as the stranger had intended. Syn recognized the band to be Amazon in nature, but she had never seen such marking's before. Eponin was one of the few who knew the significance of the symbols.
'But this can't be!' Her mind struggled with the idea. 'She's been dead for almost four seasons.' She tried to see the face hidden within the cloak, as she grasped the stranger's arm.
"Please follow me." Eponin turned and led the silent stranger away.
Gabrielle had adjourned the meeting quickly and paced nervously around the table.
'Sit down.' Her thoughts tried to cope with what was happening. 'If this is true, you definitely need to sit down.'
Eponin entered with the cloaked woman a few paces behind.
"Thank you." Gabrielle released the breath she'd been holding. "Would you please remain at the door. Make sure no one disturbs us."
Eponin bowed to the Queen, and gave a slow nod to the stranger as she left.
Taking a few steps closer to the table, the stranger reached up and slowly pulled the thick hood back off her head. The Queen's mouth dropped open in amazement.
"Sorrow, is it really you?"
"Yes, Mother." She released the clasp at her neck and swirled the cape off her shoulders to let it drop on the table.
Gabrielle starred at her daughter. Comparing the woman in front of her with the memory she kept in her heart. Although mostly the same, some very shocking differences remained. Sorrow's skin was so pale, it appeared to glow. A thick streak of pure white hair began at her left temple and continued back through her long brown mane. Locking eyes, Gabrielle couldn't believe the deepness that stared back at her. The spell broke suddenly and she rushed to embrace her lost child.
"How?" She pulled back and held the pale face in her hands.
"I'm not really sure. I should be dead." Sorrow wiped a tear from her Mother's cheek.
Gabrielle grabbed the hand and ran her fingers over the thick red scar that covered its palm.
"Are you all right? You must be hurt?" The memories flooded back to her.
"No, I've spent a very long time healing." Ashamed of the mark, Sorrow pulled her hand away and hugged the small woman close. "That's why I've been gone so long. I'm sorry. I came back as soon as I could."
"Of course you did." Gabrielle tightened the embrace. "I'm just glad you're alive."
Xena ran to catch Madalene. Fishing hadn't gone as well as she'd planned. They had returned to the village early, hoping that Gabrielle would be free go on a picnic. The three year old Princess had grown to be quite a handful. Having inherited Xena's speed and stealth, she maneuvered out of the warrior's grasp and off towards the council chamber.
Eponin caught the running Princess and waited for Xena to catch up to her.
"Look's like you've finally met your match!" She ribbed the warrior, as she handed the squirming Princess back to her.
"Aunt Eponin won't let me in to see Mother!" Madalene looked to Xena to fix the problem. Xena looked at Eponin.
"A visitor arrived and is having a private meeting with her." She tried to answer the warrior's unasked question. "I'm not supposed to let anyone disturb them, but I have a feeling she'd want you in there." Eponin thought of the wrist band, and hoped her assumption was right.
"Why don't you stay with your Aunt, while I go check this out." She placed Madalene back on her feet.
"You can guard the door with me. It's a very important job you know." Eponin hoped she would be able to keep the youngster out of trouble. The Princess was legendary for disappearing when you looked the other way. Liking the idea of doing something important, Madalene stood next to Eponin and tried to act intimidating. Xena went inside.
"Xena, the most wonderful thing has happened." Gabrielle ran to hug her when she entered.
Sorrow turned to face the warrior, who looking up from the bard's embrace couldn't believe her eyes.
"Is this some sort of trick?" She questioned instinctually, having believed for so long that Gabrielle's child was dead.
"No Xena, it's really me." Sorrow admired the warrior's honesty. She had expected her to doubt that she was whom she claimed. "You can embed your chakram in my side again if you don't believe me." She smiled as she spoke, not evoking the memory out of malice but in the hopes of convincing Xena of who she was.
"Sorrow!" Xena moved quickly to hug her.
Gabrielle was a little surprised by the warrior's emotional display. Knowing Xena's actions were driven by the heavy guilt she felt over Sorrow's death, she decided not to comment.
"It's so good to see you." Sorrow returned the embrace.
"Where have been all this time, we thought you were dead?" Xena pulled away and tried to retain some shred of composure.
"It's a long story," Sorrow sighed.
Outside, Eponin could not believe how long the Princess had managed to stand silently at attention.
"You're a very good guard," She praised the child, in an attempt to reinforce the behaviour. "I bet the Queen doesn't have to worry about an enemy attack when you're around."
"She doesn't have to worry about that anymore silly." Madalene scrunched her nose up at Eponin's ignorance.
The 'anymore' sent up a red flag in the Amazon's mind.
"Cause she's back!" The answer seemed so simple to the child.
"The Protector," Madalene looked blankly at Eponin, as if her word's weren't out of the ordinary. "You know... Sorrow."
'Only I saw the arm band, how in Tartarus does she know?' Eponin's mind couldn't understand what was going on. Seeing that her baby-sitter was momentarily distracted, Madalene slipped inside.
"Hello little sister!" Sorrow turned around in her chair when she heard the small footsteps behind her.
"Sorrow!" Madalene ran full force into her open arms and latched herself around Sorrow's neck.
"I've missed you so much," Sorrow's voice wavered, the joy of seeing Madalene again overwhelmed her. "You've gotten so big."
Seeing her daughters together brought a peace to the Queen that she had feared would never exist again.
'Everything is how it should be now.' Her heart exclaimed.
Under the table, Xena laced her fingers into the bard's.
"Your hair changed colour." Madalene pulled her small fingers through the white streak.
Looking to her mother, Sorrow raised an inquisitive eyebrow. The stunned face looking back at her, gave her no reassurance.
"And I'm glad you don't hurt anymore." The little Princess buried her head into Sorrow's shoulder.
"Don't worry, I'm better than ever." Sorrow stroked her hair, amazed at how it was exactly like Xena's.
Eponin burst through the door. She had finally come to her senses, and realized the Princess was gone.
"Your Highness, the Princess..."
"Is right here, Eponin." Sorrow turned to show her the youngster was safe.
"Thank Artemis." She let herself relax. "It's good to see you again Princess." She bowed to Sorrow.
"And you as well." Sorrow smiled at the display. "I'm sorry about the secrecy before. I just wanted to see the family in private first."
"No apologies necessary. I was just glad to see your wrist band. I had a half dozen warriors ready to descend on you, just in case."
"Only half a dozen?"
They both laughed.
"You still need time for grown up talk, right?" Madalene's question caused her laughter to cease.
"Yes." Sorrow hated to let her go.
"I'll go back outside and guard the door." She squirmed out of Sorrow's arms, but stayed close to her. "You'll come get me when you're done?"
"The minute we're finished, I promise." Sorrow put her hand on her heart and bent down to kiss her forehead. She watched the little Princess drag Eponin back outside.
"How did you know about the pain?" Sorrow ran her hand through her hair absently.
"We didn't," Xena answered the question for her silent partner.
"Then how did she know about it?" Sorrow's confusion did nothing to reassure them.
"You haven't been using your thought's to talk with her?" Gabrielle asked the obvious question.
"No," Sorrow sat down again. "When I regained consciousness I tried for some time to call out, but I was to weak. I haven't used that power since." Seeing the shattered look on their faces, Sorrow felt horrible about her admission. "Please don't feel bad about that." She rested her elbows on the table. "I think the best thing would be for me to tell you everything that has happened. Some of it may be painful to hear..."
'And painful to tell.' She added in her head.
"There was nothing you could've done, I was trapped under the cave in. It would have taken this long to dig me out." Sorrow knew that each new word opened a fresh wound in their hearts.
"Just start at the beginning... I need to know." Gabrielle pushed past the pain. Reaching out she took Sorrow's hand.
"All right." She took a deep breath. "When I told you to run, it was because I knew I had to destroy the entire room. Ares had given it to father as a gift, it was part of his domain." She stopped suddenly. "No, I have to begin even further back then that." She gave her mother's hand a small squeeze. "When I sent you both to get Madalene. That's when he told me about the room being part of his world. I knew then that the rules had changed. I couldn't defeat him as I was."
"You allowed him to do that too?" Xena interrupted shocked. The vision of Sorrow hanging from the wall still haunted her.
"Yes." She gathered her thoughts. "When I had been banished, I lost all claim to my rights as his daughter. By making him engage me in combat, I forced myself to be recognized again." She turned to her mother. "When he told you that he had to punish me because I was his daughter, my banishment ended. His new punishment made me free to reclaim my true power."
"Did it hurt when we..." Gabrielle couldn't bring herself to say the words.
"Yes, but not as much as one would think." Sorrow decided it was best to hide nothing from them. "Being in his realm. My realm," she spoke the words disgusted. "I was able to claim my birthright."
"That was what you were doing in that strange language?" Xena hoped her constant questions wouldn't annoy Sorrow.
"Yes, the language has no name that I can give. It is the only form spoken in my world." She tried to clarify. "That's why I began in Greek, I wanted you to know that what I was doing was to save Madalene."
"Sorrow we never doubted that." Xena felt guilty again.
"I know, it was also to scare Ares." Sorrow winked at Xena, who couldn't help but smile. "Father never realized how much he had taught me and how much more than that my human soul allowed me to learn. Once I had claimed that power, I knew I had a chance not just to defeat him, but to kill him."
"So he really is dead?" Gabrielle asked, scared that Dahak might still exist.
"Yes. When I told you to run, it was because I was going to kill him. I knew I had very little strength left, and even less time to destroy his realm."
"You mean you destroyed his entire kingdom?" Xena could barely believe her.
"Once I had killed him, I claimed his monstrous power for my own. It was this power that I used to order the destruction. I caused the cave in. I wiped every single bit of my father off the face of this earth." Sorrow felt some satisfaction in her accomplishment, but she knew it had come with a staggering price. "I had no other choice. I was already close to death and I figured the explosion would kill me."
"But you're alive!" Her mother spoke the soft words, hoping this day was not a dream.
"Yes, but I was trapped within the molten rock. As the days passed it hardened around me." Sorrow remembered the feeling of on her skin. "I have no idea how long it was before I regained consciousness. That's when I tried to use my mind to call out, but I was too weak."
"We should have stayed and looked for you, I'm so sorry." The Queen started to cry.
"Mother, this isn't your fault. Please don't think there was anything you could have done." Sorrow moved her closer to her. "I'm back now, you don't need to hear any of this."
"No, please continue. I need to know what you've been through." She wiped the tears from her cheeks. "I want to know exactly what happened. No matter how dreadful."
"When I awoke the pain was excruciating," Sorrow starred deep into her mother's eyes, looking for any sign that would tell her to stop. "The damage was not just from the fight with father, or losing my wings." She tried to offer a shred of comfort. "I hadn't realized how much power I was taking into myself. Or how stupid it was to order the destruction of a realm one was still in." She pointed out her own ignorance. "I remained within the rock until a moon ago. It gave me time to heal and to assimilate my new powers." This was the admission she had dreaded making. "Mother, I am not the same person that I was before." Again she ran her hand through the white streak. "I am more my father's daughter now then ever."
"I don't believe that." Xena broke her self imposed silence. "No matter how much power you have gained, no matter what that power entails...you still are Gabrielle's daughter. Not his!"
"I'm afraid that it is my human soul alone, that keeps my power contained. Allows me to channel it away from the destruction it wishes to bring to this world." She appreciated Xena's conviction about her intrinsic goodness, but the new power scared her. "There is a constant struggle inside of me. I feel sometimes like I'm losing my mind."
Xena knew the young woman's struggle all too well. Each day she battled her own demons. Thwarted the blood lusting killer that lurked inside.
"I know it's hard to fight it." Xena stood and turned away from them. Shocked by her own ability to talk about this. "The fact that you are, means you're the same Sorrow you have always been."
Despite the cryptic message, Sorrow understood what the warrior was trying to tell her. She knew of Xena's depraved past actions and was well aware that these memories haunted her every day. Xena had once been the evil, she was afraid she could become.
Gabrielle had stood aside, allowing this exchange to go on between them, uninterrupted. She hated to see her daughter struggling with the same evil that had once consumed the warrior. The lust for control and destruction that ultimate power brought. Realizing they had finished speaking, she asked a question of her own.
"You freed yourself from the rock a moon ago?"
"Yes." Startled out of thought, Sorrow stood up as well. "I had finally gathered enough strength to break through the stone around me, I headed back to you immediately."
Another question burned in Gabrielle's mind. Maneuvering herself behind Sorrow, she couldn't bring herself to ask. Unlike before, the shirt that her daughter wore was not open in the back.
'I took her wings, forever.' The horrible thought drilled though her mind.
"That's why I wanted to see you in private first," Sorrow spoke again. "I wanted to be sure that being what I am now, you would still want me here."
"My daughter," Gabrielle moved to hold her. "I never want you to leave my side again."
"You are an important part of our family," Xena placed a strong hand on her shoulder.
"This deserves a celebration!" Gabrielle added when the embrace ended. "The entire Nation has mourned your loss." She turned to Xena, making plans in her head. "There won't be time to notify all of the tribes, but I'm sure we can still make this quite a party."
"All of the tribes?" Sorrow asked confused.
"Your Mother has made some big changes since you've been gone." Xena attempted to clarify. "She has single handedly united all of the scattered Amazon Nations and is now the undisputed Queen."
"The Queen's champion had a little to do with that." Gabrielle refused to take all the credit. She had been the one to negotiate all of the peaceful alliances, but it had been Xena's sword that had dispatched any outside challenge to her throne.
"I don't know," Sorrow thought of how draining it would be to explain this to everyone. "Some of the Amazons weren't very fond of me before. I don't think they'll be excited to see me back."
"I don't care!" Her mother hugged her again. "I want to announce to everyone that you're alive and you're home to stay."
"Go ahead then," she answered, returning the embrace. "Whatever you want... I want."
Despite herself, Xena began to look forward to the celebration.
"I have one last question." Sorrow sat down again.
Sensing the sadness that had come over her child, Gabrielle sat down as well.
"Is Danu still in the village?" Sorrow conjured up her last memory of the beautiful blond archer.
"Yes." Her mother shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Sorrow knew her fears was about to be realized.
"Mother, I understand. I have no right to make any claim to her or expect anything that once existed between us to still be. I only want her to be happy." Sorrow tried to hide her pain.
"She mourned your lost for so long, Sorrow." Gabrielle gathered up her daughter's hands in her own. "Many thought she would die from the grief. It was only a short time ago that she allowed herself to love again. She's engaged to Tearnon, a member of my Royal guard."
"Good!" Sorrow lied through her teeth. "A member of the Royal guard, this Tearnon must be quite a woman." She sucked in a deep breath. "I'm sorry to here she wasted so much time on me. She should have just gotten on with her life."
Xena placed her hand on the bard's shoulder, in an attempt signal an end to the conversation. She could see the agony on Sorrow's face. More details would only add to her suffering.
"Let's start that celebration!" Sorrow stood abruptly and walked out collect her sister.
By dusk, the entire village had gathered in the courtyard. The stage held the Queen's throne in the centre, her champion's chair to the right and a small chair for the little Princess on her left. A buzz rumbled through the crowd questioning the presence of another chair, beside the smaller one. No one except Eponin, outside of the Royal family, knew that Sorrow had returned. Gabrielle had decided even to keep Ephiny in the dark, just to see how surprised the Regent would look. The crowd parted and in full formal regalia the royal family walked up to take their seats. The extra chair remained empty.
"Amazons!" Gabrielle raised her voice to address her people. "We have great cause for celebration!" She shot a sly smile at Ephiny, who stood off to the side of the stage confused. "One we thought lost has been found. She has fought death itself to return and fulfill her duty to our Nation. I am overjoyed to announce my daughter... Princess Sorrow... is alive."
Gabrielle looked to the back of the gathering, waiting for Sorrow to make her official entrance. Her daughter was no where to be found.
"Xena, where is she?" She leaned over, so that only the warrior could hear.
"She's making a special entrance for you," Madalene piped up from her seat, a big smile on her face. "I told her to do it this way."
They both looked at the little Princess, following her stare up to the sky. At that moment, Sorrow hovered just above the treetops. Seeing them notice her, she gracefully floated down to land in the middle of the stunned crowd. She dropped to one knee and placed her hand on her heart.
"The Protector has returned!" Her voice was loud and confident. "And no force in the universe can take me from my home or my family again."
Standing again, she extended her wings out fully for her mother and Xena to see. The white wings simmered in the fading sunlight, highlighting the translucent nature of each feather.
"We surprised you!" Madalene's happy squeals broke her parents from their thoughts.
Pulling the wings up against her back, as a bird would, Sorrow walked up to stand on the stage in front of her mother.
"Are you all right?" She feared she'd scared them to death.
"Your wings...We thought you had lost them forever." Gabrielle found her voice.
"It took time, but they healed." She smiled.
"Their so quite now." Gabrielle reached out and ran her hand over the smooth white feathers. Remembering the thunder that once announced her daughter's flight.
"I am not what I was before," she whispered softly.
Realizing the entire village was watching them, Sorrow took her seat.
"Let the celebration begin!" Gabrielle was floored by the sudden cheering of the crowd. Despite Sorrow's apprehension, most of the Amazons were overjoyed to have the Protector back amongst them.
"Sorrow!" Ephiny approached now, still in shock. "We thought you were dead."
"Not dead, just badly broken for awhile." She hugged the Regent.
"You were the mysterious visitor from the Southern Gate." She looked at Eponin and shook her head. "And you should have told me sooner." She frowned at the Queen.
"But you were so surprised!" Gabrielle laughed.
"I don't think surprised was quite the word." Ephiny couldn't help laughing.
She'd struggled to keep herself from fainting when Sorrow appeared. The world around her had gone black, and only the white wings had remained clear in her vision.
"This cannot be!" She spoke the words to herself. Suddenly Tearnon's arms were around her, holding her up.
"Are you all right?" Tearnon had watched the colour drain from Danu's face and had moved to catch her fiancee, just before she passed out.
"Yes... no." Instinctually Danu pulled away and propelled herself backwards through the crowd. Not caring whom she pushed aside. "I have to go home, I don't feel very well."
"I'll come with you then." Tearnon offered. She had no idea what was happening to the archer.
"No!" Her voice was too firm, but she couldn't be bothered to correct it. "I just want to lie down, you enjoy the party. Please, stay."
Tearnon nodded and released her. Danu did her best to calmly walk away. Praying that Tearnon would do as she'd asked. Once inside her hut, she collapsed onto the bed.
'She is alive!' Her mind raced. 'After all this time, she's alive and she's come home.' Her hands shook, her heart pounded and it felt as if her head would explode. 'Why didn't she come to see me? Why didn't see tell me herself?' The awful answer came to her now. Sorrow was home, and had made no attempt to find her. 'I was nothing to her." Danu couldn't believe what was happening. "I didn't even deserve to be told in person.' She started to cry.
Even amongst the festivities, Xena had noticed the archer pushing herself frantically through the crowd. Even taking into account the sheer shock of Sorrow being alive, Danu's reaction was extreme.
'So you are not over her as much as we all thought.' Xena kept the observance to herself.
Tearnon had watched Danu leave and decided to wait for a while before following. She had no idea what had happened to the archer. Having moved to the village only two seasons ago, she hadn't known of the Protector before this day. More importantly, Danu had never mentioned Sorrow. Tearnon made her way closer to the stage. She was curious to find out more about the Queen's strange daughter. She was of course a member of the Royal guard, and it was her sworn duty to protect any and all members of the Royal family. Seeing Solari standing off to the side enjoying a drink, she felt it all right to approach her.
"Tearnon, you do not have a drink?" Solari greeted the warrior happily. She'd been on several missions with Tearnon and was impressed with the her abilities. On top of that, Solari had always found her interesting to talk with.
"No, I haven't made it over there yet." She accepted the drink that was handed to her. "I was wondering if I could ask you a question?"
"Sure, what's on your mind?"
"Who is this Protector? Why has she been gone so long?" Tearnon took a deep gulp of her wine.
"That Tearnon, is Princess Sorrow." Solari couldn't keep the smile from her face. "She once defeated an entire army to save this village. I was almost killed in the first attack. In one day, she killed them all." She took a sip from her mug. "Artemis herself came to declare Sorrow our Princess."
"So she isn't really an Amazon?"
"She is." Solari could see the amazement on Tearnon's face. She answered the next question before the guard could ask. "The Queen really is her mother."
"Who in Tatarus is her father then?"
"Don't know." Solari lied.
Her mind was still full of questions, but it was impossible to miss the reverence in Solari's words.
"But she's not human, is she?" Tearnon tried to ask the question without offending the other warrior.
"Not completely." Solari couldn't blame Tearnon for her ignorance. Few in the village were aware of the events surrounding Sorrow's birth. "She is the Queen's daughter none the less, and the most powerful warrior I have ever seen."
"Where has she been then?"
"The God of War stole Princess Madalene the day she was born." Solari could see Tearnon's surprise. "We had all thought she was killed in the rescue, but from what I've heard she was only injured very badly. She has spent all of this time healing."
"She's mortal?" Tearnon asked surprised that such an unbelievable creature could be killed.
"Yes, although only the God's really know what could kill her." Solari's words were interrupted by Ephiny's voice calling from the stage. "Excuse me."
The party finally winded down hours later. Sorrow sat in her chair on the stage, with Madalene asleep in her arms. She caught her mother starring at them.
"I have never been so content." She smiled at her. "She loves me without doubt or question."
Gabrielle couldn't respond. There was nothing she could say that would do justice to the joy she felt.
"You all look so beautiful!" No one missed the slight slur in the warrior's voice. "You especially!" She gave Gabrielle a quick kiss.
"I think it's time to put a certain Warrior Princess to bed." The Queen took her champion's hand and kissed it. She turned her attention back to her daughter. "I hope you don't mind, but Madalene wanted you to sleep in her room tonight. I had a bed brought to the house for you. We were kind of hoping to convince you to take over the guest room after that."
"Not hoping, insisting!" Xena spoke up, but found she was having a bit of trouble following the conversation. Ephiny had been a little upset about the surprise and had challenged the warrior to a drinking contest as payback. She had left the Regent passed out in Solari's arms.
"I wouldn't want it any other way." Sorrow hadn't even considered arguing. She wanted nothing more than to be close to her family. She was home and everything felt so right.
"Good, let's go my love." Gabrielle couldn't help laughing as she watched the warrior struggle to stay awake. Gabrielle lead Xena home, as Sorrow followed carrying the little Princess.
"Do you want some tea?" Gabrielle asked, glad they would have some time alone.
"No, I'm all right," Sorrow sighed.
"Are you tired? Please don't stay up just because of me." The mother in her emerged.
"No, I'm not tired. I'm just afraid that when I open my eyes in the morning, this will all have been a dream."
"If I thought this was a dream, I wouldn't let you wake up." She sat down beside her daughter. "I've missed you so much."
"Not nearly as much as I've missed you." They held hands in silence.
"Xena and you have raised a beautiful little girl." Sorrow finally spoke. "I feel so bad about missing all this time with her."
"Sorrow, it is because of you that she's alive." She rubbed the back of her daughter's hand. "There's always been a special bond between you."
"She doesn't remember the cavern, does she?"
"No, but she has never forgotten you."
"What do you mean?"
Standing up, Gabrielle walked over to Madalene's door.
"Come see." She motioned for Sorrow to join her.
The door opened without a noise and the firelight fell softly on the little bed. Sorrow couldn't believe what she saw. On the wall, above Madalene's head, hung the protection necklace.
"How did she get that?" She'd forgotten the gift.
"Danu gave it to her, from you, on her second birthday." Gabrielle closed the door and led Sorrow back to sit down.
"Something very strange happened that day. It gave me a little hope that you weren't really dead." She held tightly onto her daughter's hand. "We hadn't told her about you. We were waiting until she got a little older, so she'd understand."
Sorrow nodded her approval at the strategy.
"Also, because I found it hard to talk about you then."
She hated to see her mother relive the painful memories, but she didn't dare interrupt.
"As soon as she opened the box, she knew it was from you. She knew it was you. She held the feather up too her cheek and said that she loved you. She even called you by name."
"How did she know?" Sorrow questioned amazed.
"We don't have any idea. It was the same as today when she knew you'd been in pain and that your hair had changed." Gabrielle ran her hand through the white streak, marveling at the softness. "It defies explanation."
"Those are not the only times." Sorrow didn't want to cause more worry, but she had to be honest with her mother. "I was talking to Eponin and apparently Madalene knew I was here before she came inside."
"That's impossible. Only Xena and I knew you were alive."
"I had shown Eponin my wrist band, but even she wasn't completely sure it was me."
"But she wouldn't have told Madalene who she thought you were?"
"She didn't." Sorrow wanted to gauge how worried she should let herself be. "Mother, have you ever told her about my title?"
"She didn't know about that until tonight."
"Mother brace yourself, she referred to me as the Protector." A small chuckle escaped her. "In fact, Eponin said Madalene looked at her like she was stupid for not knowing it was me."
"What's going on?" Gabrielle was starting to feel very uneasy. "Xena's always been worried about the power Ares claimed she had. This couldn't be that, could it?"
"I don't know, but all of this seems to revolve around me somehow. Maybe being so young she's able to pick up on my power. My guess is she doesn't even realize she's doing it." Sorrow tried to calm her mother's fears, even as hers continued to grow.
"That makes sense," Gabrielle held tightly to the explanation, even though she didn't really believe it. "She's using your own power to pick up little pieces of information on you." Her own words meant nothing. Her rational mind reminded her that the first time Madalene had done this, Sorrow had been trapped deep in the ground. By her own admission she had been too weak to send out her thoughts.
"There was something else I wanted to discuss with you." Gabrielle changed the subject. "Soon I have to make a trip north and meet with the Prince of Aldernon. The King passed away recently, and now his son is claiming the treaty between us needs to be changed."
"Are you expecting trouble?" The Protector within her arose.
"No," Gabrielle saw the sudden readiness in Sorrow's eyes. "Relations between our kingdoms have always been peaceful. I just think he wants a little more compensation for the security he thinks he brings to the Northern border." She was relieved to see Sorrow relax again. "I was hoping you would come along, so we could spend some time together on the journey."
"Of course." Sorrow glimpsed at Madalene's door. "Are you bringing the little one?"
"No, even though I hate to leave her. But negotiations are such a boring affair. Besides, she has classes and she loves to spend time driving Ephiny and Solari crazy."
They both laughed.
"How long will we be gone?" She hated to leave her little sister so soon. She tried to remember that they would have a lifetime together now.
"It's only two days away. The real delay will depend on how stubborn the Prince is."
"Does he know what I am?"
Gabrielle cringed at the question.
"First of all..." A mother's stern voice answered. "You will never again refer to yourself as a what. Secondly, no he does not know of your skills. I've been very careful to make sure the Protector and the Princess are seen as two different people beyond our borders."
"Good." Sorrow liked the advantage this brought. Unable to stop herself, she yawned.
"It's late. Time of all my little children to got to bed." Gabrielle ran her hand through her daughter's hair and placed a kiss on her cheek. "Goodnight." Sorrow couldn't argue, and went directly to bed.
Danu couldn't believe the softness of the lips against her own. Their kiss seemed to span space and time. Her memory told her Xena should be interrupting them, but the intrusion never came. What should have been inexperienced hands, lead her downwards to lie in the cool grass of the field. Gentle hands roamed over her. Sweet kisses brought even more heat to her burning skin. Nothing compared to this. Reaching down to bury her hands in the thick brown mane of hair, she was lightheaded from the soft words of love that floated up to her ears.
"I love you, Sorrow." She felt herself falling, sinking down into the luscious feeling.
"Sorrow!" Danu shot up into a sitting position. Realizing it had only been a dream, she was relieved that Tearnon hadn't been awakened by her voice. The royal guard snored softly beside her and smelled of sweet Amazon wine. Danu knew that nothing short of an earthquake would wake her now.
'How can I be here with you...' She brushed her hand over Tearnon's arm. 'But still be dreaming of her.'
Despite her guilt, her mind made ever attempt to hold onto the last shreds of the dream.
It had been so long since she had dreamed of Sorrow. So long since her heart had used sleep to trick her mind into giving into the pleasure it desired.
Danu remembered the first time she'd seen Tearnon. After over two years of self imposed mourning, she'd finally been persuaded to attend the harvest celebration. She hadn't intended for anything to happen. But when the beautiful new member of the Royal guard had asked her to dance, she had been unable to say no. Distracted by the tall warrior's strength and fiery red hair. As the relationship had grown, she's lied and told herself that she was finally over Sorrow. She'd immersed herself in Tearnon, but secretly always loved the Protector. She knew that love would last forever, despite the Princess' death.
Danu had never held onto the hope that Sorrow might still be alive. She'd simply begun to define herself by the loss and daydream endlessly about what could have been. She wouldn't lie. She did feel something for Tearnon. But even at the peaks of passion, it had never compared to simply holding Sorrow's hand.
"But none of this matters." Mumbling to herself, she laid back down. "I'm nothing to her, nothing at all."
The call for help came suddenly into her sleeping mind. It was strong enough to propel Sorrow out of bed and into the wall. Quickly she scanned the room, ready for a fight.
But the shadows were empty. Only the small Princess lay thrashing around in her bed.
"Madalene," She calmed herself and knelt beside the small bed. Her sister was in the tight grip of a nightmare. "Madalene, wake up."
Her eyes snapped open and she instinctually crawled into Sorrow's arms. Rocking her sister, Sorrow waited for the flood of tears to subside.
"A bad man, he is a very bad man. Please don't go there." Her words were quick.
"Go where? There are no bad men here." Sorrow struggled to follow the jagged plea.
"Don't go north. He hates Mommy. He'll poison her." She began to cry again.
Sorrow couldn't believe what she was hearing. Madalene knew nothing of the impending journey to the North.
"You don't have to worry, I won't let anything happen to her." She tried to calm the little girl's fears.
"Can I sleep with you?" The words passed slowly through her quivering lips. Sorrow nodded, and they both cuddled into her bed.
Opening her eyes, Gabrielle was almost startle to find Xena still asleep beside her.
'This is different.' She thought. Unable to believe she had managed to wake up before the warrior. 'She must have had some jag in last night.'
Quietly, she slipped out of bed and pulled on her robe. Knowing it was best to let the hung over warrior stay asleep, she went to make herself some tea. Seeing Sorrow's thick cloak, slung over a chair, she raced to Madalene's door. Afraid it had all been a dream. Sorrow slept on her side, with Madalene snuggled peacefully into her arms. Gabrielle felt her eyes well up. She fought to shed her joyous tears quietly, lest she wake her sleeping children. Closing the door, she silently counted her blessing. Collecting her tea and taking Sorrow's cloak for a blanket, she went outside to sit on the porch.
When Xena awoke, she welcomed the pounding in her head. The discomfort reminded her that none of this was a dream. That Sorrow really was alive and she'd once again drank Ephiny under the table. Hauling herself up into a sitting position, she cringed. The bard had managed to get up before her. She'd never live this down. Throwing on her own robe, she went to find her.
"Don't you look snug." Xena's voice broke her thoughts. "And radiant." The sunlight danced of the bard's golden hair. She could only smile and motion for her partner to sit with her. Snuggling into Xena, she moved the cloak to cover them both. Xena stole a lingering kiss.
Later that day, when Xena felt better, she dragged Sorrow to the practice field.
"Come on, you know you enjoy this." She teased the Princess, handing her a staff.
"Xena, I'm not sure about this." Sorrow couldn't believe how flimsy the thick Amazon staff now felt to her. "I haven't fought anyone in along time, and I'm a little nervous. With all that has happened I'm..."
Xena didn't let her continue. The warrior picked up a staff and attacked her.
"Well, you are a little rusty." Xena brought a sharp strike down onto her shoulder, and laughed.
"And maybe you're getting a little soft." Sorrow absorbed the blow, while sweeping her own staff at knee level. Xena wasn't amused when she landed on her back. She was even less amused when the pack of Amazons watching their exchange began to clap for Sorrow.
"Soft! You're gonna pay for that." Arching up, she jumped to land on her feet.
"Now Xena," Sorrow backed away playfully. "I believe you were the one who started this."
"And I'm also the one whose going to finish it!" She flashed her teeth.
"As you wish, your Highness." Sorrow executed a slow, deep bow. As a sign of respect, Xena returned the gesture before attacking. None of the student's could speak, as they watched the fighters execute strike after strike. They were definitely getting a lesson in advanced staff techniques today. True to her own admission, Sorrow was a little rusty. Xena soon had her on her back, with her staff pointed at her throat.
"Submit!" Xena asked coyly, ready for any surprise Sorrow could come up with.
"The match is yours, your Highness." Sorrow nodded her head in submission and accepted Xena's hand as she got up. "Looks like you're not soft at all."
"Or maybe you just need a little practice." Xena slapped her on the back playfully.
Sitting on the grass, she watched Xena smack the staff out of the student's hand for the fortieth time. Sorrow couldn't help but smile. She was so happy to be home. Her happiness was short lived.
"Princess Sorrow." A member of the Royal guard knelt beside her.
"Yes." Sorrow didn't take her eyes from the lesson.
"I have a message from the Queen." The guard rose only when Sorrow finally motioned for her to do so.
"Yes?" Sorrow stood up now, and looked at the guard.
"She has asked that you and Xena meet her in the courtyard. Immediately!" The guard hated to stress the last word, but felt she should.
"What's wrong?" Sorrow instinctually reached her mind outwards, but only a slightly disturbed feeling surrounded her mother.
"Three men arrived at the Northern Gate and the Queen is having an audience with them right now. They are members of Prince Rike's court." The guard knew this was not part of the original message, but this was the Protector. She wanted to give her any information that would help.
"Thank you." Sorrow dismissed her and called to Xena. "Your Highness?"
Xena stopped the lesson and looked at her, visibly annoyed. She hated that title. Looking at Sorrow's face, she realized that the Princess knew this and was only using it to bother her.
"Yes, Princess." Two could play this game.
"The Queen would like us to join her in the courtyard, immediately." Sorrow almost laughed at the way Xena drew the word Princess out.
Xena raised an inquisitive eyebrow and strode over to her.
"I'll tell you on the way."
"I would like to offer an apology for arriving unannounced. Prince Rike was so overjoyed that you had agreed to meet with him, that he wanted to send a small token of good faith." Lord Dunlop motioned to the pack horses, laden with packages. "Spices and fine silks from the Far East. Our kingdom has had some very lucrative dealing this year." On cue his two companions began to open the packages and lay their contents on the edge of the stage for the Queen to admire.
"Lord Dunlop," Gabrielle answered, glancing to her left. She was happy to see Xena and Sorrow approaching. "None of this was necessary."
She was amazed by how differently the two warriors approached the situation. Xena stalked up onto the stage, head high, muscles taunt and took her place as champion. She watched the colour drain from Lord Dunlop's face.
'So, you know of the Warrior Princess.' The Queen still loved how Xena could make men cower with a simple look. She tried to bury her rising passion for the warrior, this was obviously not the time for her mind to wander.
Sorrow glided onto the stage and sat gracefully in her chair. Gabrielle would swear that her daughter almost appeared fragile.
"Lord Dunlop, may I introduce my consort and champion Xena, Warrior Princess." Without looking she knew Xena was completely in warrior mode. Under her Champion's glare the man took a deep breath and bowed.
"And this is my daughter, Princess Sorrow."
Gabrielle didn't like what she was seeing. Lord Dunlop forgot the imposing Warrior Princess as his jaw dropped open at the sight of the Princess. His eyes traced up her leg, remaining for a heartbeat to imagine what was hidden beneath the short tan leather skirt. Remaining for a longer moment to imagine what was beneath the tan leather top before he finally looked her in the eye. He bowed again.
"Lord Dunlop." Sorrow bowed her head slightly.
"I must apologize again." He attempted to regain his composure. "Prince Rike was unaware that your Majesty had a daughter. I am afraid he will see his gifts as insufficient now."
'Or that Xena really was your wife.' He thought to himself. 'This is definitely going to upset him.'
"The Princess has been studying abroad," She gave a simple explanation. "And the gifts are too much already."
"Your Majesty is most gracious." He bowed again. "With your permission we will leave. On behalf of Prince Rike, I would like to invite Princess Sorrow to come as well. He is planning a large celebration in your honour."
"Do you require anything for your journey?" The Queen tried to keep herself in her throne. She wanted to slap the man for leering at her daughter.
"No, we have left supplies just outside of your territory."
"We will see you soon then." The Queen motioned for the guards to escort the party away.
"Do you want me to escort him?" Xena secretly hoped to teach him a lesson in manners.
"No, if anybody gets to kick his butt it's gonna be me." Gabrielle took her hand having read the warrior's thoughts. Sorrow started to laugh. She had found his display funny.
"This is perfect!" She finally responded to their questioning faces. "He doesn't suspect what I am." The scowl on her mother's face demanded an immediate correction. "I meant he doesn't suspect what I can do. He thinks I'm a fragile little Princess."
"That could be useful." Xena conceded as she sat in her throne.
"I know. But I still will not spend my time watching him undress you in his mind." Gabrielle felt her temper rise. "Next time he does it, I will not be so gracious."
"But Mother, I was thinking... If they don't know I'm the Protector, then we don't have to worry about them mounting a sneak attack on the Nation. The Prince will assume that the Protector is still here. More than that, it means Madalene will be safe here without us."
"She's got a point." Xena liked this strategy. It would afford her a little comfort in leaving Madalene home. "On top of that, we can leave the more capable of the Royal Guard here to guard Madalene. Whoever we bring will only be for show, since both Sorrow and myself will be with you."
'Maybe this is a good thing.' Gabrielle thought for a moment.
"All right. If you two think this is such a good idea." They both nodded that it was.
For the second night in a row, the scream for help sliced through her mind. Now in the guest room, she hadn't remembered the small table near the bed. Springing out of bed she had landed on top of now broken table. Racing out of the room, she was met by Xena.
"What in Tatarus is going on?" The loud crash had awakened her. She stood with her sword at the ready.
Sorrow didn't answer. She just rushed to Madalene's room. The little Princess had her hands out, as if to ward off an attacker.
"Bad man, bad man," she mumbled, even though still sound asleep.
"Madalene, it's all right now." Sorrow picked her up and coaxed her awake.
"She's having a nightmare." She turned to the frazzled warrior, who stood in the doorway. Madalene didn't wake up completely, even when Sorrow handed her to Xena.
"I'll bring her in with us." The warrior was at a loss. She could easily defeat anything in the real world, but she was helpless to protect the little one from nightmares.
"Good idea." Sorrow took a minute to catch her breath. "I'm sorry about the table."
"Don't worry about that...How did you know?" Xena had been awaken by the crash, but she wondered what had awaken Sorrow.
"She called out for help." Sorrow knew the warrior would not be happy.
"I didn't hear her."
Sorrow pointed to her head. Xena's eyes opened wide.
"She doesn't know she's doing it." She tried to be reassuring. "I think it's just a fear response."
"It's late, we'll talk about this more in the morning." Xena couldn't hide the discomfort in her voice.
"Why didn't anyone tell me about all of this before?" Her anger was evident. "I am her mother you know."
"Xena, I asked Sorrow not to tell you." Gabrielle winced from the sting of her partner's words. "I didn't want to worry you until we knew what was going on."
"I'm sorry, if you want me to leave." Sorrow leaned her head on the table.
"No, this is not your fault." Xena pulled out a chair and sat down. "I just like to know about these things."
"Then there's something else I should tell you." Sorrow raised her head. "It happened the night before as well."
Xena looked immediately to Gabrielle, who looked just as shocked.
"She's having nightmares about our trip north."
"But she doesn't know we're going yet." Xena didn't like the sound of this.
"I don't know how, but she does. She says that in her dreams there is a very bad man and..." She paused to gather her courage. "And that he'll poison you."
"That's ridiculous." Xena brushed the statement away.
"Maybe it isn't." Gabrielle's scared voice answered. "All of the other things Madalene has said have been right."
"But this was during a nightmare, not when she was awake." Sorrow tried to inject some reason. "I think she's just afraid that something might happen and her fear is playing tricks."
"But how did she know we're going north." The bard shot back.
"I know." Xena tried to come up with a plausible explanation to put Gabrielle's mind at ease. "Most of the Nation is preparing supplies for the journey. She must have overheard someone speaking about the trip."
They all agreed this was a very reasonable explanation. The discussion then turned to the impending journey. Despite themselves, the main topic of conversation was how to make sure everyone was safe while they were there.
"I agree with..." The sharp explosion of pain in her head caused Sorrow to fall backwards off the chair.
Xena leapt and managed to keep her head from smacking into the fireplace.
"What's wrong?" Gabrielle questioned, seeing the pained look on her daughter's face.
"Madalene... in the daycare." Sorrow found herself being dropped as Xena ran from the room. Gabrielle was right behind. Her head still swam from the pain, as she struggled to follow them.
Xena tore into the daycare like a mad woman. Scanning frantically, she couldn't find Madalene.
"Your Highness, what's wrong?" The teacher tried to calm the frightened children.
"Where is the Princess?" Gabrielle had caught up and pushed past Xena.
"She was running and fell down. She scrapped her knee. My assistant Janyn took her to the healer."
They raced to the healer's, only to find Madalene laughing as the healer told her a story.
"Madalene are you all right?" Xena scooped her up and looked at her bandaged knee.
"I really hurt, but Oxin made it feel better." The Princess smiled widely.
"We thought something was really wrong." Gabrielle took the child into her arms, checking her again to soothe her own mind.
"I was running and I tripped. I'm sorry." Madalene didn't understand what all the fuss was about, but she knew it was because of her.
"Is she all right?" Sorrow finally arrived, having made better progress once the pain in her head subsided.
"She scrapped her knee." Xena scowled at her. "The way you were carrying on I though she'd been..." She didn't finish the sentence.
"Sorry," She rubbed her temple. "From the pain she sent I though just that."
"I think it's time for all of us to have a talk about this." The level headed Queen motioned them outside and led them home.
"Madalene, after you fell...what were you thinking about?" Gabrielle tried to coax her daughter.
"That my knee really hurt and I wanted it to stop."
"You weren't thinking about Sorrow. Didn't think about telling her how much pain you were in." Xena liked a more straightforward approach.
"No. Why?" Madalene was smart, even for three.
"Let's play a game." Sorrow looked at Xena and her mother for approval before she continued. "I want you to think of an animal. Then whisper to Mommy what you're thinking of." Madalene did as she was instructed. "Now close your eyes and try to send a picture of that animal from your mind into my mind." Madalene put her hands over her eyes and concentrated. "A horse." Sorrow knew instantly. "Argo, to be precise."
"How did you know that?" Madalene asked amazed. "Do it again?"
"A butterfly... a bird... a dog..." Sorrow listed off each image that appeared in her head. "Madalene, stop please. I want to try something else."
"You're thinking about a deer." Her little face lit up when the picture flashed in her head.
"Good. Now try and send a picture to Mother."
Madalene scrunched up her nose and concentrated.
"A tree." The bard was astonished.
"Now to Mommy." Sorrow instructed her.
"A flower." The warrior had almost hoped this wouldn't work.
"I like this game." Madalene bounced up and down in Xena's lap.
"Madalene this is not a game." Gabrielle spoke softly. "You have a very special gift, and you need to respect it."
"Can't everyone do it?" She asked innocently.
"No honey." Xena brushed a hand through her hair. "Only the four of us can do this."
Madalene thought for a moment about this.
"But only Sorrow and I really can do this. You only can because of us."
"That's right." Xena wondered how her three year old could understand so much. "So don't try it with anyone else, all right."
"But I can do it at home?" She still viewed it as a game.
"Yes, in fact I think your big sister is going to have to start some lessons with you." Xena stressed the word lessons.
"Like school...yuck. I thought this would be fun."
"It will be." Sorrow smiled. "But for everyone sanity I've got to teach you to control it better."
"My heart can't take another scare like today," Gabrielle added.
The following few days were busy for everyone. Gabrielle found herself caught up in a constant string of meetings, in an attempt to prepare the nation for her departure.
"Ephiny, we really appreciate you taking care of Madalene while we're gone." She signed the last scroll and took a large sip of water.
"Solari can't wait and neither can I." The Regent thought of the last time they had baby-sat the little Princess.
"She's much more predictable now." Gabrielle could tell what she was thinking. "Besides, we both know that if something bad happens, she'll have Sorrow flying home in an instant."
The bard had decided, with Xena's consent, to tell Ephiny and Solari about the Princess' gift. Already knowing of Sorrow's power, Ephiny had suspected something. Every time Madalene so much as stubbed her toe, Sorrow made a mad dash through the village to find her.
"That does offer a little comfort." Ephiny laughed. "But I think we can handle it. Especially since you're leaving most of the Royal guard home. You know many of them are a little upset."
"Too bad," she answered, taking another sip.. "Remind them that Madalene is the future Queen, and they are sworn to protect her. No matter how boring they think it may be. Who's upset anyway?"
"Well, Solari for one." Ephiny laughed again. "She doesn't like the idea of three fourths of the Royal family leaving the nation without it's best warriors."
"But I do have it's best warriors."
"True, but you know what she means." Ephiny scowled at her.
"I know, but Eponin has assured me that everyone in our party is more than capable. Their just not the Amazon elite." She finished off her water, and gladly accepted a refill from the Regent. "I almost forgot, is my gift for Sorrow ready?"
"Yes, and if I say so myself it's magnificent." Ephiny went to the corner of the room and retrieved the large box.
"I can't wait until she sees this." Gabrielle looked into the box and gasped. "This is even better than I had hoped."
"Well, we had some pretty amazing materials to work from." Ephiny felt very proud. She had slaved for hours to make the present.
"Thank you for doing this." Gabrielle hugged her.
"No problem. Remember she's my Princess as well."
"So it's all set." Xena stopped sharpening her sword, when she heard Eponin approach.
"Just as you wanted," Eponin leaned against the railing of the porch. "But I'd really like to know why you made me do this. Is the Princess not going with you tomorrow?"
"Oh, she's still going. But I think she needs to straighten something out first." Xena looked up and smiled deviously. "They both are on for the early watch, right? Wouldn't want to keep them out all night!"
Eponin just smiled back.
Sorrow had been more than happy to help when Eponin asked her to take first watch at the Southern Gate. She had watched everyone running around to prepare for their trip, and only felt right to offer some assistance. Besides, she was the Protector.
"You can go now, I'm here to relieve you." Danu had almost ran back home when she saw Sorrow leaned against the gate. She silently cursed Eponin for not warning her whom she would be relieving. Remembering her place she knelled in front of the Princess. A sharp look made her rise to her feet quickly.
"Relieve me?" Sorrow had not missed the tightness in the archer's voice.
A stiff silence came out of no where and engulfed them. Each looked the other over. Danu had the benefit of already seeing Sorrow once, but it didn't compare to seeing her up close. Staring into those green eyes almost made her want to cry. How long had she wished to be able to look into them again, to be lost in their deepness?
'Her hair has gotten so long.' Sorrow couldn't help thinking of the softness of the blond locks.
"Yes, Eponin asked me to take first watch." Danu found her voice, only after moving her eyes to stare off into the trees.
"Here? Cause Eponin asked me to do the same thing." As soon as she spoke, she knew she'd been set up. Sorrow also had an inkling that a certain Warrior Princess was in on this.
"Oh." Danu caught on almost as quick. "Let me guess, you're still going to Aldernon tomorrow aren't you?"
"Yes. Why wouldn't I be?" Sorrow asked confused.
"I agreed to take someone's place, but I was told you weren't going." Danu intended for the words to hurt, and she was satisfied to see the pain on Sorrow's face.
"I'll speak to Eponin. I'm sure there is someone else, more suitable." Sorrow shot back.
"Fine, you are the Princess." Danu placed her hands on her hips. "Since I won't be going tomorrow, may I suggest you go home and get some rest then. I'll take this watch."
Sorrow didn't answer. She just walked away. Trying to understand how things had gone so wrong between them.
'You died and you took an eternity to return. What did you expect?' She chastised her own stupidity.
"Danu, I'm sorry." She stopped and looked back over her shoulder. "I hope you and Tearnon are very happy."
"How did you know about Tearnon?" Danu caused her to stop her retreat.
"Mother told me the morning I arrived." Sorrow turned to face her now, amazed at how the wind carried the archers soft scent.
"So you were here before the celebration!" The hate within Danu burned a little brighter.
"Yes. I asked Mother how you were doing and she told me all about your engagement." Sorrow hid the majority of her discomfort behind a face of stone.
"Why didn't you tell me yourself?" Danu asked the most important question, her eyes burning with hate.
"I didn't want to cause you anymore pain." Sorrow finally let her heart speak.
"Oh!" Danu couldn't hide her surprise. "It's late, maybe you shouldn't bother Eponin, I'll go tomorrow. I can get Tearnon to take the watch."
"If that's what you want." Sorrow turned away and finally allowed herself to silently cry.
The mention of Tearnon's name had burst any hope she held that Danu still loved her.
She questioned now if the archer even liked her. Having never before seen such hate in her eyes.
"Gabrielle, what are you thinking about?" Xena crawled into the bed and laid her head on the bard's taunt stomach.
"About Madalene's nightmare's. What if Prince Rike or somebody else does have a plan to poison you?" She ran her fingers through the raven hair.
"No one's going to do anything to me." Xena shifted up to sit on the bed and stare down her. "I haven't let anyone poison me yet and I'm willing to bet that even if I miss something, Sorrow won't."
Gabrielle liked to hear Xena relying of her daughter, even as a back up. It took a lot for the warrior to trust anyone and with all that had happened it would be easy to still doubt Sorrow.
"I know." She laid her head in Xena's lap. "I just worry, you know me."
They were in the midst of a gentle kiss when they heard a knock at the door.
"Come in," Xena called, having heard Sorrow return home. Like herself, Sorrow only let her movements be heard when it suited her. When the door opened, Xena knew her plan hadn't worked out well.
"Please, do not do that again." Sorrow's rough voice came from between her clenched teeth.
"I'm sorry, I just thought..." She tried to apologize but was cut off.
"I know what you thought, thank you for the effort. But please, never again." Sorrow closed the door. "Good Night!"
"What did you do?" Gabrielle shot up out of her lap.
"I made a little error in judgment." Xena held her hands a few feet apart. Gabrielle just stared at her, knowing the look would replace the question. "I kinda arranged for her and Danu to end up on the same watch together." Xena bit her lower lip.
'I am so dead.' She thought as she watched the colour rise on the bard's face.
"You did what?" Gabrielle poked her in the shoulder. "Have you lost your mind?"
"That's not all." Xena moved backwards off the bed. "I kinda arranged for Danu to come with us. We needed a good archer, you said so yourself."
All Gabrielle could do was shake her head.
"I'm going to go talk with her." Gabrielle was already at the door.
"Mother, go to bed. I'm fine." Sorrow's hurt voice echoed through the wall at them.
The group left at first light. Madalene was already at Ephiny's, and the whole family missed her already.
They made quite a sight. Xena and Gabrielle riding Argo. Sorrow on top of Siko, a horse Xena had been training in her spare time. Behind them rode seven members of the Royal guard and another seven Amazon warriors bringing up the rear. True to her word, Danu was still in the party. But she kept a good distance away from the Princess at all times.
They made good time the first day. Xena decided to set up camp early. Helping Gabrielle off Argo, she was glad to hear Eponin already barking out orders to the others.
"This reminds me of when we used to travel around," Gabrielle whispered into her ear.
"I don't remember this many Amazons, do you?" She whispered back and was answered my a small bite on her neck.
"Do you remember what a pain setting up camp was? I do." The bard pulled away and went to help.
Seeing Sorrow move away from the main group. Xena thought it was time to approach her.
"Sorrow, I really am sorry about last night." Against her grain, she spoke first.
"I know, Xena. Really it's all right, you meant well." Sorrow sighed. She really wasn't mad at her. At least Xena's stupid idea had allowed her to learn the truth.
"So things are okay between us then?"
"Yes, as long as you don't do that again."
Her glare made Xena throw up her arms in defeat.
"I promise, I don't know what came over me in the first place. This is more your mother's arena."
"Xena," It was Sorrow's turn to feel uncomfortable now. "You accepted me before anyone and I know you'd do anything for me...you're like a mother to me. I know you were only trying to help."
"Thank you, daughter." Xena couldn't help but hug her.
"Are you two going to help or just stand there?" Gabrielle's happy voice called them back to reality. From a distance, she had watched the exchange between them. Seeing it end in such a loving hug, she'd wanted to run over and join them. But she knew this was their moment. She had only called out to give Xena an easy escape.
"Nah, we're going hunting." Slapping Xena on the arm, Sorrow ran off into the trees. The warrior blew a kiss to her Queen and ran off after her.
"So what was that all about today?" Gabrielle crawled into the small tent beside Xena.
All the warrior could do was grin. "Are you going to make me torture it out of you?" She began to tickle her.
"Stop, I'll tell you." She took a moment to catch her breath. "She forgives me for last nights fiasco."
"And?" Gabrielle could tell there was another reason for the grin.
"She told me I was like a mother to her." Xena face beamed with joy. "After what I did to her, she..." The warrior couldn't finish. She was wrapped up in the bard's small arms.
"You're amazing." Gabrielle kissed her.
Gabrielle stopped the party just outside Aldernon. Xena raised an inquisitive eyebrow.
"We're not going to arrive into town looking like this."
Xena had to admit they looked a little rough.
"You heard the Queen, everybody into the river!"
If anyone had managed to see the group, an event unlikely to occur with the Amazon guards stationed in the trees, it would have made quite a story.
After a very long time in the forest, Xena and Gabrielle finally emerged, having left to change into their formal regalia. None of the guards could miss the glow on both of their faces.
"I think you have something to give to Sorrow." Xena unlatched the box from Siko and handed it to the Queen. "I still find it funny that she's had it with her the whole time and not know it."
"Well some people don't snoop in boxes they've been told not to look in!" Gabrielle made reference to all of the Solstice presents Xena had uncovered early. "Anyway, since you're her mother as well..." She could see the happiness on the warrior's face. "I want both of us to give it to her."
Danu had taken a post high in the trees, the best place for an archer. An even better place if you were trying to avoid someone. She watched Xena and Gabrielle walk over to Sorrow.
'She's even more beautiful now. Formals suit her.' Danu couldn't stop the thought, as she watched the Princess accept the box. Even from far above, the deepness of her eyes was enchanting.
"What is this about?" Sorrow took the box.
"Just open it, you'll know." Gabrielle hands were trembling, so she latched onto Xena's arm.
"I can't, this isn't right." Sorrow couldn't imagine how she could except the mask as she pulled it from the box.
"Yes, you can. Artemis had already given it her approval." Xena had regretted having to grovel at the temple with Gabrielle, but now it all seemed worth it.
"This mask is just for you. These designate you as Princess." Gabrielle reached out to trace the markings with her finger. "And these designate you as the Protector." She traced over the horns and fangs that gave the mask it's traditional animalistic quality. Sorrow starred at the white feathers that adorned the mask.
"So that's why you needed them?" Sorrow couldn't believe how stupid she'd been. Why else would her mother have asked for some feathers from her wings? "It's absolutely beautiful."
"We have to have an official ceremony later, but... may I put it on you?"
Handing her mother the mask, Sorrow knelt down.
"As always, you are the Protector." Gabrielle slid the mask down over her face.
The Royal procession moved slowly through the town towards the castle. As they approached the large wooden gate was opened for them.
"Your Highness." Lord Dunlop had been notified of the Amazons arrival and waited inside the gate. "The Prince is anxiously awaiting your arrival."
"Thank you." The Queen's face was hidden behind her mask. Xena helped her down off Argo. The rest of the party dismounted as well.
"With your permission, I have men ready in the stables to tend to your horses."
"That won't be necessary." The Queen waived her hands, and four of the Amazons led the horses toward the stables. "We are a little protective of our animals."
"Of course." Dunlop motioned towards a doorway nearby. "Please follow me." The nervous man led them down the long main hallway, lavishly decorated with tapestries and paintings. As Queen, Gabrielle was at the head of the procession. Xena was only a step behind to her right, and Sorrow to her left. The Royal Guard proceeded behind them. Having never seen an Amazon before, Prince Rike almost fell off his throne when they entered. Trying to regain his composure he brushed his hand through his short black hair. Dressed in formal leathers and ceremonial masks, the ugliest of them would still have been considered breathtaking.
"Queen Gabrielle, I am honoured by your presence." Rising from the throne, he walked slowly towards her and bowed.
"Prince Rike, the honour is mine." Gabrielle allowed her shoulders to dip slightly.
"You must be Xena." Despite being much shorter than the warrior, he strode confidently up to her and offered his hand. She shook it stiffly.
"Princess Sorrow, Lord Dunlop's description did not do you justice." Rike floated over to her and bowed. Sorrow didn't speak. She extended her arm out, allowing the Prince to take her arm. To everyone surprise, Prince Rike bent down and kissed the back of her hand. Gabrielle was glad to still be wearing her mask, because her discomfort at the Prince's boldness would've easily been seen.
"You have had a very long journey and I'm sure you're tired." The Prince finally released Sorrow's hand and turned to the Queen. "My subjects are at your disposal, may I lead you to your rooms?"
"Yes, that would be fine."
Xena could tell from the bard's voice that she wasn't happy.
"I hope you will be well rested, there is a banquet tonight in your honour." Offering his arm to Sorrow, he led them out of the throne room.
Closing the door behind them, Xena watched the Queen tear off her mask and toss it onto a chair.
"If they think I'm going to stand around and watch them disrespect my daughter!" She turned and barked at the warrior.
"Whoa! I'm on your side remember." Xena held up her hands in surrender.
"And what in Tatarus is Sorrow doing? Was it just me, or she encouraging this?"
"Let her have some fun." She regretted the words as soon as they left her lips.
"Fun?" The bard glared back at her.
"I mean she trying to lull him into thinking she's just a fragile little Princess, remember?" Xena moved closer.
"I know." Gabrielle hated to admit it.
"So you're all right then, cause I was going to go look in on Argo." Xena massaged her shoulders.
"Oh yeah, once again I'm being dumped for that horse." She turned to see a hurt look. "Go on, I'm only kidding."
The banquet was lavish enough to rival any that Xena had ever attended before. Prince Rike sat in the centre of the long main table, with Gabrielle and herself to his right and Sorrow to his left. She had actually had to pinch the bard, to stop her from commenting on the arrangement. The Amazon guards had maneuvered themselves into various positions around the room. If anything went wrong, they would easily be able to protect the Royal family. The rest of the Prince's council buzzed with conversation about the Amazons and the presence of the Warrior Princess. Dunlop hovered around the head table. He never missed an opportunity to stare at Sorrow.
"Princess," Rike leaned close to Sorrow after the meal was finished. "I have to apologize for lying earlier."
"Lying? About what would you lie?" Sorrow leaned in closer to him, amazed at the effect she had on the man.
"When I said that Lord Dunlop had not done justice to your beauty with his description." He took her hand and kissed it again. "Now that I have seen your face, I know that a thousand poets writing for a thousand years could not hope to do justice to your beauty."
"You are too kind." Sorrow pulled her hand away and laughed.
'You don't know me at all.' Her rationale mind broke the spell being wove by the handsome man's flattering words.
"At least Dunlop isn't looking at her anymore?" Xena whispered to distract Gabrielle.
"This is such an improvement!" The Queen took a large sip of her wine. "Have you noticed that every time he talks to her, he has to touch her?"
"Well, she does have her mother's looks. Can you blame him?" She slipped her hand onto the bard's thigh.
"Behave! I need to pay attention to this. I can't have you distracting me." She put her own hand over the warrior's. "But this can stay where it is."
"Would you honour me with a dance?" Prince Rike stood up and motioned to the band. A slow waltz filled the room. Sorrow took the hand offered and allowed herself to be lead to a small area, in front of the head table. As if someone had choreographed their movements, the entire room was impressed by the fluidity of their steps.
"Danu, if he drops dead, I'm telling the Queen it's you who killed him." Eponin moved over to stand next to the archer.
"What?" Danu broke her eyes away from Sorrow and looked innocently at Eponin.
"You're great with an arrow girl, but if looks could kill..." She laughed as she walked away.
'Damn.' Danu couldn't believe she was being so obvious. But watching Sorrow let the Prince paw her, was too much to bare. Bad enough that stupid Lord Dunlop kept starring at her and thinking Aphrodite only knew what.
"When did she learn that?" Gabrielle leaned into Xena.
"Natural talent." Xena watched as Sorrow was twirled around and dipped by the Prince.
When the song ended, they returned to their seats amid a fanfare of applause.
"Thank you everyone," Prince Rike stood and held his goblet up. "I would like to toast to the health and prosperity of the Amazon Nation!"
Everyone took a large swig of wine.
"To Queen Gabrielle and Xena!"
The crowd drank again.
"To Princess Sorrow, the most beautiful woman here!"
"That's it!" Gabrielle was almost up, before the warrior forced her back down.
"Gabrielle calm down." Her voice was soft but stern. "If he does anything out of line, I promise I'll kill him myself."
It was much later before the Prince made his first wrong move.
"Princess, would you be so gracious as to come for a walk with me in the garden. We've been in this stuffy room for so long, I though you might enjoy a little fresh air." Having consumed a large amount of wine, he accidentally spoke loud enough for Xena to here.
"I'm sure the Princess would enjoy that." She motioned to Eponin, who came over immediately. "The Princess is going for a walk, arrange an escort." Xena stared into Rike as she spoke. He almost made a second mistake by objecting, but from the warrior's stare he found himself unable to form words.
"Of course." Eponin signaled for four warriors to join them.
"Do your mother's think me so strong that it would take four Amazons to subdue me?" Rike joked as they walked, arm in arm through the flowers.
"No, their afraid that I may hurt you." Sorrow knew the double meaning of her words was lost on him.
"The only thing I fear you could do to me Princess, is break my lovesick heart." He put his free hand over his cheast.
"You flatter me so." Sorrow found herself growing tired at his overzealous attempts to flirt with her. "I must beg your forgiveness, for our journey was long and I am growing quite tired."
"Oh, I must beg your forgiveness. I have traipsed you around the entire garden, twice." He smiled. They walked in silence back to her room.
"I fear I will have to say goodbye to you here." Sorrow stopped outside the door to her room. Leaning in she whispered. "I wouldn't want the guards to report you were anything less than a gentleman to the Queen."
Prince Rike counted half a dozen warriors posted in the small hallway. He couldn't believe how overprotective the Amazon Queen was being.
"I think after tomorrow's meeting on our treaty, your mother will not be as fearful of my intention's toward your Nation."
"And what are your intentions?" Sorrow was glad to finally get into a topic that interested her. His constant rambling about flowers and tapestries was driving her mad.
"I believe my father did not treat the Amazons fairly in the previous treaty. He assumed he gave much more protection to your Nation. When really it is you that protected us." Rike tentatively took her hand. He was relieved that none of the guards attacked him. "My intentions toward you, are a little less honourable." He backed away from her quickly and bowed.
"Goodnight Prince Rike." Sorrow smiled at his honesty.
"Goodnight sweet Princess." He strode happily past the guards.
Sorrow pretended to go into her own room. Seeing the guard's hand signal she crossed the hall and knocked on her mother's door.
"Come in!" Xena called out, recognizing the knock.
"Are you still up?" Sorrow entered tentatively, knowing how late it was. The pair were snuggled up in bed, waiting for her to come and report. Sorrow went and sat on the end of the bed. "I'm assuming the guards have already told you that he was a perfect gentleman." Sorrow had watched her mother fume all evening.
"Yes, but I'd really like to hear about it from you." Gabrielle sat up.
"Considering the poor boy was walking around with four Amazon warriors and the Protector, I'd say he was the one in danger. Not me." She laughed at her mother's discomfort.
"That doesn't mean anything, I will not let him compromise your virtue." The mother inside her spoke, seeing only her daughter and not the Protector.
"My virtue?" Sorrow raised an eyebrow.
"Humor your mother." Xena couldn't believe how overprotective Gabrielle was being.
"Mother, you don't have to worry about my virtue. It's still intact and will remain that way until the day I die. My chance at love has long since passed." Sorrow sighed, but continued before either of them could response. "I did learn something very interesting though. Prince Rike wants to re-negotiate the treaty because he thinks it's unfair to us."
"Really?" Gabrielle was surprised. She had been preparing herself for the opposite.
"He believes the Nation provides much more protection than we are being given compensation for."
"Well, maybe we can get back home sooner than we anticipated." Xena thought of Madalene, she missed the little Princess.
"That would be nice." Sorrow remembered the Prince's last words. "Oh by the way." She stood up and moved toward the door. "I think he's going to ask you for my hand." She didn't turn around. She could imagine the stunned looks on their faces. "I'm assuming he'll approach you first." She was surprised that no one spoke. "Does the silence mean I should start preparing for my wedding day?" She turned just as the pillow struck her in the face. "I'll take that as a no. Goodnight." She tossed the pillow back and left.
When she exited the room, Sorrow signaled for the guards to go to bed. Once inside her own room, she collapsed on the bed exhausted.
'Why did you have to come?' She thought of Danu. Although the Prince had distracted her for most of the evening, she'd still stolen small glances at the archer. 'Why couldn't it be you saying such wonderful things?' She let her mind remember the dance. Although the Prince was definitely not Danu, she had pretended that he was. No one had noticed that her eyes were closed for most of the song. When the music had stopped, she'd been so disappointed to see Rike again. 'This has to stop! She has somebody else now.' She turned into her pillow and started to cry.
Negotiations began early the next morning. Xena had slipped away to tend to Argo, while Gabrielle and Sorrow did their duty.
"So it's agreed then." Prince Rike looked over the scroll, a bright smile on his face.
"Yes," Gabrielle motioned for Eponin to bring her the royal seal. Dropping hot wax on the parchment, she turned the treaty into law. "I hope this will stand for a continued commitment between our two nations."
"I as well." Prince Rike added his own seal to the treaty. "I know you are most eager to get back to your territory..." He had read her thoughts somehow. "But tonight is my Coronation, and I would be honoured if you would attend."
"Of course!" Gabrielle was barely able to say the words. After the graciousness the Prince had expressed during negotiations, she couldn't refuse.
"This seems a little strange," Sorrow had gone straight to the stable to find Xena after the meeting. "How come he didn't mention his Coronation before?"
The warrior just shook her head. This did raise a suspicion or two for her as well.
"I think we better be extra attentive tonight. I don't want anything happening." She silently remembered her sister's nightmare. Xena just nodded, and continued to brush Argo.
True to his previous actions, Prince Rike delivered a lovely silk dress to Sorrow's room. Danu watched as the Princess accepted the gift, and promised to wear it to the Coronation. Waiting until the Prince left. Danu stalked up to the door and knocked.
"Something else?" Sorrow opened the door expecting to see the Prince again. She was very surprised to see the archer. "Danu!"
"We need to talk!" She spoke firmly, not carrying what punishment her disrespect could bring.
"Fine, come in." Sorrow wasn't accustomed to seeing this sort of distress on Danu's face. The wild rage that seemed barely hidden behind her brown eyes. The archer pressed passed her and marched to the centre of the room. Sorrow closed the door.
"What in Tatarus do you think you're doing with Prince Rike?" Danu's finally let her anger burst open.
Sorrow didn't answer. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. Danu looked as she was ready to explode, her hands on her hips and her foot tapping as she waited for an answer.
"Well? Have you lost your mind or are you really being sucked in by his flattery? You're acting like the village whore."
"What did you call me?" Sorrow voice was weak.
"I couldn't believe that you danced with him...like that. I guess I should have known, since you let him paw you under the table through dinner!" Danu didn't respond to Sorrow's question. She had much more she wanted to say first. "Is there anyplace he hasn't put his filthy hands? Or is that going to be his coronation present?" She took a quick breath before her tirade continued. "Do you realize how disgusted everyone was? How revolting we all found your little display? Amazons do not act like that, especially Amazon Princesses!" Danu's accusations forced her to answer.
"How dare you say that! What do you care? Maybe it's nice to have somebody pay attention to me. Who do you think you are anyway? I believe you're engaged to Tearnon!" Sorrow drove the words like knives, finally pushed over the edge. "What I am supposed to do? Hope one day you might throw me a bone and talk to me again. Stand in the shadows and hope that one day I'll be the one you want. A little selfish don't you think?" It was Danu's turn to be silent, as Sorrow continued. "I know you're mad at me for dying and then taking so long to come back. I know it's selfish to expect you to forgive me, let alone still feel the same as I think you did. Do you understand the pain I went through to come back to you, do you even know what I went through that day?" Sorrow's voice took a softer tone. "I will always love you, with all of my heart. No one will ever replace you. But I won't let you torture me this way as a punishment for what happened. It's not fair!" Not even wanting an answer, she turned and opened the door. "Get out!"
Danu stood there stunned.
'She loves me!' Her mind raced. 'She came back for me!'
"I said, Get out!" Sorrow's voice was thunderous. Since the archer wasn't budging, Sorrow took matters into her own hands. The force of her slamming the door behind her, tore one of the hinges out the wall.
"What have I done?" The stupidity of her actions struck Danu like a rock. "I've ruined everything."
Xena didn't know whether to be comforted by the sparse number of guests at the Coronation, or suspicious. Knowing these affairs usually involved great productions and even bigger guest lists, she easily chose suspicious. Gabrielle had been distracted since seeing Sorrow arrive in the slender white silk dress. The Queen was not happy with the gift, or how it clung to her daughter curves. Only Eponin and two of the Royal guards were inside the large throne room. The rest of the warrior's were positioned outside in the hall. The ceremony was long and boring. Lord Dunlop read a myriad of oaths, that Prince Rike repeated slowly. After some production, the new King was crowned. Clapping his hands, Rike called for a round of drinks. Everyone took the ornate goblets presented to them.
"It is tradition in my kingdom, that upon receiving his crown, the King makes one request of those who have borne witness to the event. A request that by tradition, no one can refuse."
'Oh I'll refuse you!' Gabrielle stared at him, thinking she knew what his request would be.
"My request is simple," He lifted his own goblet high. "I ask only that everyone swallow down this small drink. As a sign of the decadence and prosperity I hope to bring with my rule."
'Simple enough.' The Queen choked the glass of wine down. Relieved she wouldn't have to cause a scene. Turning she watched Xena toss the wine down her throat. The sound of Sorrow's empty goblet striking the stone floor caused her blood to run cold. Crying out to alert the guards, she tried to catch her daughter. As she fell, Sorrow tried in vain to speak. Sitting on the ground, Gabrielle cradled her fallen child in her arms. Hearing their Queen's cry, the Amazon warrior's burst into the room. Xena was already advancing on the King. As the feeling left her legs, she realized why none of his soldiers made any attempt to stop her. She fell as well, only a short distance from the throne. Entering the room and seeing Sorrow in her mother's arms, Danu shot an arrow into a soldier descending on them. Drawing her sword, Eponin struck down two other soldiers. The Kings voice caused them all to stop fighting.
"Attention everyone!" They looked to see him holding a dagger to Xena's throat. "Unless you want me to do this the quick way, I suggest you put down your weapons."
Looking to the Queen, the Amazons followed her command to surrender.
"Why are you doing this?" She asked him helpless, as she stroked Sorrow's face.
The sword pointed at her cheast kept her from going to Xena.
"I need her!" Rike pointed at the Princess. He motioned for his guards to take her. Restrained by one of the soldiers, Gabrielle watched helplessly as Sorrow's lifeless body was dragged passed the King and out a large door behind the throne. "Once I have the power of a virgin Amazon Princess, I will be unstoppable!" His insanity was obvious. He kicked the unconscious warrior as he walked toward the Queen. "Too bad you let yourself be tainted. It would have been fun to take you." He slapped her sharply with the back of his hand. "I'm sure your precious daughter will be even more fun. Put them all in the dungeon!"
Gabrielle rushed to Xena's side, when she was unceremoniously dumped into the cell with the rest of the Amazons.
"Xena...Xena!" The bard slapped her face lightly, hoping for some sort of response.
"Your Highness, may I make a suggestion." Danu knelt down beside her. Gabrielle just looked at her, willing to take any help. "I spent a short time under Oxin when I was younger, we have to get the poison out of her." Gabrielle stared at her blankly. "We have to make her throw it up."
"How? She's unconscious!"
Danu took two fingers and stuck them down her throat. The demonstration made her gag.
"Oh." Gabrielle knew the warrior would hate this, but if it meant saving her life...she would do anything.
"It would be best if we have her on her side, that way she's less likely to choke." Danu helped the Queen position Xena.
Eponin and Danu held the warrior in place, as Gabrielle performed the uncomfortable task of sticking her fingers down Xena's throat. Everyone was very relieved, when the majority of the wine was vomited up. Using a rag to clean Xena's face, she cradled the warrior in her arms. None of them knew if the poison she'd already ingested would be enough to kill her.
"What's going on?" Xena knew the feeling of the small arms around her. Gabrielle just hugged her closer. Overjoyed to see the warrior open her eyes. "Let me up!" Pure rage filled her instantly and her past weakness died away. She looked around quickly. "Where's Sorrow?"
"He took her." Danu helped the Queen to her feet as she answered.
"Xena, he says he needs to sacrifice a virgin Amazon Princess. He thinks he'll get some sort of power from her." Gabrielle held onto the small hope that the contents of the goblet hadn't already killed her daughter. Xena didn't answer. Taking a small piece of metal from her armor, she went to work picking the lock on the cell door. Moments later it creaked open.
"Eponin," she barked. "Get Gabrielle out of here! Get back to the village and warn them!"
"Xena, I'm not going anywhere!" The bard voice was stern. The warrior was unaffected by her plea.
"Madalene is there! Get home and protect her." Xena stood at her full height. Her shoulder's square in defiance of whatever Gabrielle could say. "I'm going to get Sorrow."
"I'm with you!" Danu moved to stand with the warrior.
Gabrielle wanted to object, wanted to stop this insanity. The mention of Madalene's name made her realize Xena was right. The village could be under attack and there would be no Protector to answer Madalene's calls for help.
"Fine." She approached her partner and took her hand. "I expect you to be right behind us."
"You have my word!" Xena sealed the vow with a lingering kiss.
Within the ante chamber, Rike paced beside the stone altar. Sorrow, having not stirred since she first fell, was draped over the altar.
"She dropped like a stone, didn't she?" Ares appeared next to the King.
"Just as you said she would. What was in that drink anyway?" Rike's madness blinded him from even fearing the God of War.
"Secret recipe." Ares licked his lips and laughed. He couldn't believe how stupid this man was. He had secretly watched Rike's attempt to flatter Sorrow the previous night. Fighting the urge to let the Prince in on her little secret. The madman didn't even know she was the Protector. At this point he didn't care how many idiot's he had to work with. He needed to free Dahak's soul from its prison and for that he needed Sorrow dead. After seeing her battle Dahak, he'd known it'd be foolish to take her on himself. Even if her new power didn't give her the strength to kill him, he was sure it gave her the ability to do unthinkable damage. He didn't relish the idea of spending the rest of eternity as a cripple. He applauded himself for coming up with such a brilliant plan.
The lock on the dungeon door proved a bit more challenging. It took Xena several attempts before the mechanism gave way and she was able to swing the heavy door open. Everyone was surprised by the lack of guards outside the dungeon.
"Apparently they don't put much stock in the rest of us!" One of the Royal guards muttered under her breath.
"Xena, our weapons are in here." Eponin had broken away from the main group to inspect a small room off to the left. As everyone collected their weapons, Xena pulled Eponin aside.
"You shouldn't have any trouble getting to the stables. The guards seem pretty thin," Xena whispered, trying to comfort herself more than the Amazon. She desperately wanted to escort Gabrielle out of the castle but she knew every moment counted when it came to saving Sorrow.
"Xena, we'll get her home safely. I promise you." Eponin understood the warrior's concern. "Are you sure you don't want more of us to stay and help?"
"No! You must protect her and Madalene." Xena stopped abruptly. The heavy footsteps in the corridor faded away and she relaxed again. "Have Gabrielle ride Argo, she'll take good care of her."
Eponin wanted to object. She hated the idea of leaving Xena behind without her horse. It was if they were abandoning her. They group moved silently from the room and out into corridor. The route to the main hall was deserted. Once outside the throne room the group split apart. Xena and Gabrielle exchanged one last loving look, before the Queen was ushered away.
'He is definitely mad.' Xena thought to herself, as they entered the empty throne room.
"I want you to remain here," She motioned for Danu to stop just inside the doors. "If anyone comes out of there, except the Princess or myself, kill them!"
Danu nodded. She would have no problem performing her duty.
"Ares!" Xena couldn't believe what she was seeing when she entered the ante chamber. If the God of War was involved, the danger to Sorrow was even greater than she had originally thought.
"You idiot, I though you were going to take care of her as well!" He scowled at the King.
"I did! There was enough poison in her drink to kill ten men."
"She's the Warrior Princess, you moron!" Ares chastised.
Xena stared at Sorrow. Hoping to see some sign of life in her. She was relieved to see the Princess' cheast rising and falling slightly.
"You're so lucky she's not dead!" Xena advanced on the King. Knowing the madman would be no match for the Warrior Princess. Ares moved to meet her attack. The rage inside her gave fuel to her strength and even the God of War was surprised by the viciousness of her blows. Seeing his opportunity, Rike raised his dagger above his head.
"I will take your power for my own!"
A powerful kick sent Xena's backwards into a corner. She slammed mercilessly into the stone wall. She'd never get to Sorrow in time to stop the blade now. She heard the whistle of the arrow before she realized Danu was in the doorway. Xena was thankful that the archer had disobeyed her orders. The look of surprise on the King's face when Danu's arrow entered his heart was unprecedented. The voices in his head had long told him that he was immortal.
'This can't be!' This last thought crossed his mind as he crumbled to the ground. Seeing the now dead King, Ares knew that his plans were spoiled.
"Look Xena, she ruined everything...can you blame me for wanting a little revenge? You used to love getting revenge." Ares offered a reason for his actions. Hoping to conceal the real reason for the attempt on Sorrow's life. His reference to Xena's past lifestyle made her even more angry. Seeing the Warrior Princess was about to attack again. He flashed his trademark smile and disappeared. Both of the women rushed to Sorrow.
"She's still breathing." Danu leaned over the prone figure. She was relieved to feel the faint breath on her face.
"But for how long?" Xena's hand brushed across an icy arm.
"What should we do?" The archer looked to the warrior for answers.
"First we get out of here. We aren't going to be very welcome when they discover the King is dead." Xena brushed the hair from Sorrow's cold face. "Get me that tapestry and those spears." With the sparse supplies available, Xena constructed a stretcher for the Princess. "Take one end, if we meet trouble...remember to put her down gently. Then we kill whoever bothers us!" Xena didn't care that her words were cold and brutal. Each time she looked down at Sorrow, her breath caught in her throat.
'How could I have missed this?' She glanced one last time at the King's body as they left the ante chamber.
Lord Dunlop met them in the throne room.
"What's going on?" He was alarmed to see them carrying the Princess. "Where is the King?"
"Your so called King is dead. I sent him to Tartarus, where he belongs." Danu spoke before the warrior. Consolidating the kill in her mind. Expecting trouble, they gently laid the stretcher down.
"Thank the Gods!" Dunlop looked relieved.
"What?" Xena questioned. This man was supposed to be the King's close aid.
"He's a madman." Dunlop corrected himself. "He was a madman. He made a pact with the God of War to kill you and the Princess. Everyone in the kingdom has been petrified to move. You should have seen what he did to the first few who opposed his plan." Dunlop thought of the piles of dead behind the castle.
"Do you know what was in her drink?"
"No, that was something Ares gave him. But I do know what he gave you... How are you alive?" Dunlop was astonished.
"Most of the poison didn't get a chance to work." Xena still had the taste of vomit in the back of her throat.
"They may not make a difference. You have to be given an antidote!" Dunlop hoped the woman would trust him. Although he knew she had no real reason to do so.
"What was the poison?"
"It was from the rare Pentasa flower."
Although she had never seen the effect of the flower firsthand, she had heard rumors of its ability. When its petals were soaked in wine overnight, the poison would seep out and infect the drink. The initial reaction was just what she'd felt, an immediate loss of muscle control and unconsciousness. Some time later the person would experience slow, lethal side effects. She was amazed she was still standing.
"Please there is little time! There are those who will want to avenge his death." Dunlop heard the soldiers approaching. "I have chambers that I can hide you in. Please!"
"Xena, we have no choice." Danu pleaded with her. It was bad enough that Sorrow was almost dead, but if the warrior died now...she didn't know what she would do.
Xena nodded her consent and they followed Dunlop through a labyrinth of passages to his chambers.
"Here drink this. It will make you sleep for awhile though." Once inside his room, Dunlop retrieved a small bottle from his desk. Hating that she had to trust the man, Xena sniffed at the clear liquid. The smell gave her no indication of its properties. Having no other choice, she gulped the antidote down. She was already feeling weak again and her breathing was difficult.
"This is the only door and it is easily barred from the inside." Dunlop tried to offer some shred of security to them. "I'll go and find out what's going on and I'll do my best to keep the soldiers away."
"I promise you if this is a trick I'll..." Xena didn't have to finish, he knew her intentions all too well.
Despite her efforts, Xena couldn't fight the drowsiness. She'd struggled long enough to barricade the door behind Dunlop. Finally giving in, she sat down in a chair next to bed.
"Danu, don't worry about me," Her words were slurred. "Protect the Princess!"
The archer watched helplessly as Xena dragged down into unconsciousness. Holding Sorrow's head in her lap, she waited silently for the time to pass.
When consciousness returned, Xena jumped out of the chair startled. She was thankful to see the door was still barred shut. Looking at bed, she almost couldn't speak. Sorrow was still in the same position with Danu was leaning down to cradle her.
"How is she?" The warrior finally spoke. Hearing that the long silence had finally been broken. The archer slowly raised her head to look the warrior in the eye.
"She stopped breathing shortly after you went out," Danu whispered, caressing the Princess' face over and over. "She's gone."
Bring her hands up to her head. Xena dropped to her knees in despair. The broken woman crawled over to the bed and clasped Sorrow's ice cold hand. Her first thought's were of Gabrielle. How would she tell her? How would she tell Madalene? Her only wish was that the little Princess' gift, hadn't given her a window into Sorrow's last moments of life.
Pushing themselves and the horses to the brink of exhaustion, the Queen and her guards arrived back to the Amazon village in less than a day.
"Gabrielle," Ephiny helped the exhausted bard off Argo. "What's going on? Where are Xena and Sorrow?"
"I don't know," Gabrielle tired voice answered. "How is Madalene?"
"Fine, she's in daycare." Ephiny offered her arm for support.
"She hasn't said anything?" Gabrielle couldn't decide if she wanted for her daughter to be oblivious to what had happened or if she hoped the strange gift would be able to supply some desperately needed answers.
"No. Gabrielle what's going on?"
"Have any of the border scouts reported anything unusual?" Knowing now that her daughter was safe, the Queen became concerned for the Nation.
"Nothing except your arrival. Gabrielle, where are Xena and Sorrow?" Ephiny guided the bard away from the group.
"Rike poisoned them at his coronation." Her words held none of their usual flair or descriptiveness. "I managed to revive Xena and she stayed behind to rescue Sorrow. He said he needed to sacrifice a virgin Amazon Princess." The Regent's eyes grew wider with each word. Looking back at the group, she could see Solari was receiving the same report from Eponin.
"Xena will save her. Don't worry!" Ephiny motioned for Solari to join them.
"I've already sent someone to assemble the warriors." Solari answered her partner's unspoken order. "Gabrielle, we'll get them back!"
True to his word, Lord Dunlop turned out to be an ally. He kept them safe within his chambers until the following night. Not carrying for his own safety he helped them escape the castle.
"Is there anything else you might need?" He asked nervously, hoping no one had followed them to the edge of town.
"No, you have been very kind." Danu answered for the silent warrior. Xena had spoken nothing but single syllable words since awakening.
Xena went over the straps on the litter one last time. Looking at the shrouded body of her daughter, she almost couldn't go on. One thing gave her the strength to face the journey.
She would return the Princess to the Nation and family that she loved. Jumping on top of the horse, she started out. Danu followed close behind.
At the head of the group, Solari's horse was the first to crest the hill.
"There!" Scanning the horizon, she spotted the outlines against the horizon. "That could be them."
Eponin signaled back to the rest of the riders to increase their already breakneck pace. Despite her own exhaustion, she had insisted on returning with the group. She still couldn't shake the feeling that she'd abandoned the Warrior Princess.
Just before the dawn, the two groups reached each other. As she approached, Solari was disturbed by the slow pace at which the pair was traveling. She signaled for everyone else to stop and approached Xena alone.
"Xena, where's the Princess?" Solari saw the litter behind Xena's horse a heartbeat too late to stop her words. Xena just shook her head, as she brought her own horse to a stop and dismounted. Solari didn't respond as she dismounted and walked over to the litter. Glancing back at the rest of the Amazons, she knew the news was spreading quickly back through the ranks. The Princess was dead. They were too late to save her.
"Are you being followed?" Solari finally found her voice.
"No. How are Gabrielle and Madalene?" Xena's numbness masked her concern.
"Fine." Solari could read nothing from the warrior. "Gabrielle was exhausted from the journey, but otherwise unharmed. Madalene has no idea what's going on."
"Rike's kingdom is still disorganized." The warrior within her assessed the situation. "Even if they mount an attack in retaliation, it should be a few days before they arrive."
"You're expecting a retaliation?" Solari asked, knowing there was more to the story.
"Danu killed the King." Xena motioned to the archer, who hovered a few feet away.
"Why wait for them to attack?" Eponin's defiant voice announced her arrival near the pair. "We're already here, why not attack them first?"
"No!" Xena spun around to look at her. "Our first priority is to bring Sorrow home. Bring her back to her mother." The icy blue eyes starring through her told Eponin not to object. More of the warrior's had dismounted and gathered around the litter. Seeing Danu, Tearnon approached her.
"Thank Artemis you're all right!" The guard embraced the archer, startled when she wasn't hugged back. "Are you hurt?"
"No." Danu's glazed eyes looked past Tearnon to Sorrow's body.
"I was so worried when I heard you'd stayed behind to help Xena." Tearnon tentatively released her grip.
"You had no reason to worry." Danu relaxed once she was free from the guard's touch.
"No reason? I'll admit you're the best with a bow my love but you're not very good at hand to hand combat."
"My skills were more than adequate." Danu loathed the condescending nature of the comment. "My arrow killed him just as much as you're sword would've."
"Killed who?" Tearnon questioned.
"The King." Reaching out she stopped the guard from hugging her again. Unable to understand the archers unresponsive body language. Tearnon tried to move her away from the body.
"It's over. Please leave me alone!" Danu shoved her away. Confused and hurt, Tearnon backed away.
'She just needs some time.' Tearnon thought as she returned to her horse.
They entered Amazon territory two days later. Just inside the border, Xena stopped the procession .
"From now on, she'll be carried!" She hated how Sorrow's body was being jostled around behind the horse. Xena altered the structure of the litter so that it could be carried by four people. Xena took her place in front, and motioned for Danu to take the place across from her. Solari and Eponin filled in the remaining spaces. The forest was silent, as they lifted the litter onto their shoulders and began the last leg of the journey home.
"Gabrielle, you're needed at the Northern gate." Ephiny broke the Queen out of her thoughts. All she could do was nod. Ephiny was surprised when she didn't press for a reason.
Seeing the Queen and Regent walking towards the Northern Gate, many other Amazons filed in a short distance behind them. Gabrielle stopped a fair distance from the closed gate.
"Open it!" She commanded the guards, who stood with their heads down.
Legend says the sight was so saddening... that the sky itself was moved to cry.
Gabrielle didn't even notice the rain when it started. All she saw was the shrouded body on top of the litter. Still being carried by the same four who had first lifted it. The bearers bowed their head's as they carried the Princess through the gate. When they reached where the Queen was standing, they stopped momentarily. On wobbly legs, Gabrielle turned and led the procession through the village. All around them, Amazons dropped to their knees weeping in the rain.
Once inside the hall, Gabrielle allowed herself to approach the litter.
"Put her down."
The litter was lowered softly to rest on the floor. Everyone missed the weigh on their shoulders. The suffering it caused, had been a silent symbol of each person's internal pain.
"Please... I want to see her face." The bard pleaded for someone to help her, finding herself unable to touch her daughter's shroud. Xena unwrapped the heavy cover to revealing the Princess still dressed in the white silk dress. Gabrielle lowered herself to knee beside Sorrow head. Leaning down, she brushed the hair from her daughters face and kissed her forehead. Xena remained nearby. Her fists clamped at her sides in a vain attempt to cope.
"I want that off her immediately!" Seeing Rike's gift, she struggled to keep from tearing the garment off.
"Gabrielle, we'll take care of her." Ephiny moved to approach the body but was stopped by Xena's arm.
"No. I'll do it," Xena spoke for the first time.
"No. They'll take care of her." Gabrielle overruled her. "We're going home, until she's ready..." She couldn't finish the thought. Standing, she grasped the warrior's hand and led her out of the hall.
Inside their bedroom, Xena collapsed to her knees in front of the bard.
"I'm sorry, it's all my fault. I couldn't save her. It was Ares seeking revenge. It was his poison that killed her," she pleaded. "I let her die... I let your daughter die...I let my daughter die."
Gabrielle dropped to her knees and raised her hand to Xena's lips to stop the words.
"We both know you didn't kill her. Just tell me what happened." The bard's words were soft and understanding. Gabrielle hated herself at this moment. She'd almost been expecting this since she'd left the castle. Having been reunited with her daughter for such a short time. It'd been easy for her to fall back into the role of grieving mother. She listened carefully as Xena explained what had happened after they parted. When the warrior finally finished, they were both crying.
"Where's Madalene?" Xena asked, her tears having stopped finally.
"She's at daycare. We should go and get her." Gabrielle was on her feet quickly. She felt guilty for not going to get the little Princess right away.
From what they could tell, Madalene's gift hadn't given her any knowledge about her sister's death. Xena held the little Princess as she cried. Madalene was torn between being happy to once again be in her Mommy's arms and being devastated that Sorrow was gone.
"I guess that was Sorrow's last selfless act," Xena held onto the bard's hand tightly. "She protected her until the end." Still carrying Madalene, Xena and Gabrielle went back to the hall. Ephiny waited at the entrance to tell them that the Princess was ready.
They entered to see Sorrow still on top of the litter. Her body now shrouded in Amazon linen and surrounded by a multitude of flowers.
"The youngsters she used to take hunting collected the wild flowers for her." Ephiny explained before leaving the hall.
Knowing the Royal family would still need to time to say goodbye, Sorrow's face remained uncovered. Madalene struggled to be released from Xena's arms. Despite their objections, she'd insisted on seeing Sorrow.
"I miss you," She placed little kisses on her sister's forehead and cheeks. "I love you." Turning away from the body, she ran and buried her head into Gabrielle's leg.
Xena approached next. Down on one knee she tried to make peace with her dead daughter. Her cheast heaved with the sobs and she silently wished it was she who had fallen.
"I will always love you," She placed one gentle kiss on Sorrow's lips. "My daughter."
Having read the bard's thoughts. Xena collected Madalene and silently went outside.
Gabrielle paced around the litter. Her hand at her mouth in an attempt to catch the gasps of anguish that escaped her lips. She didn't know what to say, didn't know what words could make this any easy. The first time she'd loss Sorrow, it had been to save Madalene. That at least made some sense, offered some comfort. This time, it was just about revenge.
"I hope you find peace and happiness." She finally sat on the ground by Sorrow's head. "I'm sorry for bringing you into all of this." Placing her hand on Sorrow's cheek, she tried to memorize her face. Commit every contour and feature to memory. "I never got to tell you, even as the Protector you don't look like your father." The fact that she would never see Sorrow again finally solidified for her. There would be no hope this time. No stranger would arrive in the future to reveal herself as Sorrow. This would be the end. She would bear witness to the funeral pyre. There'd be no miracle to stop this. Sorrow was really dead. Her incredible power unable to stop the simple goblet of poison.
Outside the drums started and with them the dance. Everywhere Amazons openly wailed and cried out. There hadn't been a funeral the first time she'd died. There had been no body to cremate. No soul to send up into the heavens. Knowing that they'd soon bear witness to her pyre, many Amazons finally recognized the sacrifices she'd made for them. Others remembered her for her kindness. Still others for her unlimited willingness to help, with even the simplest tasks. Hearing the cries of her nation, Gabrielle knew she couldn't stop this from happening. Kissing Sorrow one last time, she placed the wrapping around her daughter's head.
Danu stood in the background. No one approached her. Her role in this tragedy was already spreading around the Nation. Everyone respected her for staying with Xena and killing the King. Watching the others dance. She wanted to make them stop.
'You didn't love her!' The selfish thought rang through her mind. 'She didn't love you, she loved me... only me.'
Four members of the Royal guard carried the litter from the hall to the funeral pyre. They waited a long time, before Ephiny finally gave them the signal and the litter was placed on top of the wood.
"My Queen, it is your choice who lights the pyre," Ephiny spoke softly from her place to the left of the bard.
"Xena?" Gabrielle looked to the warrior, hoping she would have the strength to perform the awful deed.
"I can't!" She spoke honestly. "But I think I know who should." She leaned down and whispered to the bard. Gabrielle looked around the gathered Amazons until she found her choice.
"Danu, please come here!" Her voice wasn't loud, but the archer heard her easily.
"Yes, my Queen." Danu knelled before her monarch, not knowing why she'd been called.
"Why did you stay behind to rescue her?" Gabrielle asked the question as a test.
"I could say it was my duty...but that would be a lie." Danu's eyes starred into the ground. "I did it solely for the chance to apologize to her."
"Apologize for what?" The Queen saw the openness of her answer and knew that the poor archer needed to get something off her cheast.
"Apologize for doubting that she still loved me."
"Do you still love her?"
"I never stopped..." Danu stared Gabrielle right in the eye. Letting her heart speak. "My love for her has no end, even in death."
"Would you please be the one to light the pyre?" Gabrielle easily gave the honour to her now.
"But..." Danu started to object, until she felt the Queen's hand on her shoulder. Dredging up all the strength she could find, she took the torch from Solari and walked toward the pyre. Her brief hesitation gave Madalene just enough time to object.
"No, she doesn't have her mask!" The youngster pleaded with her mother. "Everyone has to see you present her mask. She can't go without it or no one will know who she is."
"Madalene, the mask was lost." Gabrielle crouched down to look her daughter in the eye.
"No, it wasn't." Xena remembered suddenly. "Danu, wait!"
The archer stopped and turned, wondering what was going on. Xena ran to the stables and collected her saddlebags. Running back, she opened one pouch to pull out the Queen's mask and from the other she pulled the Protector's mask.
"I couldn't let them be destroyed, could I?"
"You are amazing sometimes." Gabrielle couldn't believe what the warrior had done. She gave her a brief kiss, desperately needing the contact to give her strength.
"Take her down!" Xena commanded. The litter was lifted back off the pyre and rested on the ground.
Gabrielle took Madalene by the hand and approached the litter. She placed the Queen's mask over her face and handed Sorrow's mask to her sister.
"I think you should be the one to perform her coronation." Gabrielle reached down and removed the shroud from Sorrow's face. Madalene moved to put the mask on, but her mother's voice stopped her.
"Tell everyone here what you're doing." She guided the little Princess. "Say anything you want."
"This mask will tell everyone that you are the Protector, a Princess and my sister!" Everyone's heart broke at the little one's words. She placed the mask over Sorrow's face.
"Mother, why is she hot?" Madalene asked the question with a child's innocence.
"What do you mean?" Gabrielle bent down and placed her hand under the mask. Seeing the bard begin to shake, Xena rushed to her side.
"What is it?" Not able to see the shocked look on the bard's face under the mask, she didn't know what to think. Madalene grabbed the warrior's hand and forced her to bend and touch Sorrow's face as well.
"See Mommy! Why is she hot?" Madalene asked again, really wanting an answer.
Xena moved her hand to Sorrow's neck, and marveled at the very faint pulse, that now resided there.
"She's alive.!" The warrior whispered. Gabrielle tore the mask off and put her cheek by Sorrow's mouth.
"She's breathing... how?" Her mind couldn't comprehend what was happening.
"Help me get her inside!" Xena ordered the stunned Amazons gathered around the litter to move.
Back inside the hall, Gabrielle watched impatiently as the burial shroud was removed.
"Why doesn't she wake up?" She asked the obvious question, knowing no one knew the answer. In the frenzy, no one noticed Madalene sneak up beside her sister. Placing her small hands over Sorrow's eyes she concentrated.
'Don't worry little one. I'm fine. I'll wake up in a few moments.' Sorrow's thought's flowed into Madalene.
"Madalene, what is it?" Xena bent down to ask the question softly, having noticed what she was doing.
"She say's she's fine now and she'll wake up soon." Madalene whispered back, afraid she'd be in trouble for using the gift in front of so many people.
"Are you sure?"
Madalene nodded, happy to see she wasn't going to be punished. A heartbeat later, Sorrow's eyes struggled open.
"Sorrow!" Gabrielle hugged her tightly, starring into her daughter's pale green eyes less they close again.
"Mother, is Xena all right?" She didn't see the warrior standing behind her mother.
"I'm right here." Xena took her hand.
"I'm going to kill..." Sorrow tried to raise herself up, but was still too weak.
"He's already dead. Danu killed him." Gabrielle filled in the blanks for her. "You're not in the castle anymore, you're home."
"Home?" She looked now at her familiar surroundings. "But I've only been out a few moments."
"Days, you've been dead for days." Her mother hugged her again. "We almost...If Madalene hadn't felt your face..." She thought of the drastic mistake they'd almost made.
"It's all right." Looking down, Sorrow understood now what was going on. "You couldn't have known."
'Thank you, little one. I owe you.' Madalene giggled when the words came into her head. She really did love this game.
Danu stood in the crowded doorway, struggling to see what was going on. Unable to control herself, she pushed past the others into the hall. Stopping at the foot of the litter. Xena was the first to notice her.
"I think someone else would like to see you." Xena said, motioning for Danu to come forward and guiding the Queen to stand. Seeing the Princess struggling to sit up, Danu raced to help her. She couldn't believe the heat coming from Sorrow's skin as she wrapped her arms around the Princess.
"I'm so sorry! I should never have said those things. It's only because I'm still in love with you. I couldn't bare to see you with anyone else." Danu words spilled out quickly. She wouldn't waste this second chance.
"Danu, that day in the field you asked me a question." Sorrow raised a weak finger to stop the archer from speaking. "Would you please ask me again?"
Taking a deep breath Danu whispered.
"May I kiss you, my Princess?"
"I love you." Sorrow's soft answer came just before their lips met. She pulled the archer closer as the kiss deepened.
"I have waited so long for your answer." Danu whispered. Her lips so close to Sorrow's that each of the words caused the Princess to shudder. "I love you."
Finding new strength from the kiss, Sorrow closed the small gap between them. Everything she had wished for: the feel of her flesh, the scent of her hair, the taste of her mouth bombarded Sorrow senses.
"What about Tearnon?" She pulled back suddenly.
"Tearnon who?" Danu captured her mouth again, not wanting the precious contact to be broken. Submitting to the delicious kiss, Sorrow forgot what her question had been in the first place.
Continued in Trial By Sorrow...
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