by Kathleen Wolf
GRAPHIC VIOLENCE WARNING/DISCLAIMER: This story depicts graphic 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 depiction's of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story. Please note no graphic sexual scene are contained within the story.
NOTE: This story is the third in my series, following the storyline presented in my first story "Sorrow" and continued in my second story "A Need for Sorrow". I strongly recommend reading those first in order to better understand what is going on in this one.
NOTE: In my universe, Dahak wasn't killed when Hercules performed the exorcism on Iolaus. Dahak was merely sent back to his own realm to wait for yet another chance to try and take over the world.
FEEDBACK: Any comments would be greatly appreciated.
SPECIAL THANKS: A big thanks to Gin, for her continuing creative support and reassurance. For their willingness to join mid-season, for beta reading and for all their wonderful words of praise, I would like to thank Lizzy and Alina.
Sorrow awoke with a start. A thick layer of cold sweat was her only covering.
'Where did the blanket go?' She tried to concentrate on anything but the nightmare as she sat up.
Rubbing her eyes, she knew she finished sleeping for the night. Picking the blanket up off the floor, she made the bed and got dressed. The fear that had taken away her sleep still gripped her tightly. Calming herself for a moment she focused her mind. Out in the darkness she could feel her mother snoring safely in Xena's arms. Her unborn sister slept soundly as well.
'Shouldn't sleep on your back. Roll over.' Sorrow sent the soft thoughts to Xena.
The warrior had been disturbed the first time it happened. Xena had invited her to help teach on the practice field. Most of the warriors were scared of her at first. Until everyone agreed she'd only be teaching them with conventional weapons. Not those only she possessed.
After a rather humiliating week, twenty or so of the students had decided to gang up on their teachers. The Amazon's had been getting the better of them until Xena had a brilliant idea. Sorrow was surprised when she heard the woman's voice inside her head. Her loss of concentration allowed one of her attacker's to slice open her forearm. The poor Amazon was shocked when she realized what she'd done. It had been a game until then. Sorrow had been on her knees when she sent a message back into Xena's mind.
Before anyone could act, Sorrow unleashed her wings. Xena grabbed onto her ankles as Sorrow took to the air. Flying in small circles, Xena used the opportunity to deliver a volley of kicks to the stunned group below them. In seconds all of the students were lying on the ground dazed. High above, Xena released her hold on Sorrow. Flipped several times in the air, she landed amongst the students.
"That should teach you to expect anything!" Her words had been tight. "Class dismissed."
Sorrow landed and retracted her wings. The wound on her arm was burning with heat.
"Are you all right?" Xena asked, picking up her sword.
"Fine, should only take half a day to heal." Sorrow didn't know what to say. Should she bring up what had happened?
"You heard me? Didn't you?" Xena stood awkwardly.
"Yes." Sorrow kicked at the dirt. "Did you?"
"Yes." Xena paused. "Why don't we go get a drink?" Sorrow nodded. Nothing else was said on the subject.
Sorrow roamed the sleeping village. She entertained the idea of flying off to patrol the border. Knowing her wings made to much noise, she quickly dismissed the idea.. She'd awaken half the village with her departure. Her wanderings lead her to the Northern gate.
The sleepy woman was leaning against a pole and didn't hear Sorrow approach. The village hadn't had any trouble since the arrival of the Protector. Word had spread quickly that Amazonia was not the place to cause trouble.
"Go get some sleep. I'll take watch," Sorrow whispered as she got close.
"What?" Eponin came to her senses with a start. "Oh, Sorrow. Why are you up?"
"Couldn't sleep. No reason why both of us should stay up all night."
"True. Is there something wrong? This is the tenth time in a moon that you've relieved a patrol because you couldn't sleep." Eponin asked worried. She'd been hiding her concern from Gabrielle. The Queen had become increasingly overprotective about the new Princess.
"No, just don't need a lot of sleep." Sorrow brushed the question away. Truth was every time she closed her eyes the nightmares began.
Eponin took a detour on her way home.
"Eponin, what's wrong?" Danu answered the door alarmed.
"No. I have a little news on the nocturnal habits of a certain Princess." Eponin felt bad about reporting on Sorrow. But something was obviously bothering the Princess and Danu seemed to be the only one who had made any connection with the woman. Eponin reminded herself that Danu was a well respected and trusted warrior. Telling her had to be a better course of action then worrying Gabrielle.
"Is she up again?"
"What post did she relieve?"
"Mine. I was at the Northern Gate."
"Did she look all right?" Her concern was obvious.
"Same as usual. I'm not as good at picking up on her moods as you are!" Eponin raised her eyebrow but Danu just ignored her. She had suspected Danu's feelings for the Princess for some time. But there would be no confirmation tonight, Danu was to busy dressing.
"Anyway," Eponin yawned. "I'm tired. I'm going to bed."
Sorrow was starring up at the sky when Danu approached.
"I didn't think you were on duty again tonight?" She announced her approach.
"I wasn't. Eponin was tired."
"And you're not?" Having moved closer, Danu couldn't resist reaching out to touch Sorrow's arm.
The first time Danu had dared to touch her she'd been surprised by how human her flesh felt. Not that she'd expected it to feel different But because she couldn't believe how more human than her own it seemed. Somehow softer. Somehow warmer. Even more alarming had been her own reaction. She'd been hard pressed to explain the sudden blush in her cheeks.
"No, I'm not tired. I don't need that much sleep." Sorrow repeated the same feeble response.
"Oh, all right. Since you're so convincing!" Danu sat down to lean against the gate. Sorrow sat down beside her.
"All right, maybe that's not the real reason." She didn't know why she was admitting this.
"Why don't you tell me what is then?"
'Go ahead tell her, demon. Tell her of the horrible things you see when you're asleep. Tell her that your father's coming back. Tell her what he'll make you do!" An angry voice rattled inside her head.
"I've been having nightmares." She finally admitted.
"Sorrow, everyone has nightmares. You just have to remember that they can't hurt you when you're awake." Danu tried to comfort her.
"I know Danu. They just seem so real." Sorrow buried her head in her hands. A small sigh escaped her lips as she began to cry. Danu gathered the Princess into her arms.
"Good morning sleepy head." Xena sat on the edge of the bed and brushed the hair from Gabrielle's eyes.
An inaudible moan answered.
"Half the day is already gone. You've at least got to get up and eat!"
The mention of food brought the pregnant woman to life.
"All I seem to do is eat and sleep," Gabrielle whined as Xena helped her dress. "And I feel as big as a house."
"You are due..." Xena placed her hand on the swollen stomach. "In five, maybe six days by my calculations." She looked up and smiled.
"Stop smiling," Gabrielle teased, as she was lifted to her feet.
"You love this!" Xena laughed. "Eponin's waiting for us in the dining hall. She said the cooks were thankful for the extra time to fix your meal."
"Oh, you're funny Warrior Princess." She couldn't help laughing at her own ravenous appetite. "Lead on!"
"Good morning. You look radiant, my Queen. " Eponin greeted them when they entered.
"She does, doesn't she?" Xena placed a quick kiss on Gabrielle's lips.
Once the meal was finished, Gabrielle felt in a better mood.
"Hey, why aren't you in bed? You had guard duty last night."
"I was relieved by a friend." Eponin choked out the words. 'Good cover!' She thought.
"Who? I thought you got stuck with it because everyone else was busy?" Even with the pregnancy, she'd made a point of keeping on top of all Amazon business. After all she was still the Queen.
"Sorrow. She said she couldn't sleep."
"'Is there something wrong?" The mother in Gabrielle rose to the surface.
"Not that I know of. She said something about not needing as much sleep as the rest of us." Eponin tried to keep true to the events and not give in to any of her own concerns.It was obvious from Gabrielle's face that she'd enough of her own.
After eating, the happy couple returned home. Once she was relaxing in her favorite chair, Gabrielle's worrying got the better of her
"Xena, would you be a dear and go find Sorrow for me?"
"I would do anything for you. You know that..." Xena came up behind to massage her shoulders.
"I think you're worrying about nothing here. So Sorrow's been taking a few extra night duties. She's got a lot more stamina then the rest of us." She worked her hands over the knots in Gabrielle's shoulders.
"I know, I just want to talk to her. I'll be so busy when the baby arrives. I just want to spend as much time with her as I can." Clasping her hands over Xena's, she pulled the warrior closer.
"If you keep that up I won't get anywhere." Xena placed a kiss on the top of her head. "Back in a flash."
Xena found Sorrow in the practice field.
'Something must be wrong!' She thought, finding Sorrow hacking at a tree with her claws.
Sorrow was very careful to stay in her human form as much as possible.
"Hey, you all right?" Xena was still far away when she spoke. She knew how she was when she was upset. Nothing good could come out of startling Sorrow.
"Yeah. Just working off some excess energy." Sorrow took one last swipe and the battered tree fell. "You need any firewood at the house?"
"No, we've got plenty." Xena normally wouldn't have pushed. But with Gabrielle already worried, she needed to find out what was going on. "Come on something's bothering you." Xena sat down in the grass.
"Did Danu tell you?" Sorrow asked, sitting down abruptly.
"Well, I gleaned a little from her." Xena made a mental note to track down the archer and get some answers.
"Look it's not a big deal. Everybody has trouble sleeping sometimes." Sorrow knew by the look on her face that Xena didn't know as much as she'd originally thought.
"Happens all the time. Ask your mother, I toss and turn all night sometimes. Too many memories from my past."
Sorrow almost reminded the warrior not to sleep on her back. She caught herself in time, realizing how uncomfortable Xena would become. The warrior was obviously reaching out to her. A difficult act for the woman. Sorrow had to give her something.
"There is something you could give me some advice on." Sorrow picked at the grass beneath her hands.
"Sure, your mother had molded me into a very good listener." Xena fiddled with the laces of her boot.
"What do you do when somebody likes you?" Sorrow figured this question would send the stoic warrior running.
Xena gulped hard.
'Get a grip on yourself. You should be excited that she's trusting you with this. Don't mess it up.' Gabrielle's voice shot into her head.
"It all depends. Do you like this person as well?"
"That's even more confusing." Sorrow's head fell back. "Do I have a right to? Being what I am?" She looked straight at Xena.
"Oh course you do. Have you tried to hide what you are from this person?"
"No, she's seen it all. That's what I don't understand. How can she feel this way?"
'So it's a she.' Xena had figured as much, but hadn't wanted to assume. 'Come on Gabrielle help me with this.' Her mind silently pleaded with the bard.
"She must be very special then. She's not letting herself be blinded by a fear of the unknown. I can't blame her, you're very beautiful." The words came easily to her now, even without Gabrielle's guidance. Xena spoke as a mother would. Secretly hoping that Sorrow would see her as that.
"No I'm not." Sorrow ran her hands through her hair. "This is all an illusion."
"That's where you're wrong. This is who you are on the inside." She paused to let the words sink in. "I know this must be hard for you. After all the horrible things I have done, I used to think I couldn't possible deserve your mother's love. You have to trust the person who loves you. Trust Danu, she sees who you are more clearly than you do."
"How did you know?" Sorrow asked amazed. Had her feelings been that transparent?
"She had feelings for you long before you even met." Xena remembered the conversation Gabrielle had described. "She risked the condemnation of the entire village when she asked them to accept you. You captured her heart long ago."
Sorrow had never seen this and the insight brought new revelations. Danu did have feelings for her. Dare she hope, even loved her.
"What do I do then? This is all new to me."
"The best advice I can give is to just let things happen. Always speak with your heart and when you feel an awkward moment and you think it's time to lay your feelings on the line... Do it!" Xena rose to her feet and offered her hand to help Sorrow up.
"Thanks, I hope I can find the courage."
"You will. Now come on, your mother sent me to get you. She's probably worried to death by now."
"You won't tell her about our talk, will you?"
Xena clenched her jaw. Sorrow must know that she could keep nothing from the bard.
"Well, at least don't tell her until I'm gone. I don't want her getting all mushy and weird. She'd probably try to read me another one of those thirty ways to please an Amazon scrolls." Xena started to laugh at Sorrow's discomfort. "How would you feel if your mother tried to read you one of those?" Sorrow turned the question back at the warrior, who fell very quite.
"Good afternoon, Mother." Sorrow came in to find Gabrielle still sitting in front of the fire. She went straight to her and kissed her on the cheek.
"Hello little sister." She looked down at her mother's stomach and smiled.
Gabrielle breathed a sigh of relief. Xena had been gone for a candlemark and her worry had grown with each passing moment.
"Mission Accomplished, my Queen." Xena bent down and gave her a kiss. "Would you like some tea?"
"I'd love some." Finally speaking, the bard shook of the strange feeling that had entered the room with the two women. It was not a bad feeling but she could not put her finger on it.
"What have you been up to today?" She asked her daughter as Sorrow settled into the seat across from her.
"Got a little exercise, chopped some firewood and had a long talk with Xena."
Gabrielle shot an inquisitive look at the warrior as she was handed her tea. A quick raise of the eyebrows told the bard something very important had transpired without her.
"What did you two talk about?" She tried to act nonchalant. "If I'm allowed in on the conversation, that is."
"I'm sworn to secrecy," Xena mumbled into her tea.
"No you're not! I just don't want to be here when you tell her." Sorrow regretted the words immediately, seeing the hurt look on her mother's face. "Mother, it's not that I don't want to tell you myself. But I've already bared my soul once today and your opinion on the subject would have been biased. Being my mother and all. Besides, I didn't want to worry you. You're so close to your due date."
"Worry me?" She didn't like the sound of this. The look on Xena's face calmed her fears. "All right, I won't worry. I'm just happy you spoke with Xena."
"She was very helpful." Sorrow and Xena exchanged a short glance that to many would have seemed like nothing. But the small gesture spoke volumes to the bard.
'What did you two talk about?' She tried desperately to think of an answer.
"I have to go run an errand." Xena stood, having finished her tea. "Do you need anything?"
Gabrielle shook her head.
"I'll stay until you get back." Sorrow stood as Xena exited.
'What is going on here?' She could hardly wait to be alone with the warrior and get some answers.
Danu sat throwing small pebbles into the river. In her mind, she replayed the events of the night before. If she could only figure out what she could have done differently. Sorrow's tears had been violent, but brief. Their ending as sudden as their beginning. Danu had been wounded when Sorrow practically jumped out of her embrace. A thick veil of silence had fallen between them then. More confusing to the archer, was why when she'd asked Sorrow if she should leave. She'd been begged to stay. They had sat in an uncomfortable silence on the ground, until dawn. Deep within these thoughts, she didn't hear Xena approach.
"Hello." Xena couldn't believe she had still startled the woman. She had made a uncharacteristically noisy approach.
"Your Highness." Danu jumped to her feet. "I'm sorry, I was just leaving."
"Please don't leave on my account." Xena did her best to sound friendly. " Actually, I've been looking for you."
"Danu, right?" A nod came in response. "You're a close friend of Sorrow's?"
'A close friend!' Her mind could hardly believe that Sorrow found her important enough to mention to Xena. 'Only a close friend.' Meaning that Sorrow did not see her as anything else. Her heart sank with disappointment.
"Yes," she answered in a dull voice.
Xena easily read the gamut of emotions as they crossed the woman's face. 'Oh, she's got it bad.'
"I was wondering if you could help me put the Queen's mind at ease."
"She's worried about Sorrow. We just found out that she hasn't been sleeping very well. But you already knew about that?" Xena could see Danu was nervous. She'd have to glean any insight she could without making the woman feel that she was betraying Sorrow's confidence.
"It's been going on for a little while now. " Danu lobbed a small rock into the river.
"You don't know if there is anything we can do to help her?"
"I don't know what we could do. She's been having terrible nightmares."
The word caused Xena to shudder inside. For years she'd been plagued by her own nightmares. Only the comfort of Gabrielle love had caused them to finally cease.
"She won't tell me what they're about. She's absolutely terrified of them." Danu continued without further encouragement. "What ever they're about, they seem to haunt her long after she wakes up." Danu refused to tell Xena that Sorrow had cried. She wouldn't do that kind of damage to Sorrow's pride.
"I guess we'll just have to wait and see how things go." Xena stressed the 'we', in an attempt to win the archer's confidence. "Danu she really needs your support and understanding right now."
"I'd do anything to help her."
The warrior knew she meant these words whole-heartedly.
"I'm glad to know that."
"I've been incredibly patient. Tell me what you talked about with Sorrow." Gabrielle eased herself into bed beside Xena.
"I thought you'd forgotten," the warrior spoke through a deep yawn. "Too tired, I'll tell you in the morning."
"Oh no you don't!"
Xena was startled by the bard's warm hand running down her side, lightly tickling her.
"O.K.!" She clasped the hand and slid closer to its owner. "Your daughter is in love." She dropped the news bluntly.
"A certain fair haired archer. Who I am quite sure is smitten with your daughter as well." Xena enjoyed the moment, realizing she knew more than her partner about this sensitive issue and it was driving Gabrielle crazy.
"Danu! I knew it. I had no idea that Sorrow felt the same."
"That's where she's having a bit of trouble. This is awkward for her. She's not sure if she has the right to be loved because of who she is."
"Did you tell her that wasn't true!"
"No, I told her she was hideous and she should go crawl under a rock." Xena laughed at her lover's lack of amusement. "Of course I told her she deserved Danu's love. I handled myself very well, if I say so myself. You would have been very proud. I almost froze at first but I got a hold of myself and performed magnificently."
"So you have been listening all these years." She moved as close as her stomach would allow.
"To every single word," Xena whispered, placing a trail of soft kisses on her shoulder.
"So, what's she going to do?"
"She is going to take her time and be true to what's in her heart." Xena starred into the eyes she loved. "Remember how awkward and nervous you were with your first love."
"I don't know," the answer was soft. "How awkward and nervous was I?"
"Your sister!" Xena carefully handed the bundled baby to Sorrow.
She couldn't believe this. Her baby sister was finally here. Perfect and healthy. Just as she had known she would be. Bending her head down, she placed a light kiss on the newborn's forehead.
"I will love and protect you always."
The words had barely left her lips when the laughing began. A familiar deep sinister voice.
Staring down at the baby, she couldn't believe her eyes. Small horns emerged from the very spot where she had kissed. The laughing grew louder. Flames shot up from the floor and engulfed them. Then his voice, the one she could never forget.
"That's Daddy's good little girl. Bring the baby, as I instructed."
"AHHHHHH!!!" Sorrow awoke screaming. 'Just a nightmare.' She reassured herself. 'Not real, not real!'
She fumbled to light a candle. Anything to displace the darkness around her. The last four nights in a row she'd been plagued by the dreaded images. Tonight's nightmare was far more vivid. The smell of the smoke still hung in her nostrils. The laughter still echoed in her ears.
"I wonder what lucky Amazon will be relieved from guard duty tonight?" She mumbled to herself as she dressed.
Sorrow stepped out of her hut and smacked into Danu.
"Not tonight," the archer spoke sternly, tilting her head up to look the slightly taller woman in the eye. "Get back in there!"
Since her conversation with Xena, Danu had started a nightly patrol around Sorrow's hut. For the last three nights she had lurked in the shadows. Watching helplessly as a shaky Sorrow would emerge and find some duty to perform. Hearing her scream Danu could not bear any longer to just watch.
"What are you doing up?" Sorrow asked startled, as she was physically shoved back inside. Danu's house was to far away for her to have heard the screams.
"I've been worrying myself silly over you. That's what I'm doing up." Danu felt bold. It may have been the lack of sleep or the worry. She really didn't care what motivated her, she was just going with it.
"Danu, I'm fine!" Sorrow went red with embarrassment.
"Really? Screaming yourself awake is not a sign of being fine," she said, softening her tone. "You don't have to tell me what the nightmares are about. We don't have to say another word all night. I'm going to stay here and you're going to get some sleep." She pulled a chair beside the head of Sorrow's bed. "This way you'll know you're safe. So into bed!"
Sorrow climbed obediently under the blanket. Positioning herself on the edge closest to Danu. From that distance she could feel the warmth coming off the archer's skin in contrast to the cool night air.
"Close your eyes, I won't let anything harm you. The moment you fall into the nightmare, I'll wake you up. I promise."
The soft melodic voice, coupled with the light rhythmic brushing of Danu's fingers through her hair relaxed Sorrow instantly.
"Thank you," she mumbled the words as she fell into a dreamless sleep.
'Anything for you.' Danu thought as she continued to stroke Sorrow's hair. 'I'll do this every night until the end of time if you need me to."
Sorrow awoke with the dawn. The light weight of Danu's hand on her head was such a comfort that she hated getting up. Unfortunately, she had promised to take some of the youngster's out hunting and she was already late. Opening her eyes, she smiled to see the archer still sitting in the chair sound asleep. Slipping out from under the hand, Sorrow gently picked up the sleeping woman and placed her on the bed. She tucked her in and sat for a moment to watch. She wanted so much to wake the archer and tell her everything. Beg for her love and finally admit her own. But she knew the time for honesty hadn't yet arrived. Too much uncertainty loomed. Silently, she left.<
Sorrow arrived back late into the afternoon. What the young hunters had lacked in skill, they'd made up for in enthusiasm. None of them would leave the forest until somebody killed something. Sorrow had conveniently tracked a deer and sent it across their path. She'd been afraid they'd miss it but one of the girls managed to bring the animal down. After a quick lesson in field dressing game, she marched them all back to the village with their trophy.
Her heart secretly hoped that that Danu would still be there when she returned. Her mind was being more realistic. Knowing it had been hours since she'd left and that the archer had patrol duty that afternoon. A small note sat on the bed, assuring her she hadn't been forgotten.
"Dear Sorrow," she read the note. "Sorry I fell asleep. I promise I'll do better tonight. See you at dusk. No arguments please. Danu."
The simple words caused goose bumps to raise on her skin. The comfort of having the chance to sleep without being plagued by the nightmares was only outweighed by the anticipation of having the archer looking over her for another night.
"You won't believe what Eponin told me." Xena arrived home from the practice field.
"What?" Gabrielle looked up from her scroll.
"A certain archer was seen emerging from a certain Princess' hut this morning." Xena smiled wickedly as she washed her hands.
"Really?" Gabrielle started to get up, prompting Xena to rush over and help her to her feet.
"Don't get too excited. I also know that Sorrow left at dawn to take some of the youngsters on a training hunt. So no-one really knows what's going on."
"Oh, that's strange. Maybe you should have another talk with her?" The bard spread the charm on thick.
"No, not me." The warrior put up her hands in surrender. "One heart to heart chat a year. That's my limit. Besides if you're so curious... go ask her yourself."
The next few days passed uneventfully. Gabrielle felt more uncomfortable every minute. Starting to believe that labour couldn't be much more painful than her current state.
Every night Danu kept her vigil at Sorrow's bedside. Holding the nightmares at bay. The village hummed with rumors about the young couple. Neither of them cared to explain the strange sleeping arrangement. Both of them were happy to take any shred of closeness they could get. Not realizing the other felt the same.
It was a bright morning on the practice field. Sorrow was teaching advanced staff techniques to a small group of warriors. Xena went over the basics of sword handling with a younger group.
Sorrow was sparring with one of her more capable students when the screech shattered her mind. Everyone figured her opponent had the match as the staff swung down at her head. Instinctually her hand shot up and caught the weapon, just before it made contact. When she realized what she was hearing she almost fainted.
"Class dismissed!" She released her hold on the staff and broke into a run.
Xena turned to see Sorrow running, all out, towards her. Before she could even question, Sorrow called out to her.
"It's time?" the stunned warrior repeated the words to herself. The meaning of the phrase made sense suddenly and she broke out in a run as well.
Xena arrived at the house first, finding Ephiny on the front porch.
"It's time?" The warrior begged for confirmation.
"Yes. How did you know? I didn't get a chance to send anyone to find you." Ephiny knew her answer as Sorrow arrived seconds later. "Get in there!" The Regent motioned to the Queen's frozen consort.
"I'm here!" Having finally found her legs again, Xena burst into the bedroom. "Are you all right?" She tried to focus, but 'The baby is coming! The baby is coming!' kept running through her mind.
"Calm down." Gabrielle reclined on the bed, propped up on pillows. "Take off your armor and come sit by me." She patted the bed beside her.
Xena couldn't believe how calm the bard was or how anxious she was. She quickly stripped down to her leathers and crawled up onto the bed. "Do you want anything?"
"I just want you to stay here beside me." Gabrielle took the warrior's shaking hand in her own.
"I'm not going anywhere." Xena watched the next contraction started. The bard handled it considerably better than her hand.
"I hear there's a baby coming." Oxin, the healer, walked in smiling. "How are you doing my Queen?"
"Fine, under the circumstances." The contraction had subsided and the bard became calm again.
"Good! Let's she how far along you are?" Oxin, checked her patient and began to unpack supplies. A few moments later another contraction came.
"This baby is in a hurry." Oxin looked up at them from the bottom of the bed. "It shouldn't be long."
Outside Ephiny and Sorrow paced back and forth in front of the house.
"How long does this normally take?" Sorrow had never felt so tense.
"Can never tell, sometimes hours, sometimes longer." Ephiny stopped pacing and sat on the porch steps. Seeing Sorrow's clenched fists, she pitied her. "Sit down Princess. If you have a heart attack your mother will kill me." Sorrow relaxed her hands and did as she was told. "Childbirth is a completely natural event," Ephiny said, trying to offer some comfort. Everything will be fine! You really are a worrier, aren't you?" The Regent was surprised by her observation. She constantly found herself surprised by just how human Sorrow was.
"Me worry?" her voice was tight. She wanted desperately to share the source of her concern. The little voice inside her head was high and scared. No matter how she tried, Sorrow couldn't block it out. She knew these were thoughts she wasn't really meant to share, but the baby didn't realize what she was doing. 'Hold on little one. Sssssshh.' Sorrow sent calming words to her sister. In an attempt to ease the child's pain, as well as her own, she started to softly sing.
"Push Gabrielle." Xena was positioned behind the bard, holding her up. The small woman bore down and attempted to follow her instructions.
"Very good, your Highness." Oxin was very pleased with the baby's progress. "Wait for the next one then push as hard as you can."
"I'll try," she answered weakly. Xena wiped her forehead with a damp cloth.
"I can see the head." The healer reached for some bandages. "Keep pushing."
"You have a beautiful healthy girl." A short time later, Oxin held the new Princess up for her parents to see. The child was lowered into Gabrielle's loving arms. She held the newborn close. Xena held tightly onto both of them. Leaning closer to look at the baby.
"She's beautiful," they spoke in unison.
Oxin emerged from the house soon after. Ephiny and Sorrow stood dumbfounded, waiting for the woman to speak.
"They're both fine. The nation has a beautiful new Princess." Her captive audience breathed a sigh of relief. "They want some time alone. Xena said she'd come out to get you soon."
"I think we finally have someone to rival your beauty." Gabrielle watched Xena, who was captivated by the baby.
"My beauty...she has your eyes." The warrior stared at her daughter. "Have you chose a name?" Early in the pregnancy she'd asked Gabrielle to name the baby. Confident that the bard had a flair for such things.
Xena thought for a second. "Madalene..." She repeated the name, loving how it sounded.
"Sorrow, there's someone who'd like to meet you." Xena poked her head out through the front door.
"Really? You don't want to be alone for awhile longer?" She shuffled in place.
"Get in here!" The warrior was playfully stern.
Sorrow used all of her concentration to put one foot in front of the other. This was the moment of truth. The moment that had haunted her nights.
Once inside the bedroom she watched as Xena gathered up the bundled child from the bed and walked towards Sorrow.
"This is your big sister Sorrow," Xena spoke gently. "Sorrow, this is your sister Madalene."
The baby fit snugly into her arms. Taking a deep breath, she opened her eyes. Instantly all of her apprehension and fear melted away. Tiny bright green eyes looked up at her.
"I will love you and protect you always." Sorrow placed a gentle kiss on the soft forehead.
Starring at Madalene, Sorrow realized that the moment had passed. The nightmare had not come true. She passed the Princess back to Xena.
"Mother, she's..." Sorrow moved to kneel next the bed.
"I know, I know." Gabrielle placed her hand on Sorrow's cheek.
"I'll never let anything happen to her. I'll give my life for her."
"You are her protector. I know how far you'll go to keep her safe." Gabrielle leaned down to hug her. "Let's hope it never comes to that." The Queen didn't know where those words had come from, but for a brief fleeting moment she was filled with dread.
With both the baby and mother sleeping peacefully, Xena had moved to sit by the fireplace in the main room. The tranquillity of her thoughts was soon broken when the hair on the back of her neck stood up.
"What do you want Ares?" Her voice was angry. How dare he disturb her now.
"How do you do that?" The God of War appeared in the chair next to her.
Xena starred coldly through him. He shuddered from the glare.
"Relax Xena, I've only come to offer my congratulations. I hear you and what's her name finally had a kid." Ares smiled widely.
"Ares, I'm only going to ask this one more time. What do you want?" She knew damned well he knew the bard's name.
"Actually I came because I'm quite concerned about the safety of the new arrival." Area leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees.
"If you ever try to harm one hair on her head!" Xena leapt up and grabbed him by the throat, lifting him out of the chair. He raised his hands in submission.
"Not me! I wouldn't dare." He choked the words out. She threw him back down.
"I'll ignore that, since you're under so much strain." He rubbed his throat. "But do it again and I won't tell you anything about your enemy."
"What enemy?" Xena decided to take his bait. She needed to know if there was real threat to Madalene or if Ares was just being his usual lying self.
"One very close to you is planning to kidnap your child and sacrifice her." Ares let the words sink in. "Even you will be helpless to stop it once she's taken outside the Amazon borders. To save her, you must prevent the kidnapping. It's her only hope."
Xena compiled a list of those within the nation that opposed her. She couldn't think of anyone who would be ruthless enough to use the baby against her.
"This is not about getting revenge on you!" Ares leaned back. Anticipating her next thought he continued. "Or the Queen."
"Then why?" She tried to keep her growing alarm in check.
"Madalene possesses a great power."
"Power?" Madalene's sweet face filled her head.
"I can't explain why she had it or even what it is. Except to say look at who her sister is." Ares taunted her now, manipulating the warrior's thoughts.
"Sorrow. What does she have to do with this?"
"Everything!" He was laughing inside. "Did you know that she's been using her thought's to talk to the baby?" He raised an eyebrow. "And that in her own way, Madalene talks back."
"So! What harm could that cause? Sorrow can talk with all of us that way." She concealed her discomfort.
"Why didn't she tell you about it then?" He planted the seed of doubt so subtly in her mind. Standing up, he walked closer to the fire. "Why didn't she tell you about the visions she's been having?" He turned quickly to see her reaction.
"Visions of what?"
He had her. He could barely believe how easy it had been. 'Just a little farther Xena.' He thought preparing to reel in his catch.
"How come you never asked me who would kidnap the baby?" He changed her focus again. Leaving the issue of the visions to smolder in the back of her mind.
"Because you'd lie." She was growing tired of his games. Madalene wasn't even a day old and already a great danger was lurking over her.
"True, but this time I will answer you honestly. I have a personal stake in this. I can't let your enemies win." He smiled at her for a moment before letting his lips curl down into a frown. "And I don't want you to lose her as you did Solan."
'His head is on the line. Good!' She thought, trying not to let the memory of Solan's death influence her.
"Who?" She gave in and asked the question.
"The Protector of the Amazon's! Her own sister." Ares drove the words down, slicing into Xena's soul. "Sorrow will take Madalene and sacrifice her to Dahak."
"Why should I believe you?" She asked, fearing the hate that blossomed inside her. Her failure to act had allowed Hope to murder Solan. Could she live with herself if she made the same mistake again?
"I don't expect you to believe me. Go confront her yourself. Ask her why she didn't tell you she was talking to the baby. Ask her about the visions. Make up your own mind." He took a step closer to her. "But be warned Warrior Princess. This will be your only chance to save your child's life. We all know that Sorrow can span mountains in an instant. Once she takes the baby you'll never be able to find them. Madalene will die!" Feeling his work was done, the God of War disappeared.
Xena's mind reeled. She looked at the door to the bedroom. She needed answers.
Sorrow had met Danu in the empty practice field. The archer had listened carefully as Sorrow revealed the content of her nightmares.
"But it didn't happen!" Sorrow exclaimed, feeling light inside.
"Of course it didn't." Danu took her hand. "You could never hurt Madalene. You shouldn't have doubted yourself. I never would."
Sorrow shivered from the touch. Turning to look at Danu, she was taken aback by what she saw. The sparkle in the archer's brown eyes, alluded to the trust and love hidden within her heart. As the moments passed, Danu realized that she would have to make the first move. Sorrow's inexperience and obvious nervousness would hold her back. She just wasn't sure how to start without scaring Sorrow to death. She took a step closer and clasped Sorrow's other hand.
"May I kiss you, my Princess?"
The words were soft and unthreatening. Her own voice was lost, so she gave a small nod of agreement. Slowly Danu moved closer as Sorrow bent her head down and closed her eyes.
"SORROW! We need to talk!" Xena's booming voice shattered the silence.
Startled, Sorrow backed away from Danu and turned toward the approaching warrior.
"What's wrong?" She reached back to secure Danu tightly behind her. She didn't like the look on Xena's face.
"You need to tell me everything. Right now!" Xena stopped a short distance away, her legs apart ready to pounce if she didn't like what she heard.
"Everything about what?" Sorrow head was swimming from the emotion's stirred up by Danu's touch and she fought to understand. The only possible answer finally came. "Who told you?"
"You should have!" Xena's hand hovered over her chakram. Artemis' words echoed through her head, 'an extraordinary effort to kill her'. "Why did you hide that you could use your thoughts to talk to the baby?"
"Because I know how uneasy it makes you. She doesn't know that she's doing it. She'll grow out of it soon. I just tell her how much we all love her and sing to her sometimes."
"How do I know that's all you tell her?" Xena swung her doubt as swiftly as her sword.
"Why would I lie to you?"
"Because you've been keeping other secrets. Why don't you tell me about the visions?" She cracked her neck loudly in an attempt to retain her fragile composure.
"Visions?" Sorrow scanned Xena's face for a clue.
"I think she means the nightmares," Danu's scared voice came from behind her. The archer was petrified. It was easy to see that Xena wanted Sorrow's blood and she cursed herself for not having brought her bow. Her heart knew that Sorrow would never harm the warrior, even to defend herself. If Xena couldn't be stopped...she couldn't think of the consequences.
"Nightmares, visions...whatever!" Xena was so consumed by anger that the difference between these two words didn't exist for her.
"It starts when you hand me the baby..." Sorrow knew she couldn't stall Xena any longer. "I look down at her. Tell her that I love her. Tell her I'll always protect her. I give her a kiss on the forehead. Horrible laughter fills the room. Flames come up around us and horns emerge from her head." She could see the rage building in the warrior's eyes. "But it didn't happen. None of it did. It was only a stupid nightmare. I would never let anyone hurt her. You must believe me!" She took a tentative step towards Xena, pushing Danu back at the same time. She had hoped Danu would run away. The archer stayed fixed in the same spot.
"Who must you protect her from?"
Sorrow knew the answer would seal her fate. 'If this is what I must do for you to be safe Madalene, so be it. Forgive your mother, she only does this out of love for you.' She sent the silent words to her sleeping sister. Turning to look at Danu one last time, she spoke.
The single word was answered by the sound of Xena's chakram slicing through the air. The weapon sank deep into Sorrow's side. Although dazed by the extreme pain, she pulled it out and threw it aside.
"Why are you doing this?" Danu screamed as she put her hand on the deep wound. Trying to slow the blood that gushed from Sorrow's side.
"Ares told me everything. I won't let you sacrifice her to Dahak." Xena drew her sword and attacked. Danu stood unarmed to defend her love. Annoyed by the distraction, Xena replaced her sword as she blocked the Amazon's punches.
"Danu I don't want to hurt you." One last kick she sent the archer flying out of the way.
'Father's here!' The idea caused more agony than the pain in her side. 'Must protect Madalene!'
Xena was on top of her. Rolling away Sorrow leapt to her feet and unsheathed her sword.
"Xena stop!" Her words were cut short by the warrior's attack. Danu watched dazed as Xena executed strike after strike, that Sorrow desperately blocked. The wound in her side was slowing her down considerably.
"This is what he wants," She pleaded, trying to use what little breath she had to speak. "If you kill me then there is no one to stop him."
Xena didn't listen, she didn't want to. Her mind was completely focused on the task at hand. Killing Sorrow. A crushing slice sent Sorrow's sword flying from her hands. Dropping down, Xena knocked Sorrow to her knees with a sweeping kick. Raising her sword for the fatal blow... The air was shattered by the sounds of Gabrielle's screams. Xena turned to look towards the village and saw the Queen trying to run towards them.
"He took Madalene!" Her voice was a high screech. "Ares took her!"
The world inside Xena's head came crashing down. She'd played right into his hands. Ares had wanted all of this to happen. Once she had been distracted, there'd been no one to stop him from taking the baby. And if Sorrow was dead? She felt nauseated by what she had almost done. Ares had known Sorrow would not fight back and eventually the warrior would have won. Sorrow's strength was the one thing that could pose a problem to him.
'Damn!' She cursed her own stupidity.
"What's going on?" Gabrielle watched as Xena sheathed her sword.
A few feet away, Danu was back on her feet holding Xena's chakram.
"My Queen, she tried to kill the Princess!" Danu held the bloody weapon up for her to see.
"Ares told me she was going to sacrifice Madalene to Dahak. I had to stop her." Xena tried to explain her desperate actions, fearing Gabrielle would never forgive her.
"She was doing what she thought was right." Sorrow struggled to her feet. "And if that was true, I wouldn't have blamed her for killing me."
"Ares is taking the baby to Dahak?" Gabrielle fought to keep her knees from buckling.
"Yes." Sorrow felt her father's presence now. "We have to hurry!"
"Eponin is assembling the warriors and saddling Argo." The bard could barely think. The idea of such a little baby, her child, in the hands of such an evil creature almost drove her mad.
"No time for that!" Sorrow took the chakram from Danu, letting her hand linger for a heartbeat. There was so much she wanted to say to her, so much left undone. She handed the weapon back to Xena. "It's at least two days to get there by horse. I can get us there in minutes." Her thoughts focused in on Madalene's location. "Do you trust me?"
"Yes, I'm..." Xena tried to apologize.
"And I trust you." Sorrow extended her arm, and Xena shook it quickly. Everything was forgiven with this simple action. "Let's go."
"I'm coming!" Gabrielle stepped between them.
"No you're not, you're still weak..." The warrior stopped when she saw the look on her face. There would be no argument.
"One of you on each side. Grasp your arms around my neck." Sorrow instructed them. "Link your legs around mine and hold on." She wrapped her arms around their waists, released her wings and took to the air.
Danu watched as her winged love soared out of view.
"Please come back to me." She hoped that somehow Sorrow would hear her.
True to her word, Sorrow returned them to Earth only moments later. The flight had been fast and the wind almost unbearable. Gabrielle's grip had been so tight, she feared she'd choke Sorrow and cause them to plummet out of the sky.
"She's down there." Sorrow pointed towards an opening in the rock face.
"What else is down there?" Her mother's scared voice questioned.
"I know of this place." Xena looked around to get her bearings. "A maze of caverns runs under most of this forest. Ares had a temple built in one of the main halls."
With Sorrow leading, they entered the cave. Up ahead a bright light was trying to break the darkness. They headed toward it.
'Four guards in a small open area ahead.' Sorrow sent the words straight into their minds. 'I know you hate communicating this way but it's the safest.' She looked back to see Xena nod her approval. 'I'll take the two to the right, you the left.'
The guards didn't know what hit them and were killed quickly. Xena was grateful to finally have someone to release her anger on. Two different routes lead away from the room. The path to the left was small and well lit with torches, the one on the right was large and dark. Sorrow grabbed a torch from the wall and handed it to her mother.
'We take the right,' The words floated into them. 'The left is a trap.'
Moving swiftly, Sorrow led them through the maze of tunnels. Occasionally the passages would widen into rooms. Each time Sorrow would focus her mind in on Madalene's location and choose a new tunnel to follow. More than once they seemed to turn back on themselves, only to end up somewhere completely new. Every step they took put them further and further underground.
"She's close." Sorrow's words broke the silence. Cautiously they proceeded into the room ahead.
"Ares' temple." Xena recognized the God's taste in decorating immediately. The walls of the large square cavern was lined with every sort of weapon imaginable. Across from them, the wall was painted with a bloody battle scene. An enormous stone throne sat against this. A small distance away, to the left of them, two small tunnels led away from the main hall. One of these was blocked by a thick wooden door. In each of the four corners of the room, large fires burned.
Ares and a cloaked figure stood by the throne talking. Neither of them noticed the trio's arrival.
'Go through that door. Follow the main tunnel all the way to the end. You'll find a small room, Madalene's in there. I can't tell if there are any guards.'
Xena and Gabrielle silently moved over and slipped through the partially open door. Already into the tunnel they didn't hear Dahak speak.
"My daughter, I'm so happy you could come." He turned to face his prodigal child.
Xena led Gabrielle down the tunnel. Madalene's cries echoed down to them and they broke into a run. Bursting into the small room at the end, they found two young women attending to the Princess. Both were dressed in crimson robes.
"Get away from her!" Gabrielle firm voice broke the silence.
The attendants turned to reveal monstrous faces. Ricocheting off the nearby wall, the chakram decapitated the first demon. Then smacking off the opposite wall, it beheaded the second before returning to Xena's hand.
"Be careful with that thing." Running to the baby, she chastised the warrior for her choice of weapon in such close quarters.
"Sorry." Xena hugged both the bard and the baby.
"You won't be happy for long. I don't know how you got here but I'm sending you home Father. For good!" Sorrow moved closer.
"Have you forgotten your lessons?" Dahak was disappointed in her. "Did you not feel it when you entered?"
Wait, yes she felt it. The rock around her seemed to throb. As if in excruciating pain. Listening carefully, she could hear the low din of screams hiding behind the silence.Only one place did this.
"How are you doing this? This is not your realm."
"Actually it is." Ares laughed at her. "I have given this room to your father as a gift. It's part of his world now and thus under his rule."
She regretted her lack of attention. She should have felt this before she entered. She should have realized, but now it was too late. When they entered the cavern, they entered her Father's domain. Now his rules applied and he held all the power.
"No matter. I will do as I have vowed." She stood defiantly.
"Yes, Protector!" He openly mocked her new title. "It is time to do your duty. It is time for you to die!" Dahak removed the hood to show a smiling human face.
'Run! Get out!' Sorrow's desperate thought's pierced Xena's mind. 'I've failed. Get out now!'
"We have to go." Drawing her sword, she allowed Gabrielle to wrap the baby in a blanket before hurrying back into the tunnel. "Once you get to the surface, hide in the forest. I have to go help her." Xena motioned towards a nearby passage.
Gabrielle starred into the warrior's blue eyes. She had not heard Sorrow's words. But the gnawing in her chest told her something was wrong.
"Xena if she couldn't stop them, you won't be able to either." She grasped the warrior's sword hand.
"I can't just leave her. Not after what I tried to do. If I hadn't of injured her, she would have had a better chance. I have to help. You understand, don't you?" Xena pleaded.
"I understand. If he isn't destroyed now, then he'll try again." They both looked sadly at their daughter. "I love you!" Her words were filled with panic.
Xena kissed the baby on the forehead, then met her lover's lips.
"As I love you." Pulling away, she motioned for Gabrielle to start down the small tunnel.
Xena approached the open doorway carefully. She couldn't believe how quiet it was. She silently prayed that Sorrow was still alive.
"Praying won't help you here!" Ares appeared behind her and pushed her into the cavern. She regained her balance instantly and turned to meet his attack. She was no match for his strength, but he was no match for her skill. The sword fight filled the cave with the echoes of sharpened steel. Dahak yawned as he watched them fighting. Xena landed a kick to Ares' stomach and sent him crashing to the ground. Dahak decided to bring this to an end.
"Ares stop wasting time!" With a flick of his wrist, Xena flew backwards into the rock wall. She crumbled onto the floor unconscious. Dahak sat impatiently waiting for Ares to stand and brush himself off.
"Why did you do that? I almost had her this time."
"Go retrieve the baby!" He was growing tired of this man's stupidity. His happiness returned when Ares came back into the room dragging Gabrielle by her hair. He cradled Madalene in his other arm
"Very good." With a silent command the baby floated up and over to land in Dahak's arms.
Ripping herself from Ares' grasp, Gabrielle jumped up and charged at Dahak.
"Now, now my little whore." With another flick of his hand she was sent flying to land next to Xena.
"You will give me the world." He rose and placed the baby onto the throne. 'Not a true altar, but it will do.' He thought of the ceremony that would give him his freedom.
The coldness of the rock against her face brought Xena back to consciousness. The first thing she saw was Gabrielle lying motionless beside her. She cradled the fallen woman in her arms. Not knowing how long she'd been unconscious, she feared what may have been done to her.
'At least she's alive.' Her thoughts were happy as the bard's eyelids fluttered for a moment and then opened.
"What's going on?" Gabrielle tried to focus on the face above her. As her vision cleared, she immediately wished it hadn't. Past Xena's loving face, above them on the rock wall, was an unimaginable sight.
In a bizarre crucifixion, numerous swords were driven into Sorrow's white wings. Impaling her several feet off the ground. Her daughter hung from the wings, lifeless. Blood poured down the wall and was pooling near them. Xena followed her horrified stare up the bloody wall.
"Sorrow?" Gabrielle stood and reached out to touch her fallen daughter.
"No, Gabrielle." Xena gently grabbed her hand out of the air and hugged her close.
"Our daughter is beautiful, isn't she?" Dahak's voice caused them to break their embrace and turn around. "She was never very good at obeying me. So you understand why I had to punish her?"
"You'll die for this!" Pure rage welled up inside Xena.
"Once I shed this blood," he looked hungrily at Madalene as he spoke. "I will be invincible and you will be my first converts. Once I consume your soul that is." Dahak raised his arms and a wall of fire encircled the throne. From behind the flames Madalene cried.
"Cut me down." A weak voice demanded.
"You're alive!" Sorrow's opened eyes looked into her mother's.
"Cut me down."
Neither of them moved.
"Cut me down!" The words gained strength with each repetition.
Xena grasped one of the swords and tried to pull it from the rock. Embedded up to the hilt, the warrior couldn't move it.
"I can't!' She cursed her own weakness.
"Use them." Sorrow raised a bloody hand to point at two large battle axes hanging nearby. "Cut off my wings."
"No." The single word escaped her mother's lips. She walked closer to the wall and reached up to hold the bloody hand.
"Please Mother, give me a chance to save her. Cut off my wings." The conviction in her voice did not waver.
Defeated, Xena moved to the wall and took the axes. She handed one to Gabrielle, who struggled with the weight. Guided by a greater good, the blows were swift and true. Sorrow fell mercilessly to the floor. Her beautiful white wings remained nailed to the wall. Raising herself to stand, she retracted the bloody stumps into her back.
"Xena deal with Ares. Mother only get Madalene when it's safe. I will deal with Father." Sorrow didn't ask, she told them. No one thought to argue. Neither of them could believe she was talking, let alone planning to fight Dahak. The teaching of her brutal childhood flooded back to her now. The lonely days left listening to the torment of those her father tortured. She distanced herself from the wall and moved closer to the flames.
"I am Sorrow, daughter of Dahak!" Her voice ricocheted off the walls. "Once banished, I have returned to claim my birthright. I demand the delivery of my legacy." Her arm shot up from her side. The ring of fire was pulled up from the stone and disappeared into her open palm. "I call upon the suffering souls of those my father has consumed. I am the only one who listened to your wailing. The only one to offer you comfort. When I stood as my father's right hand, you were given to me and now I take possession of that gift. I do not ask to rule you, but ask for your help in defeating your oppressor. Hear my call and come to me now. I am the one whose arrival you have waited for. I am the Protector." Her incantation continued in a tongue that only Dahak understood. As she spoke the strange words she transformed into a creature more hideous than she'd ever been before. Here within her realm, the flesh was free to change completely.
The floor and walls of the room began to shake. Small cracks appeared and with each new word split into larger crevices. From deep within the rock flames burst forth, leapt up and drove itself into Sorrow.
"You can't do this!" Dahak challenged her claim. The flames continued to pour out of the rock and into Sorrow.
"Now I will teach you a lesson," Sorrow snarled at him, snapped the last of her spikes into place. Without hesitation, she charged at him. Transforming to his own demon form, Dahak met her attack. The room was filled with the scrapping of claws and crashing of horns. Staring at him, Gabrielle found a small comfort in the fact that even as a demon, Sorrow didn't look like her father. She hoped she'd be get a chance to share this observation with her daughter.
Xena went after Ares. The God of War had been enthralled by Sorrow's display and was caught off guard. Xena hit him with blow after blow, backing him up against the mural. He leaped into the air to escape and retrieved a sword from the wall.
Seeing a clear path to the throne, Gabrielle broke into a run. Madalene's crying stopped the moment she was in her mother's arms. She ran back to the tunnel that would lead her to the surface. She knew she should continue on, get out of this underground maze, but she couldn't leave. Xena was locked in a deadly sword fight with Ares to her right and in the far corner of the room, Sorrow was locked in combat with Dahak.
'Get out now! To finish this I have to destroy this place.' Sorrow sent the words to them both. The room filled with the sound of Dahak wailing. Sorrow had buried the claws of her left hand deep into his throat.
Knowing that the tide had turned, Ares flashed a quick smile and disappeared. Xena spun around to make sure he didn't plan to attack again. Watching Sorrow lift Dahak up and smash him down into the stone throne. She knew Ares had fled for good. She moved quickly to join Gabrielle at the tunnel. Taking the baby in her arms, they ran.
Her father lay across the crushed throne, broken and bleeding. True to his own teaching, Sorrow had torn most of his throat away. Leaving him weak and helpless.
"Now your reign will end!" Sorrow, speaking in her father's tongue, raised her right hand above her head. "All of your power is mine to command." She drove her fist deep into his chest. "I claim possession of this weak soul. Within my realm you will suffer for all eternity." A thick dark cloud emerged from the wound and sank down into the stone beneath her feet. She had done it. Dahak was dead. Her father was no more but her task was not yet finished. Exhausted, she fell to her knees and began to speak in the strange tongue of her father's kingdom.
"I command that this place return to where it belongs. By my order, I cast it all back into the darkness and with my death I decree that none of this ever exist again"
"As you wish, Goddess!" the flames hissed their obedience. Slumping down, she let the flames engulf her.
Gabrielle had never been so happy to see the sky. A small distance from the entrance she stopped and turned. For a moment she still had hope that Sorrow had followed them out. That dream quickly faded when the ground beneath them started to shake and break apart.
"The tunnels are collapsing!" Xena caught hold of the bard and forced her farther into the forest. All around them trees disappeared into the earth and giant holes suddenly emerged. They stood huddled together when it ended. The ground all around them had given way and sunk down. Xena didn't know how they had survived. It had not been her skill that had saved them.
'Thank you,' she spoke silently to Sorrow.
"Xena?" Gabrielle was still clutching onto her and the baby. She didn't need to ask the question. The answer was obvious. Sorrow was dead. She started to cry. Xena closed her eyes and held onto the bard.
"Look Gabrielle, we're home." Opening her eyes, Xena was surprised to find them standing in the Amazon practice field.
"I figured it was the least I could do." Artemis stood nearby. "I'm sorry but there was nothing I could do to help. Once Ares gave Dahak reign over the area, I couldn't enter."
Gabrielle nodded, holding Madalene close to her. Xena wasn't surprised. She'd learned long ago not to rely on the Gods for anything.
"What about my daughter?" Gabrielle asked, hoping for a miracle.
"I don't know what to say, she made the ultimate sacrifice." The Goddess could give no comfort to the Amazon Queen.
"Xena, please take me home." She turned, ignoring Artemis. Xena placed a strong arm around her shoulders and they walked away.
Once home, Xena tucked her precious family into bed. Gabrielle was exhausted by the ordeal and numb from her loss. Within the safety of her mother's arms, Madalene fell into a deep sleep.
Xena couldn't rest. On the way back home, they had ran into Solari. Gabrielle had given her a brief explanation and ordered that they should be left alone. Xena knew the Amazon would obey and was pleased to see the members of the royal guard when she stepped outside the house. None of the women dared make eye contact with her. The orders had been clear, the royal family was not to be bothered in any way.
Danu sat on the floor of Sorrow's hut. She'd gone there straight from the field. She didn't even bother to look up when Xena entered. The warrior sat down next to her. The silence lasted a long time. Both of them feared to break it.
"Tell me. Go ahead and make my nightmare real." Danu finally found the courage to speak.
Danu felt as if she would perish from the pain. She struggled to breathe. A small part of her tried to deny it was true.
Xena did her best to describe the events in the cavern. She spared nothing. Knowing that the archer needed to hear it all. Needed to know the sacrifice Sorrow had made.
"There is no chance?"
"No, I don't know how she managed to fight him at all. Nothing could have survived the cave in." Xena's words crushed her last hope. But it was better that way. She could not spend the rest of her life thinking there was a chance.
"You know she loved you very much Danu." She tried to offer the broken woman some sort of comfort.
Gabrielle sat on the front porch staring at the sky. A conflict raged inside her. Today was Madalene's second birthday, a time for happiness and joy. Her little princess had grown so much. But the loss of Sorrow seemed so fresh on this day and the sight of her daughter's crucified wings burned brightly in her mind's eye.
Xena walked up to the porch, Madalene riding on her shoulders. She could tell the bard was suffering silently. She couldn't shake the sadness of this day either. She leaned down to give her love a kiss. Leaning even farther, she allowed her squirming daughter to jump into her mother's arms.
"Hi." Madalene gave her a big hug.
"Hello there, are you ready for your big party?" Gabrielle ran her hand through her daughter's shiny wet black hair.
Danu almost lost her nerve as she watched the happy family. She had stayed very far away from the Royal family for the last two years. She knew they would have welcomed her at any time, but she couldn't bear to see those green eyes. She still wasn't over Sorrow's death and doubted she ever would be. Before anyone noticed she had walked up to the porch steps.
"Queen Gabrielle, may I speak with you please?"
"Oh course." She hadn't noticed the archer's approach. Xena happily retrieved Madalene from her lap and excused herself, carrying the little one inside.
"Please come sit with me." She waited for the woman to sit down. "How are you?"
"Fine and yourself?" Danu voice was tight. She tried not to look the Queen in the face.
"Some days are good, some days I miss her so much I can't stand it."
"I loved her with all my heart," Danu spoke the words before she could stop herself.
"I know, you made her very happy. I've always wanted to thank you for that." Gabrielle embraced her and Danu returned the comfort.
"I have a present for Madalene." Danu finally broke away and picked up the small box she had brought with her. "Sorrow had asked me to keep it for the Princess. I figured she was old enough to have it now."
Gabrielle took the box into her shaking hands.
"You should open it first and decide."
Taking a deep breath, she opened the lid. Lifting the necklace out of the box, her eyes squinted from the sparking light. From a thin gold braided rope hung a single white feather.
"From her wings," Danu choked back the tears. "For protection."
Gabrielle couldn't speak, she didn't dare even try. Her heart had lodged itself firmly in her throat. She barely managed a nod as Danu left. Almost afraid the gift would disappear, she ran her finger lightly over the feather. "I love you Sorrow."
After much trouble, Xena had finally gotten her little Princess dressed for the party. Sitting in the living room, Madalene played at happily at her feet. Turning to see Gabrielle in the doorway, she didn't know what to think. The bard was a deathly white and her cheeks stained from crying.
"It's all right." She tried to reassure the frightened warrior.
"Madalene come sit with me." She moved to sit beside Xena and helped the little one up into her lap. "Someone brought a present for you." She handed the box to Madalene.
Madalene's small hands fumbled to open the lid. Peering inside, she surprised both of them when she gently removed the necklace. Holding the feather up to her cheek, she closed her eyes.
"I luv you Sorow," she whispered to herself.
Neither of her parents could believe what they were hearing. Not one word about her sister had ever been mentioned in Madalene's presence.
Continued in Sorrow's Coronation...
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