In Sorrows Shadow
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.
EXTREME VIOLENCE WARNING/DISCLAIMER: This story depicts scenes of extreme 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 sixth in my Sorrow series and begins about a moon after the fifth story ends. I strongly recommend reading the other stories to understand what is going on in this one. You might find yourself a bit confused if you don't.
TISSUE ALERT: I'm in keeping this in just in case, cause some of the scenes contained in the story are a bit heartbreaking. So, you might want to keep some tissues handy just in case.
FEEDBACK: Any comments would be greatly appreciated.
SPECIAL THANKS: To Alina thank you for beta-reading and your inspiring encouragement. To Gin, thank you for all your creative and personal support, as always you are the "Answer Lady', LRH. To Cheney, thanks for loving Sorrow even more than I do, Cemdus to you LBD, always and forever.
"Mother, it's been over a moon and I haven't forgotten another thing. Stop fussing." Sorrow was slightly annoyed. She couldn't believe her Mother had sent two Royal guards to drag her from the practice field for this of all things. Wasn't it enough that she was worried about this herself?
"You still can't remember anything surrounding Tearnon's challenge or your sister healing Thallia?" Gabrielle stared deep into her daughter's eyes. Hoping to see something within them that might give her some answers.
"No, not a thing." She turned her head to escape the stare. The low throaty groan from her Mother did nothing to make her feel better. "We both know it had something to do with the healing. Whatever Madalene needed me to do knocked out that portion of my memory. But at least it saved Thallia. So it seems worth it."
"I would've preferred Thallia being healed without you losing anything." The bard's brow furrowed. "I'm just worried that there might be consequences that we don't know about yet."
"Do you and Danu get together about these things?" She'd had the same conversation with the archer the day before. "I'm fine. Better than ever." She jokingly posed and flexed her arm muscles.
"Well we both worry about you." Gabrielle swatted her in the shoulder. Hearing that Danu was concerned as well did nothing to make her feel better. "All right, get out of here. I'm done bugging you for now."
"Thanks." Sorrow grabbed the smaller woman in a bear hug and lifted her off the ground. "You want to have lunch together today?" The mumbled response against her shoulder made her laugh. She put the bard back down. "Was that a yes?"
"Yes." Gabrielle smiled at her. "Are you going back to the practice field?" Sorrow nodded. "Say hello to Xena for me."
"Of course. By the way..." Sorrow turned in the doorway and laughed. "She's going to be in a bad mood at lunch today." Gabrielle raised an eyebrow, wondering what her mischievous little daughter had done to the warrior. "I accidentally dropped her in a puddle when we were sparing this morning."
"Accidentally eh?" The bard just laughed at Sorrow's grin. Although at most times watching the Warrior Princess and the Princess spar was a thing of beauty, she knew how dangerous the dance between them was. Her heart always leapt into her throat when one got the better of the other. A mistake could easily be fatal. She did secretly wish she could have seen Xena's face when Sorrow dropped her in the puddle though.
"Mads, what are you doing here?" Thallia turned to see her small friend sneaking into the healer's hut.
"I came to see how you are of course." She laughed at the question. "How do you feel?" She reached a tentative hand out towards the bandages.
"Fine, thanks to you." Thallia engulfed her in a big hug.
"Why'd you step in front of me?" She questioned when they finally parted.
"Since you hadn't had one of your spells about it, I didn't think you knew it was going to happen." Thallia bit her lip. "I had to protect you, you know that."
"I know." The little Princess grabbed her hand. "Your stomach is bothering you isn't it?" All the sick little girl could do was nod, marveling again at Madalene's ability to know how she was feeling even before she did sometimes. "Why don't you go lie down and I'll tell you a story?"
"About the future." Thallia asked hopefully as she was led back to her little bed. "About the adventures you and I have."
"Um huh." Madalene smiled at her.
"My Queen." The Amazon dropped to her knees when she entered the council chamber. Gabrielle sat alone at the head of the table, surprised when the young woman entered
"Yes." She motioned for her to rise.
"A messenger just came with this." She approached quickly and handed the scroll to the Queen. "It's for Xena."
"Thank you." She studied the seal as the Amazon departed, fighting the urge to snap the wax and read the parchment for herself. 'Looks like I get to see her before lunch.' The happy thought came to her suddenly as she got up and headed towards the practice field.
Seeing the bard walking through the field towards her, Xena tried to quell her nasty mood. She couldn't blame Sorrow for dropping her at that particular moment. All was fair in war of course. But she couldn't believe that Sorrow had waited the extra couple of moments in order to drop her in the puddle. The rest of her morning had been wasted thinking up a thousand ways to get back at the Princess
"Xena!" Gabrielle called knowing that the warrior had seen her coming. Waving her hand she waited for her to leave the class and join her.
"Hello." The warrior gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, knowing she was filthy from a morning of sparring. "What's that?" She saw the scroll immediately.
"It's for you. Just delivered." The bard handed it over, studying the warrior's face in hopes that her recognition of the seal might give clues to the writer. As always, Xena's face was emotionless as she read the lengthy message. "Who's it from? It something wrong?"
"It's from someone I knew along time ago." Not really knowing how to explain it all to the Queen she handed over the scroll. Turning away, she squinted against the midday sun, to wonder why this particular hydra from her past had decided to rear its ugly head again.
"By the Gods, do you think this is for real?" Gabrielle's first thought was to question the possibility of it all. "Would Caesar seriously try to conquer Greece again? You'd think he'd be sick of losing by now."
"He's arrogant. He'll keep trying until he succeeds or someone takes him out." Xena turned back.
"But can you trust this..." She looked at the signature at the bottom. "Coldwell. Who is he Xena?"
"He's an old warlord friend." The warrior saw the instant displeasure on the bard's face. "He settled down in later years to found a small town near the border. Rumors are that he's become quite a well respected man."
"So Caesar really is attacking, does that mean you have to ride off and join the fighting?" She could see that Xena's mind was already made up.
"Yes it does." Xena moved to take her hand. "Gabrielle, we both know what he's capable of. I'd rather stop him far from Amazon territory so that I don't have to worry about you or Madalene." She cupped the small woman's chin in her hand. "You know I have to do this. He's just too much of a threat."
"I know. I know." Staring up into those endless blue eyes, Gabrielle promised herself she wouldn't cry. "When are you leaving?"
"First thing tomorrow morning." The warrior embraced her, knowing how much pain she was causing. "Let's go home."
"Hey, you ready for lunch." Sorrow stuck her head inside the door to see her mother sitting in her favorite chair with a scared look on her face. "What's wrong?"
"Caesar is attacking Greece and Xena's been called to help." Gabrielle didn't bother to look up as her daughter moved to stand in front of her. She was still fighting the urge to cry.
"Where is she?" Sorrow soft voice questioned.
"She's at the stable preparing Argo." A blank voice answered.
"I'll be right back." She bent down, so that the bard couldn't avoid looking at her. "Do you need anything?"
"Convince her not to go." The simple plea allowed the tears to mist up in her eyes. "I have such a bad feeling about this. Caesar had done so much to her in the past." She gladly accepted her daughter's loving embrace as she let the tears flow freely.
"Xena?" Sorrow announced her arrival into the barn when the warrior didn't turn around at the sound of the door opening. A slight wave of her hand was the only acknowledgment as Xena continued to brush the mare. "Mother told me. I'm going with you."
"No, your not!" The warrior shook her head as she continued the brushing.
"Yes, I am." The Princess moved closer. "Either I leave with you in the morning and we travel together. Or I fly over there right now. What's it gonna be?"
"You don't know Caesar. I don't want you anywhere near him." She knew her concern about Sorrow was a little misplaced, but she couldn't help having it regardless.
"I have a score to settle with Caesar." Sorrow remembered the devastation that Lady Cassandra had brought to the Amazons with his funding behind her. "But that's not why I want to go."
"Then why?" Xena was interested to know what reason she'd come up with.
"Because you're going into a war zone and I want somebody there whose only real concern is watching your back." She raised an eyebrow at the warrior.
"That would be nice. But you're still not coming." Xena commented before turning to give her the look. Daring Sorrow, with an icy blue stare, to challenger her. She wasn't disappointed.
"Look, I'm going whether you like it or not." She stared back with an intensity few would dare direct at the Warrior Princess. "There is no one here who is a better candidate to go with you. How can you be sure that this Coldwell fellow doesn't want to lure you there in order to hand you over to Caesar?"
"I don't." She continued to stare, part of her was starting to see the benefit of letting Sorrow come with her. "I need you here to protect your Mother and your sister. "
"They have the entire Nation to protect them and if trouble starts I can be back here in no time. But if trouble starts where you are, I won't have enough time to get there." Sorrow hoped the logical nature of her argument might persuade the warrior.
"If you come," She stressed the 'if'. "You are not coming as the Protector. I'm not having Coldwell think he can just send you in to finish the battle alone. You will be going just as Sorrow."
"Not a problem. I prefer it that way." The Princess lied, knowing that if push came to shove she'd gladly reveal that side of herself in order to stop Caesar. "I suggest we don't let anyone even know that I'm a Princess. We don't want anyone thinking they can use it as a bargaining chip."
"Then we leave at dawn. You better get Siko ready." The warrior kept any and all emotion from her face. Sorrow nodded and went to tend to her horse. Xena kept trying to find good reasons why she shouldn't allow her daughter to come. But Sorrow's arguments had been too strong and the warlord in her knew that the Princess' presence would allow much more peace of mind. Finishing up with Argo, she led her faithful horse back to his stall.
"She's a good kid, eh girl?" She whispered to the horse as she filled her feedbag. Argo snorted in agreement. Giving the animal one last pat she left the barn.
"Honey, wake up." Xena arrived home to find the bard asleep in her chair. The stains on her cheeks hurt the warrior more than any sword could.
"Huh? What?" The bard woke up slowly. With a sudden fear she grabbed the warrior. "Is it dawn already? Why didn't you wake me when you got back from the barn?"
"Gabrielle, its only lunch time." She held onto her shaking partner, knowing her next words would cause the bard even more heartache. "There's been a little change in my plans."
"You're not going?" Gabrielle looked at her hopefully, but knew deep down she would be disappointed.
"No, I'm still going. I just have some company now." Xena looked down at her.
"Good. I'll send the whole Amazon army with you if you want." Refusing to look up, she buried her head into the warrior's cheast.
"Sorrow's decided she's going with me." She held on a little tighter.
"If you're letting her go then I'm really worried now." She pulled back a little, forcing herself to stare the warrior in the eye.
"That doesn't mean anything other then I'm better off with Sorrow there to watch my back." Xena gave her best smile to the bard. "You're daughter is the best fighter in the Nation and that's before she even uses any of her special skills."
"You're going to war?" Danu questioned her in a soft voice. She'd been on patrol in the eastern forest when Sorrow had swooped down from the sky and delivered the news.
"I can't let Xena go alone." Sorrow moved closer. "I know you're worried about me losing that chunk of time, but I really am fine."
"You promise me that you'll be careful." The archer dropped her bow onto the ground and grabbed onto the Princess.
"Of course!" She hugged the small woman tightly. "I have the most beautiful bride to come home to. Not even an army full of Romans will keep us from getting married."
"You don't think you'll be home for the wedding?" Danu asked scared by Sorrow's choice of words. Their joining had been planned to occur in two moons time.
"I'll be home long before that." She placed feathery kisses the archer's forehead. "We will be joined, I promise you." She bent down and kissed her full on the lips. "I have something to ask of you while I'm gone."
"Anything?" They stood face to face now, the archer leaning her head up to meet the Princesses eyes.
"Keep an eye on Mother and Madalene for me. Call me if there is any problem at all, no matter how minor. Let me decide whether I should come home." She looked sternly at her fiancée trying to stress how important this was.
"I don't know if I can." The archer felt very useless suddenly. "I've never done it before."
'Why don't you give it a try then?' Sorrow sent the thought so softly into her head that Danu didn't realize the words hadn't been spoken out loud
"I don't want to think about what it would mean if I can't." She buried her face into Sorrow's neck as she spoke.
'Trust me, just try. Open your mind to reach out to mine and then think what you want me to know.' Sorrow soft thoughts came again.
'How could I possibly do that? I'm not in your bloodline, I don't have the gift.' Danu thoughts floated out without her knowing.
'Honey, do you love me?'
'With all my heart, you know that.'
'That's all you need, the rest comes from me. The love inside you let's me tune into you and if you want me to hear your thoughts I will.' Sorrow laughed.
'Why are you laughing?' Danu had felt the sudden movement in the body beneath her.
'Danu, do you realize that you're doing it?' She laughed again.
'I am?' The archer became aware of the difference in her mind.
'And I didn't want to bring it up, but you've done this before.' Sorrow had assumed Danu had known at the time.
'When was this? I can't see me forgetting something like talking with my thoughts.' She questioned.
'You often send me your thoughts when we make love.' The Princess smiled brightly. 'Guess you mind knows you're not quite up for normal talking.'
'I do.' The archer snuggled into her closer. 'I like this, it's like we're connected.'
"Love we are always connected, regardless of that." She used her real voice to make a point. Becoming aroused by the feel of the archer against her, the time they had left before the dawn became precious. 'So, how far is the nearest patrol to us?' She switched back to speaking with her thoughts, wanting to give the archer every bit of closeness she could before the morning.
'Very far away.' The thoughts came as the archer's mouth fixed itself to her neck and gentle hands pushed her towards the forest floor.
"It always amazes me how fast she falls asleep." Xena emerged from Madalene's room shaking her head. "Like mother like daughter." She smiled at the bard standing by the fireplace.
"Was she upset when you told her you were leaving?" Gabrielle asked as the warrior's strong arms wrapped around her waist and held her close.
"A little, but I promised I'd bring her back a gift so she forgave me." She rested her chin on bard's head.
"You spoil her too much." Tightening her own arms around those of her partner's, the Queen let her head drop back to rest against the body behind her.
"Only children always get spoiled." She tried to defend herself, but knew Gabrielle was right. She could refuse her little daughter nothing. She knew part of it stemmed from the guilt she felt over not being there for Solan on a day to day basis.
"Xena?" Her voice was barely a whisper.
"Yes, my love?" The warrior knew that tone and waited patiently for the heavy question to follow.
"Have you every wished we had more children?" Unable to raise the volume of her voice, the question was barely audible.
"Gabrielle, I feel blessed to have Madalene and Sorrow in my life." Xena was careful to include their grown up daughter in the conversation. She wasn't sure what else the bard wanted her to say.
"I know. But do you wish we had more?" Turning in the embrace, the bard moved to look the warrior in the eye.
"Where is this coming from all of a sudden?" Xena asked in a serious tone.
"It's not really all of a sudden. I've been thinking about it on and off for awhile now." Ducking her head down to avoid the gaze of her partner's blue eyes she tried to explain her motivation. "And I kept telling myself one day, when everything calms down, but it never does." Fearfully she looked up. "Now you're going off to fight Caesar again and I'm afraid..." She couldn't bring herself to say those words.
"Gabrielle, nothing is going to happen to me." She hugged the trembling woman a little tighter. "And when I get back you and I will fill this house with children, I promise."
"I love you so much." The queen's tears slid down the leather of the warrior's bodice.
"Please don't cry." Xena could feel the small movements caused by the bard's sobs and felt her heart breaking. 'Why am I always making her cry?' The voice inside her head questioned angrily. 'Does it always have to be you who rides off to save the world, leaving her alone?' Despite her own objects, the warrior knew this was how it had to be. This was who she was and she knew that Gabrielle accepted it. The bard didn't always like it, but her acceptance of it was unconditional. Reaching down, she gently lifted up the bard's face and kissed the tears from her cheeks. "I love you more than anything." Knowing that her words were always lacking, Xena turned to the only mode of expression that ever truly told the bard how she felt. Bringing her lips down slowly, she kissed the woman who owned her heart. Determined to spend this night reaffirming the commitment between them.
"It isn't very reassuring to see you bring extra armor and weapons with you." Danu handed her the dagger and sighed.
"It's just for show." Sorrow stowed the last of her gear in the pack and sat down on the bed. Swinging her legs up she sat cross-legged, mirroring the archer just inches away. "Xena doesn't want anyone knowing I'm the Protector. It will look kind of funny if I walk into battle with nothing but that on and my sword." She motioned to her leathers laid out by the pack. The backless shirt, necessary to release her wings without obstruction, would be a foolish clothing choice for a normal warrior. The short leather skirt allowed for the changes in her legs and hips if a full transformation was necessary. She knew some of the extra armor would be a hindrance but she was confident she could shed it quickly if the need arose.
"I know, I don't find the fact that you're going to try and fight as yourself very reassuring either." Danu hated to admit all the doubt she was feeling.
"Come mere." Sorrow leaned forward and pulled her closer, making it easier for her to pick the archer up and deposit the surprised woman in her lap. "You worry too much, that's my job."
"Sorry, I don't remember agreeing to that." Danu shook her head, causing her blond hair to wave back and forth across Sorrow's face.
"Hmmm, can you think of any way I can convince you not to worry?" Sorrow leaned in to nuzzle the archer's neck.
"Well, if you keep that up you might distract me from worrying for awhile." Danu leaned into the Princess' explorations.
"I wouldn't want to distract you." She pulled away suddenly, but the archer would have none of that. Shifting her weight, Danu caused Sorrow to fall backwards onto the bed.
"Maybe I can distract you from leaving." Moving to straddle the Princess, Danu leaned down over her.
"I'd definitely like you to try." Sorrow gave a low growl.
"Xena honey, what's wrong?" Gabrielle woke to find the warrior turned away from her sitting on the edge of the bed.
"Nothing." She did her best to choke out the word, a little embarrassed that the bard had caught her crying. Feeling the smaller woman stomach pressing against her back, she struggled to regain control of her emotions.
"You feel sick?" Still a bit sleepy, the bard reached around to feel the warrior's forehead. Almost hoping the skin there would be hot so that the warrior would have to postpone her departure. It was by accident that her hand brushed past the woman's tear laden eyelashes.
"No, I'm fine." She responded a moment too late, feeling Gabrielle stiffen when she felt the tears.
"Please tell me what's wrong?" The Queen slipped around to kneel on the floor in front of the warrior.
"It's nothing, it's just..." She didn't know where the power to talk about this was coming from. "Why did you settle for me? You could've had a wonderful stable life with someone who could have given you everything you wanted... why stay with me when all I have is uncertainty? Every time you turn around I'm riding off to save the world again and making you cry. " Remember in an instant every time in the past she had made the bard cry, she buried her head in her hands.
That was the sticking point, Gabrielle saw it immediately. She knew that her warrior couldn't bear to be the cause of her tears. How many times had she cried that day alone? She hated herself for doing this to Xena. After all the poor women had a long journey ahead of her and then a war to face, how could she have been acting so selfish?
"Xena, you are everything to me." The knelling figure moved closer, using her hand to gently guide the warrior's face out of her hands. "Yes, being with you includes a little uncertainty but I willingly accept that. Do you know how proud I am of you every time you ride off to help people? How good it feels to know that with all that you are, you choose to be with me. Just as I choose to be with you." Using the tips of her fingers, she gently wiped the tears from the warrior's cheeks. "I'm sorry I chose such a bad time to discuss having more children. I didn't mean to make this harder on you."
"No, I'm glad you told me." She used her own hand to hold the small hand to her face. "Gabrielle, you hardly ever ask me for anything. I need you to tell me when you want things, big or small, so that I can get them for you. You deserve the world."
"Xena, I have the world." The bard moved her other hand up to the warrior's face. "I have you."
"I promise, when I get back, I'll get Artemis to do whatever she did before so that we can have another baby." Losing the little bit of precious control she had, the warrior began to cry again.
"I know we will." Gabrielle kissed her lightly on the lips. "You just concentrate on coming back to me in one piece, we'll worry about the rest later." She was relieved when Xena moved to kiss her again. Convinced that she needed the intimacy even more than the warrior did at that moment. It was scary to see the Warrior Princess like this, to see her usual rock of support crumbling in her arms. The want burned inside Gabrielle again, as they moved together to lie on the bed. The desire to possess a little piece of Xena, in the hopes that if she kept it safe with her then the world would be compelled to return the rest of the warrior to her.
"You ready?" Xena asked as she mounted Argo. Sorrow nodded as she swung up onto the horse. "Let's get going then." Moving her hand slightly, her faithful stead trotted off.
The sharp wave of nausea broke the bard out of her sleep. On unsteady legs she managed to get to the bathroom before the last of the previous nights dinner came back to haunt her.
"Definitely going to have to see the healer." She reminded herself as she washed the sweat from her face afterwards. She'd gotten reports that several members of the Royal guard had come down with the flu lately and hoped she wasn't coming down with it as well. Returning to the bedroom she was saddened to see Xena's side of the bed still made. "It's been a week, I bet your close to the fighting by now." She talked aimlessly to the warrior's pillow. "I hope you didn't catch this flu. You're such a bear when you're sick. I hate to think of poor Sorrow trying to deal with you in that mood. I'm the only one you let near you when you're sick." This thought made her even sadder. Sitting down on the warrior's side of the bed, she hugged her knees to her cheast and fell back. A deep ache in her abdomen reminded her just how lonely she felt. The return of the nausea caught her off guard and sent her scrambling back to the bathroom.
"You say you've thrown up for the last four days in a row?" Oxin questioned as she looked into the Queen's throat. "Any other symptoms?"
"Nah uh." She struggled to speak with her mouth open so wide.
"Lay back." The healer decided a full examination was necessary. She wouldn't want to have to explain why she missed something. Slowly she checked the glands in Gabrielle's neck, finding them normal. "Any shortness of breath?"
"No, I feel perfectly fine other than the throwing up." After her second trip that morning it had passed off and she felt fine now, she cursed Ephiny for making her do this.
"Anything seem to trigger the nausea?" The healer asked as she pressed down on the bard's abdomen, fearful of an inflamed appendix.
"Just getting up in the morning." The bard laughed as she spoke. The sudden pressure of the woman's hand on her stomach made her jump.
"That's tender?" The healer questioned, noting to herself the location did not point to appendicitis.
"A little." Gabrielle giggled when the answer came to her. "It's my time of the moon any day now, I always get sore around then."
"That would explain it." Oxin smiled at her. "I think maybe a few days of bed rest would be the best thing. I don't think you have the flu, but I'm really not sure what's causing the nausea. I think we should restrict what you're eating as well, just to make sure that's not the cause."
"You're putting me on a diet?" She looked at the healer in disbelief.
"Not really a diet, but I only want you eating bland foods for the next couple of days. Nothing unusual and definitely nothing spicy." Oxin gave the Queen a stern look. "You have to give your system a chance to settle down. So you go straight home and rest."
"All right." The bard sat up. "I guess a few days rest wouldn't be so bad." She had been feeling a little tired lately.
"For once I'm not the only reason why people are staring." Xena laughed as she scanned the stunned faces of the soldiers around them. From atop Argo, she could see the word spreading quickly through the camp that not only had the Warrior Princess arrived, but that she had another woman warrior with her.
"Well, if they were expecting you to arrive with Mother, I could be a bit of a shock in comparison." Sorrow's low voice responded. The slow pace of the horses gave everyone ample time to stare at both of them. Keeping Siko on Argo's left and slightly behind, she played the submissive role of second to the warrior.
"There's Coldwell." She watched the large man emerge from one of the tents and headed toward it.
"Xena!" A toothy grin appeared in the man's thick red beard. He waited for her to dismount before he approached. She took the arm offered and shook it firmly. "It's been along time. I'm sorry that it's under these circumstance."
"So am I." Standing at full height the Warrior Princess was just able to look the huge man in the eye. She smiled to herself that the once muscular man had let himself go slightly and now was more of a portly father figure than the hardened warlord he'd once been.
"Private, tend to the horses." He motioned to a nearby solider, who tentatively approached Sorrow and retrieved the reigns from her.
"Who's your friend?" Coldwell shot a quick glance at the Princess. "She doesn't look like the storyteller I've heard rumors you travel with."
"She'll be acting as my second in command." She looked sternly at the man. Hoping he would realize that he had ultimately lost control of his army and that she would trust Sorrow over him.
"Why don't you come into my tent for a moment so we can talk?" He motioned for her to follow him. Knowing the growing crowd around his tent shouldn't hear the details he needed to relay to her. "In private." He words halted Sorrow's approach.
"I'll be right back." Xena commented as she went inside. Knowing her place, the Princess just nodded and turned back to the throng of soldiers around her.
"What in Tartarus?" Coldwell looked up from the map when he heard the painful yell from outside.
Following him out, Xena was fully prepared for the spectacle before them. As predicted the soldiers had momentarily accepted her on reputation alone, but someone had felt the need to challenge the newcomer. Seeing Sorrow pinning one man to the ground with her boot driven into his throat as she hoisted another man into the air with one hand, the warrior couldn't help feeling proud.
"So you want to make another comment about my ass?" Sorrow growled at the man in the air. From the look on the poor soldier's face it was obvious that he didn't, but he was unable to manage any response other than a tiny groan. "I didn't think so." She released her grip and let him drop gasping to the ground.
"My apologies." Coldwell stammered when he realized the argument had been started by one of his men. "By the Gods Xena, where did you find her?" He looked back at the warrior amazed by Sorrow's show of strength. "Please ask her to let him go." He motioned to the man still struggling under her boot. Smiling, Sorrow stepped off him and turned back to the crowd.
"Anybody else want to test me or are we finished here?" The intensity of her eyes made the majority of them look away.
"Sorrow, that's enough." The warrior commented. She knew that the men wouldn't forget the loyalty displayed by the Princess when she immediately followed Xena's command. The slight bow from Sorrow in her direction helped solidify the point.
"Her name is SORROW?" Coldwell questioned.
"Yes, my name is Sorrow. It's a pleasure to meet you." She gave the large man her best smile. "I apologize for this." She pointed to the two men on the ground.
"Why don't you join us inside?" He asked her as he stared at her.
"Thank you." She easily stepped over one of the men and followed them back into the tent.
Turning on her side, Gabrielle wished the ache in her abdomen would go away. Pulling the blankets over her, she closed her eyes and drifted into an uncomfortable sleep.
A candlemark later she awoke to the soft whispers of Madalene's voice. Having been brought home from the daycare by the Regent, she'd climbed up onto the bed while her mother slept and curled up with her head near the bard's stomach.
"Honey, what are you doing?" Gabrielle questioned softly trying not to scare her.
"I'm singing to Anastasia." The little Princess scooted up to rest her head next to her mothers.
"Madalene, who is Anastasia?" The bard laughed inside at the idea that her daughter had an imaginary friend.
"My little sister silly." Madalene giggled. She had been so excited when she heard the little noises in her head that morning.
"And where exactly is this little sister of yours?" Her mind still hung onto the idea of an imaginary friend.
"In there." Madalene reached down to touch her mother's stomach.
Gabrielle gasped at the answer. She could feel her hands shake as the small pieces fit themselves together in her mind: the nausea, the discomfort and the tiredness. Was it possible that Artemis had somehow heard Xena's plea and granted them another daughter?
"Honey, what makes you think I'm going to have a baby?" She asked carefully, trying to figure out if this was just the wishes of a child or another display of Madalene's gift.
"Cause I can hear her in there." The child stared back at her. "I can hear her in my head."
"Why did you call her Anastasia?" She asked the question as the ramifications of Madalene's reference to the baby talking with her thoughts rambled through her head.
"Cause that's her name." Madalene laughed. "Did you think it was something different?"
"No, honey." The bard ran her hand gently over her daughter's head. "I was just wondering how you knew, that's all." Having never heard of such a name before, she repeated it in her head. Instantly loving the sound of it. Anastasia would be a perfect name for a little girl. "Madalene, I need you to keep this a secret. Can you do that?" She knew it would be some time before the healer could confirm her condition and if it were true she would want Xena to be the first one to know after herself.
"Yup." She nodded her head happily.
"Good girl. So how was your day?" Gabrielle tickled her as she asked. Feeling a new energy with the possibility that she was pregnant.
"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard." Sorrow commented under her breath at Coldwell's plan of attack.
"You have a better idea?" The large man stood to his full height in an attempt to intimidate her.
"Yeah, why don't we just poison all your soldiers right now and safe Caesar the trouble of slaughtering them." She stood toe to toe with him, not the least bit scared.
"She's right you know." Xena ignored the territorial display the man was putting on and concentrated on the map. "Caesar won't send his best legion into the valley first. These two will be his best." She pointed to the heavily forested area on the East Side. "He'll wear your men down first with those he considers disposable and then bring in the talent to finish the job."
Smiling at him, Sorrow backed away. She'd seen the same thing as the warrior.
"I also think this cliff side needs to be scouted." The Princess pointed to an uncharted area on the map. "It's likely his allusive headquarters is being hidden there." She was happy to see Xena nod in agreement.
"Why in the name of Hades would he truck all the way up there?" Coldwell looked at them in disbelief.
"Because it gives him a perfect view of everything. He'll be able to see the big picture for himself and not rely on scouting reports." The warrior princess snapped back. She was really growing tired of this man's stupidity. "Sending signals to his captains would be easy from there as well." She muttered to Sorrow as she assessed things further. "Here's what we're going to do." She started to explain once the plan had solidified in her head.
"That's the plan?" Coldwell scratched his head as he tried to understand it.
"Yes. You don't like it, tell me now and we'll leave you to die on your own." The warrior exerted herself over the floundering man.
"No, it's fine. But is it really a good idea to let Caesar know that you're here? I thought it would be better if we kept that as a surprise." He questioned as he unconsciously backed away from her.
"He'll start second guessing himself if he knows I'm here." She looked at the retreating man. "I want him worried about every possible plan of attack. It should buy us a day, maybe two while he maneuvers his troops into a more defensive position."
"How are you going to send word?" He hoped she wouldn't ask him to find a volunteer for that suicidal duty.
"No need. I'm sure more than one of your men has been bought by Roman gold. He'll know by the morning." Xena laughed at the shocked expression on his face. "You've been a peaceful man too long, Coldwell. You've forgotten the finer points of how this works."
"I guess I have." He rubbed his beard suddenly self-conscious. "I'm going to announce to the men that you are now in command and that Sorrow is your second." He avoided looking at the Princess. The mere mention of her horrible name caused the hair on the back of his neck to rise. "I'll have every flagman flying your standard immediately."
"Fine, whatever builds them up." She waved the idea away, secretly loathing that yet another army would be marching into war under her order. It didn't matter to the darkness inside her that this was to save Greece. All the dark part of her knew is that she was the commander of an army again and very soon there would be many for her to slaughter.
"Where are our quarters?" Sorrow saw the change in the warrior. They had a long fight ahead of them and she knew they were both tired from the journey. Hopefully she could get Xena into a bed for a few hours sleep before the duties of commander took over her every minute.
"This way." He turned quickly on his heels and led them to a large tent nearby. "If you need anything let one of the soldiers know." He stopped at the entrance and signaled for two guards to stand watch. A nod from the warrior sent him off to inform his captains of the switch in power. A task he was glad to do, now very aware of how unprepared he was for the days ahead.
"What exactly did that guy say to make you almost rip out his throat?" Xena asked trying to settle her mind as she fell down onto the bed in the corner.
"Let's just say he's lucky that Danu wasn't around or he wouldn't have his throat left." She laughed as she poured herself a glass of water from the pitcher on the desk.
"That bad was it!" Xena laughed as well, knowing first hand that the archer had a fiery temper when it came to the Princess.
"It was good one of them challenged me early. Although there was a big guy near the back of the crowd I still expect to have trouble with." She gulped the water down.
"They'll all be kissing your ass once the fighting starts." The warrior rested her arms under her head and grinned.
"I don't think Danu would like that very much either." Sorrow sat down on the other small bed. "But hopefully I can keep some of them from getting killed." A serious look came over her face.
"Look all of these men are here by choice." Xena sat up abruptly. "I don't like the idea of any of them dying any more than you but I don't want you distracted out there. Your main priority is keeping yourself safe."
"No, my main priority is keeping you safe." Sorrow locked her jaw and stared back at the warrior.
"You're as stubborn as your mother you know that." Not having the energy to argue Xena returned to her previous position on the bed. "And get that idea out of your head about waiting till nightfall to go scouting the cliff. You are not the Protector here."
"Xena, you know it's the best option. How else will we get an accurate idea of what's up there?" She tried to argue.
"Look you agreed, no Protector. Now get some sleep." The warrior stern command closed the discussion.
"Good Gods!" Gabrielle shot up in bed and grabbed at her stomach. The once mild discomfort now felt like a fist being shoved very firmly into her abdomen. A streak of pure terror chilled her as her hands came to rest over the pain. Moving slowly off the bed she walked into the bathroom to stand in front of the full-length mirror.
'Maybe it's your imagination? Maybe you're still dreaming?' The questions burned through her head as she lifted up her sleeping shirt to look at her stomach.
"See nothing different!" She spoke the reassuring words to herself as she turned sideways to confirm that her stomach was still the flat washboard of muscles that is had always been. Laughing at herself she let the shirt drop back down and went back to bed. The swelling she'd thought she'd felt when she first awoken explained away by her tiredness.
"Good morning?" Danu stuck her head inside the door tentatively to find the main room was empty.
"Come in Danu, I'm back here." Gabrielle voice called from her bedroom. She was thankful that the nausea had passed earlier. She didn't want to worry the archer, who she was sure Sorrow had enlisted to keep an eye on her.
"Good morning, I brought you break..." Coming into the doorway to the bedroom, Danu's words halted when she saw her Queen lying on the bed. "Stay calm, I'll get Oxin." She moved to lay the tray she was carrying on a nearby table."
"Danu relax, I'm fine." She looked puzzled at the archer who'd turned a very pale white.
"My Queen, I really would feel better if the healer had a look at that." Her hands unconsciously went to her stomach as she stared. Not trusting her own eyes, after all she'd been out hunting for the past three days and she was tired, the healer would have a better opinion.
"A look at what?" Gabrielle became scared at the tone of her voice and locked eyes with the woman in an attempt to draw it out of her.
"Your stomach." Danu took a few slow steps toward the bed. "Is it causing you much pain?"
The bard didn't even hear the last question as she first brought her hands to rest on her abdomen and then mustered up the courage to look down. Where only a few short candlemarks before had been rippling muscles the flesh was now distended and swollen.
'If I didn't know better I'd say she was about four months pregnant.' The archer thought to herself as she remember what the Queen had looked like when she was carrying Madalene. The bard's small frame allowed for the pregnancy to show very early on.
"Are you in pain?" Danu repeated the question again, desperate to know if she was. For a heartbeat she almost called out to Sorrow, but she decided quickly to get more information before she did.
"No, not painful." Her voice was blank as she ran her hands over her stomach. "Danu, will you get me my cloak."
"Oh course, but I can bring Oxin here. You can stay in bed, it will only take me a moment." She pleaded for Gabrielle to just stay put.
"No, I'm not going to see the healer. I have to go the temple." She got out of bed on shaky legs. Surprised by the new weight she was carrying.
"All right, if you think that's best." Danu retrieved the Queen's cloak from the wall. "I'll escort you there." The last part was spoken half as a request and half as a demand.
"Fine." Gabrielle bit her lip. Frustrated with the blank, stagnant state of her thoughts. Turning suddenly on the archer, her words were adamant in their command. "Not a word of this to anyone, do you understand?"
"Yes, my Queen." The archer nodded. "Here, let me help you." She offered her arm as they left.
"And where were you?" Xena kept her voice low so that none of the soldiers nearby would hear her anger. Seeing Sorrow walking towards her without even her sword on her back, she really didn't need to ask.
"Look I know you told me not to, but we had to have a scouting report on the cliff side." In closed quarters Sorrow would have challenged her again, but here amongst the men she kept her reaction hidden.
"Come with me. Now!" The warrior rumbled as she returned to their quarters.
Once inside the tent, Xena paced for a few moments, trying to collect her thoughts.
"I'm sorry, but we both know we needed the information." Sorrow sat on the bed.
"Do you know why I don't want you running around as the Protector?" The warrior began trying against her grain to explain the underlying fear she had.
"Cause you don't want anyone thinking I can fight this war by myself." The Princess repeated back what she thought was the answer. "I have no intention of that Xena, I'm not stupid enough to think I can take on five legions of Roman soldiers. Even I have limits."
"That's only part of it." She grumbled as she paced. "You don't know Caesar, all he will see in you is the raw power and he'll want to possess it. This campaign of his will suddenly turn from conquering Greece to capturing you." Seeing Sorrow's eyes widen she continued. "He'll look at you as some wild animal he can cage and tame. I won't have that, I won't even let him think that." The warrior cursed under her breath. She'd grown very sensitive over time to references of Sorrow as a what or an animal.
"Xena, that's not going to happen." The Princess stood up and walked over to her. "I'd never allow someone to cage me and put me on display."
The warrior turned her face away. The horror of the previous night's nightmare washed over her again. Sorrow caged and carried into the Coliseum as they did the lions and tigers. Caesar sitting in his booth, ordering the gladiators to attack her. She'd been in the stands, helpless to do anything. Screaming at Sorrow to fly away, only to have her daughter turn to show her the bloody stumps where her wings should be. It was only then that the warrior had awoken in a cold sweat.
"What did you see on the cliff side?" Xena changed the subject, knowing it was the fear of the nightmare that drove the other conversation.
"We were right, there's a labyrinth of caves and Caesar is definitely using the area as his headquarters." Sorrow was slow to answer, having expected much more discussion on the topic of her possible capture.
"Well now we know." Xena rubbed her chin as she listed to the rest of Sorrow's report.
"Wait here be the door, don't let anyone in. I don't care who, no one comes in." Gabrielle repeated herself to make sure Danu understood the command.
"Yes, my Queen." The archer watched as the heavy door closed with a thump behind the small bard. "By the Gods what is happening now?" She questioned to the sky under her breath.
Removing the cloak once inside, Gabrielle left it in a pile by the door. Slowly she walked through the empty temple towards the altar at the back. Not knowing what to do, she kneeled near the altar.
"Artemis, I need your help." She began in a soft voice. "While I am thankful that you answered our plea and saw fit to give Xena and I another daughter, I'm afraid something is wrong." She waited for a moment. "Artemis please." Her voice was shaky with the idea that the Goddess might not come.
"Yes, my Chosen One, I am here." Appearing behind the bard, Artemis placed a soft hand on her shoulder. Slowly she walked around to stand in front of the Queen. "Please stand up, a woman in your condition doesn't need to kneel." She offered the bard her hand to help her stand.
"So I am pregnant?" She watched the Goddess nod. "Is something wrong with the baby?" She questioned immediately her hands on her swollen stomach.
"Gabrielle, why do think it is I that has given you this gift?" Artemis ignored the question to ask one of her own.
"It was you who gave Madalene to Xena and I, and then when Xena said she'd come ask you to give us another child, I knew you'd heard her plea and granted our wish." As she answered a feeling of pressure started in her head.
"It was not by my power that this baby or Madalene came to you." The Goddess released a slow breath at the sight of her Chosen One suffering.
"Then how?" The Queen questioned both herself and Artemis. The question found her own mind stagnant and uncooperative, while the Goddess just shook her head.
"Gabrielle, you ask me questions for which you already have answers. But you have buried these answers down deep because you don't want yourself to know them. I fear that if I just tell you the experience will be too much for you to bare." Artemis answered honestly.
"Whatever it is I need to know." She put her hand to her temple, the intensity of the pressure inside her head building as she tried to think. "Every time I try to think about it my mind refuses to work."
"I might be able to help you with that, but the answer will only come if you want it too." The Goddess looked at her sadly. "When you do get the answers you seek, you might not be happy with what you find. They might very well change you forever."
"Please Artemis, I need to know." She pleaded softly. "I except whatever consequences come from knowing. I'd die if something happened to the baby because I was to scared to take the chance."
"Very well." Artemis nodded her head. "From this moment on you must fast and a cleaning ritual must be performed. Tomorrow at dawn, return here and seek both the questions and the answers you need."
"I must seek both the questions and the answers?" The bard asked puzzled. She already knew the questions didn't she?
"Yes, you must seek both because if you don't ask the proper questions the answers you find will offer you no more clarity then you currently posses. That is where the real risk lies, Gabrielle. The answers to some questions will set you free, the answers to others will drag you into a dark place from which your mind might never return."
"You mean some answers could kill me?"
"If you were to let them, yes." Artemis took the Queen's hand. "I feel it is only fair to tell you of all the possible consequences, so that your choice to do this will be an informed one."
"I have to do it." The thought of not knowing this secret she kept from herself seemed more scary then death. "I will return at dawn."
"Gabrielle, I should also tell you that the journey allows you to bring two companions with you for help. They would also have to fast and go through the cleansing." Artemis offered what little help she could. "But they must volunteer to come without your asking. It must be the need inside them to keep you safe that draws them to join you. Only those who would ask without prompting will be strong enough to be of any help to you."
"And if no one asks?" The bard had been hopeful for a minute, but felt deflated. She knew her warrior would have wanted to make the journey without prompting and she could see Sorrow demanding to go. But with both of them far away and unaware of what was going on, she feared she'd have to make the journey alone.
"You can decide not to go if that is the case. It is a dangerous journey to make alone." The Goddess tried to stress the danger. "Once you begin the journey cannot be stopped, you must see it to the end. There is also a risk to those who would journey with you, so out of those who ask be certain they understand what they volunteer for."
"I will." Gabrielle took a deep breath.
"I'll see you at dawn then." With those words Artemis disappeared leaving her alone in the temple.
Gathering her strength, she decided she would do this even if no one asked to join her. She would go alone to discover the questions and answers to which her mind had shut itself off from. The urgency of it played on her nerves and she wished even more than before that Xena wasn't so far away. But it was also not her place to drag the warrior from the task she felt compelled to complete, just as it would be unfair for Xena to ask her not to go on this journey that might very well kill her. She'd make no call to her daughter and she'd convince Danu to stay silent as well.
Pushing on the large door to the temple, she almost fell when it opened up for her suddenly. The archer pulled it open with such force that it surprised even her.
"Are you all right?" Danu asked concerned when she saw the even paler colour of the Queen's skin.
"I'm fine. Artemis is sending me on a journey." She looked blankly at the archer. "I have to arrange for a cleansing ceremony." She mumbled to herself as she thought unhappily of the fast she was now on.
"I'm going with you." Danu didn't know what made her say the words with such conviction and need. She didn't even know where Artemis was sending Gabrielle, let alone if the Goddess would send others with her. All the archer knew was that she had to go.
"What?" The bard looked at her in disbelief.
"This journey to wherever, I'm going with you. I'm sure I can convince Artemis to let me go." Her voice remained confident.
"Danu, you don't want to make this journey. It's going to be very dangerous, I'd never forgive myself if something happened to you." Gabrielle dismissed the archer offer.
"If you're telling me it's dangerous, then I'm definitely coming." Danu stood up to her, a sense of strength inside her told her to push the issue.
"You're willing to accept the risk? To put yourself in deathly peril for me without knowing where I'm going or why?" She questioned, seeing now the strength inside the archer that Artemis hinted she'd need on the journey.
"Without thought or question. I can't explain it, but I feel I need to go with you." The archer softened her tone but still brimmed with confidence.
"Then you be the first of my companions." She embraced Danu tightly.
"I'd be honoured to be your companion." Danu used the title hesitantly, not quite sure what duty it entailed.
"Let's go then. We've got a cleansing ceremony to get through." Gabrielle grabbed her hand and led her off the temple steps. "Oh, and from now on we're fasting."
"Fasting!" The archer exclaimed laughing, she wished now that she'd eaten breakfast.
"Hey I don't like it any more than you." The Queen laughed back as her stomach growled loudly. Knowing now she wouldn't be making the journey alone her mood lightened a little.
"Just the woman I've been looking for." A thick coarse voice broke Sorrow's concentration. Having gone to an open area amongst the tents, she'd been going through her exercises in an attempt to focus her mind on the up coming task. Wearing full armor and extra weapons it had also been a chance to get used to the extra weight and limitations.
"Really, and who are you that you need to be looking for me?" She stopped in mid motion and turned, knowing without looking just who the voice would belong too.
"I'm Saratak. I figured you and I could have a little fun before the fighting started. Get rid of a little energy so to speak." The large man licked his lips, as he looked her up and down.
"As tempting an offer as that is Saratak." Sorrow looked him up and down and smiled. "I'm engaged, so I'll have to pass." She really hoped this fellow would get the point without having to hurt him. They needed as many healthy soldiers as possible.
"It wasn't an offer, it was a demand." He puffed up his cheast and walked towards her.
"I don't want to have to hurt you." Lowering her voice, she sheathed her sword and got ready for him.
"Hurt me!" He laughed at her and tried to grab her arm.
"Now, now." She easily slid away and slapped him sharply across the face as she moved. "Didn't your mother every teach you to keep your hands to yourself."
"I'll make you pay for that." He sneered at her as he turned to face her. "But maybe you like it rough, wearing all that leather and all!"
"I like it rougher than you'll ever know." She laughed back, jumping up to land two quick kicks to his cheast before she returned to earth. As her opponent stumbled backwards, trying to regain his footing, she took the time to adjust her body armor. 'Definitely restricted in the acrobatic department.' She thought to herself. Taking a moment to glance around she was glad to see no one had come to investigate what was happening. 'Let's see if upper body movement is a problem?' Running to meet the man, she began a quick volley of punches. She moved slowly enough for the large men to actually block some of them. 'Glad I don't have to wear this all the time.' She thought to herself when she felt the restriction in her shorter punches. "Had enough?" She landed one quick strike to his nose, which immediately gushed with blood.
"I'm going to make you wish you'd never done that." He lunged at her. Bending at the knees Sorrow took his full weight onto her arms, lifted him upwards and tossed him over her head.
"You've been going to make me do a lot of things, haven't you?" She looked down at him. "I'm going to walk away now, so stay down." She smiled at him and left. Wisely, Saratak decided to remain in the dirt holding his broken nose. Never in his life had a man been able to pick him up, let alone throw him like this woman had.
"She's definitely a witch or something." He told himself, trying to make himself feel better.
"Well don't you look cute." Xena smiled when Sorrow walked into the tent.
"It's all the rage on the battlefield." The Princess struck a modeling pose and laughed. "How do you wear this stuff all the time? It's so cumbersome."
"First of all, some of us need to wear it in order to stay alive." Xena raised an eyebrow at her. "Secondly, who showed you how to put this on." The warrior walked over and reached for the buckle on the shoulder plates. "You have it too loose. You're not trying to move within the armor, you want the armor to move with you. Like a second skin or sorts."
"I never really had much of a need for armor." Sorrow smiled at her.
"How's that?" The warrior finished the adjustment and threw a quick punch at Sorrow's cheast.
"Much better." She blocked it without the previous feeling of restriction. "Thanks."
"Good. It'd be better if this stuff actually kept you from getting injured. I don't want to have to explain why even with a sword sticking out of you, you're still fighting." She laughed at gruesome yet ironic image.
"That would require a little explaining wouldn't it?" The Princess laughed back. "Maybe I can use that tactic to scare the other army into retreating."
Xena snapped an icy stare at her.
"I'm kidding, just a joke." Sorrow held up her arms in surrender. "No Protector moves unless absolutely necessary." She added the last part in defiance.
Xena would have objected, if not for Coldwell running into the tent at that moment cursing to beat the band.
"What's wrong?" She turned her icy stare on him and stopped his ranting.
"He's crucifying them!" The large man snapped back before he thought whom he was snapping at.
"Crucifying who?" Sorrow asked quickly.
"Villagers, about twenty of them. He must've had the soldiers round them up from a village a little to the west." He rubbed his beard sadly. "His soldiers are dragging crosses up to the border and crucifying them one by one."
"Since when is there an unguarded village to the west of here?" Xena bored a hole into him with her glare.
"With all the army focused here, I didn't think it would matter." His eyes widened as he realized his mistake. "By the Gods, I could have stopped this."
"Yes, you could of. But it's too late for that now." She turned to Sorrow for an instant to gauge her reaction. "Gather the men, this starts now." She snapped at Coldwell, who quickly retreated from the tent.
"Xena, he's baiting you. He knows you can't bare to see innocent people killed." Sorrow tried to reason against an attack.
"I know he is, but is there any other choice?" The warrior looked at her sadly and she quickly put on her own armor.
"No, there's not." Sorrow shook her head sadly. "It starts now then."
"Ephiny, I need your help." Gabrielle found the Amazon in her hut.
"Of course, what's wrong?" The Regent asked concerned. She would've been much more worried but the cloak the Queen wore hid her stomach.
"I need to have a cleansing ceremony arranged for Danu and I. Artemis is sending me on a journey." She could have easily given the orders to arrange for the ceremony herself, but her physical appearance would prompt too many questions.
"You're not going anywhere without me." The Amazon forceful words came out before she even thought about it. Once her mind caught up with her mouth, she realized she agreed with the demand. If Artemis was sending the Queen on a journey then the Regent had no intention of letting her go alone. Especially with Xena and Sorrow far away fighting a war.
"Ephiny, I know how brave you are but this is going to be dangerous. If something was to happen to both of us who would lead the Nation?" Gabrielle asked the serious question. Could she be responsible for leaving the Nation without leadership?
"There is always a risk that you and I could die at the same time. Madalene is of course next in line for the mask, but with her being so young my right of caste to Solari would make her Regent until the Princess was old enough to rule herself. I'm sure Xena would act as her champion and we both know Sorrow wouldn't let anything happen to any of them." Ephiny babbled off the facts she was sure Gabrielle already knew. "The Nation will be fine. Right now I'm more worried about you, I'm going where ever you are."
"So be it. You will be the second of my companions." She hugged the Regent tightly. With the Queen pressed into her, Ephiny felt the strange swelling of her stomach.
"Gabrielle, what's wrong?" She moved the cloak when they parted to look at the bard.
"I'm pregnant!" She exclaimed happily but then the cloud of uncertainty returned along with the pressure in her head. "But I'm afraid there might be something wrong with the baby. That's why Artemis is sending me on this journey. To find questions and answers."
"I'm sure there's nothing wrong." Ephiny hugged the bard again. "Where are we going anyway?"
"I'll explain everything I promise, but we only have untill dawn to get ready. We have to start the cleansing ceremony immediately." She pleased with the Regent.
"Of course, I'll make the arrangements for the three of us. Wait here until I get back." Ephiny smiled warmly at her, easily seeing the seriousness of the situation.
"Oh and don't eat anything." Gabrielle's words stopped the Amazon in the doorway. "We have to fast for the journey."
"Fasting?" Ephiny had a pained look on her face. "As you wish my Queen." She smiled as she left.
"Maybe we have a moment of reprieve." Xena commented to Sorrow as they approached the border. Her stomach turned at the sight of the twenty men screaming and withering on the crosses. Seeing that no women or children had been nailed up, she might be able to control herself. She was surprised to see Brutus standing in front of the crosses with only a handful of men.
"Whose he?" Sorrow motioned to Brutus, easily distinguished from the other soldiers by his silver cheast armor.
"Brutus, Caesar's second." Xena watched as the object of their conversation tentatively moved closer and stopped. Apparently waiting for her to join him. "Wait here. Don't do anything until I give you the signal." Sorrow didn't like it but she nodded her consent.
"Xena! Caesar said this would get your attention." Brutus smiled nervously at her when she approached.
"The crucifixion of twenty innocent men is likely to get anybody's attention, not just mine." She sneered at him.
"Where's Gabrielle?" He looked behind the warrior. "And who's your new friend?"
"Gabrielle's not here, so you can tell Caesar not to bother to think he can use her against me." She stared at him demanding he maintain eye contact with her. "Your new enemy is Sorrow."
"Pleasant name." He gave the warrior a weak smile.
"Enough small talk, get to the point Brutus." The warrior was curious to hear what message Caesar was sending.
"The Emperor would like you know that if you don't surrender by dawn, he will do this and more in each of the villages he finds as he moves across Greece." He stood tall and defiant.
"Surrender by dawn, let me think about that." The warrior looked off for a moment as if in actual contemplation of the offer. "My answer would be no."
"Xena, think about the offer. Caesar doesn't want a war. If Greece would just surrender peacefully to Roman rule a lot of innocent lives could be spared." He pleaded with her.
"Spared like those poor men were?" She motioned to the men dying on the crosses.
"That was to prove a point. He'll take Greece by force if you make him." Brutus tried to impress the Emperor's intentions to her.
"Why don't you give Caesar a message from me?" She smiled at him.
"Yes, of course." Brutus waited patiently for the terms of her surrender.
"Tell him that I'll give him until dawn to move his reserve soldiers in from the west before I start this war." Xena stood tall, loving as Brutus' face slowly lost all colour. "I will pile the bodies of Roman soldiers so high on the border that it would be easier to enter Greece by air then land."
"I'll tell him." He choked out the words, knowing now that no threat would change the warrior's mind.
"You do that." She turned and walked back towards Sorrow.
"It's arranged. Someone will come to get us when the Priestess is ready." Ephiny came back into her hut to find Gabrielle resting on the bed and Danu pacing nervously back and forth. "Hey why are you so nervous?"
"Not nervous, just hungry." Danu smiled the Regent. She'd patiently kept all of her questions about the impending journey to herself, but now she could hardly stand the wait. "So where are we going?" She turned to Gabrielle and questioned.
"It's going to sound very strange but Artemis really didn't tell me where. Just that wherever she sends me I'll be able to find the questions and answers I've been hiding from myself about what's wrong with the baby." She sat up as she spoke; the pressure in her head begged her not to talk about this. Begged her not to go through with this journey. "We fast and go through the cleansing, only then can we return to the temple at dawn and be sent on the journey."
"What is a companion?" Danu asked, having wondered the meaning of the designation since the Queen first used it outside of the temple.
"Artemis kept stressing how dangerous it will be. That some questions will bring answers that I don't want to know." The pressure throbbed at her temples. "I am allowed to bring two companions to help me face the journey. They must be people whose souls are strong enough to want to join me without my asking, without any knowledge of what was going on. They must be driven to come by nothing more than a need to keep me safe."
"Well I think that sums us up pretty well." Ephiny looked at the archer and smiled.
"I'm very lucky, I was afraid no one would feel that strong a need." The bard felt the tension around her eyes ease off a little as she thought about the depth of her friendship with these two women.
"How could you think that Gabrielle?" The Regent sat next to her on the bed and took the Queens small hand in her own. "If Xena and Sorrow were here we'd be having a competition now to see who got to go with you. Not to mention Solari and Eponin, they're not going to be happy when they find out."
"That reminds me." The sudden comfort of someone reminding her just how many people cared about her changed when her daughter's name repeated in her head. "You have to promise me you won't call Sorrow." She turned to plead with Danu.
"I can't do that." The archer shook her head and scowled. "In fact I'm already breaking my promise, I was supposed to call her if even the tiniest bad thing happened." She raised her hand to rub her now tense neck.
"Danu, please! Think about it. I need her there with Xena. By the Gods, all of Greece needs her there with Xena if Caesar really is planning on invading." Gabrielle chose her words carefully. "Do you want her worried about us while she fights? Do you want to drag her home only to have her fight Caesar by herself when he gets near the Nation?" She didn't really believe that Xena would allow that to happen but she hoped the fear would seem real enough to the archer that it would sway her from her promise.
"All right, all right!" Danu surrendered to the horrible images. "I'm worried enough without thinking about any of that. I won't call her, at least not yet." She offered what she could; knowing that if the need was great enough she'd call. She suspected if things got bad enough Gabrielle would do the same.
"Back to camp!" Xena barked the order at the captains when she returned before turning to Sorrow. "I think I just bought till dawn. That legion you saw to the west wasn't in the area by coincidence. Caesar will move them in now and we can deal with everything at once."
"What about the villagers?" The Princess cast a sad look toward the line of crosses.
"No point in fighting for them. All of them are foaming at the mouth, they've been poisoned." The warrior shook her head sadly. "I'll assign archers to put them out of their misery once Brutus leaves." Hearing the words she was surprised when Sorrow didn't comment on her pitiful attempt at compassion.
In truth, Sorrow was easily able to except what little they could do for the villagers now. With the confirmation of the sixth legion, a switch in her mind had been turned on and she found herself dropping into the lessons of her youth. Focusing in on the Warrior Princess' face she could see the same darkness engulfing her. The responsibility of protecting all of Greece from the tyranny of Caesar was weighing very heavy on both of them. Shaking away the overpowering urge to charge across the field and slit Brutus' throat, she fell in step behind Xena and returned to camp.
"Your Highness, we are ready to begin the ceremony." Nicola, the head priestess, stood in the doorway dressed in flowing white linen.
"Good, let's go." Gabrielle allowed Ephiny to help her off the bed.
"I suggest that you leave any personal belonging here, you must come with only the clothes on your back." The priestess looked at the Regents sword. "As part of the cleansing the clothes you are wearing must be burned so leave anything you can't bear to have destroyed."
"Burned?" Danu's eyes widened. "Since when is that part of a cleansing ceremony?" She removed her armguard as she spoke.
"This is not an ordinary cleansing ceremony. The Goddess herself has visited to instruct me on the rituals. I'm sorry, but the destruction of your clothes is very important." The priestess clasped her hands in front of her.
"Can't argue then." Ephiny removed her sword and began removing various pieces of jewelry. "My Queen?" The Regent offered her arm and escorted Gabrielle out of the hut behind the priestess. Danu followed close behind.
"You want to do what?" Xena lifted her head from the map to look at the Princess hunched across from her.
"After the catapults seen the first five volleys into the valley, I want to turn them and use them to set the forest on fire." Sorrow eyes remained on the map.
"Exactly how is that going to help us?" Xena wondered, so far unable to see what Sorrow was seeing.
"We start the fire here." She pointed to the edge of the large forest on the border. "It spreads back here towards the cliff and back here into Roman territory. With any luck the wind will carry it far enough to worry Caesar and he'll have to use some of the troops in an attempt to contain it. Also, the smoke from the cliff base should do wonders in reducing his visibility of our movements. It may even flush him out of hiding." She looked up now to see the warrior's reaction.
Xena stared at the map, angry with herself for not seeing what Sorrow proposed before. The idea of setting hundreds of acres of forest ablaze in the hopes of distracting Caesar was a horrible but brilliant battle strategy. The small portion of the forest within Greek territory was bordered by rock on two sides and a large field on the other. The risk to them was minimal.
"Even if the field area does light..." Xena moved her hand across the map locking her icy blue eyes into Sorrows. "We can build a small trench and if necessary direct water in from the river... here. Should be enough to limit the spreading."
"Yes, exactly!" Sorrow locked her jaw at the thought of it. "Best case scenario is that we catch most of the third legion still stationed in the forest."
"Mazzu!" The warrior yelled to the solider stationed at the door. He came in quickly, instantly scared by the intensity that clouded the room. "Gather as many men as you need. I want a trench dug from the river to here." She pointed the areas on the map out to him. "Understand?" She barked at him when he didn't move.
"Yes, right away!" He saluted her and ran from the tent.
"I have a new idea about where to put the archers." Xena raised an eyebrow and smiled at the Princess.
"Yes, the archers, what did you have in mind?" Sorrow smiled back and looked down at the map.
Continued in Part Two...
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