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 dealing with the aftermath 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.
APOLOGIES: Due to some health problems a very long delay has gone between the posting of Parts One to Three of this story and now. I just wanted to say extra sorry to everyone out there who has been writing me asking when the new parts would come out. I've been a tad over optimistic in my time lines. And sorry to anyone else who has been looking for the new parts and finding none. Though these update won't finish the story, I think the ending will be worth the wait... smile.
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 Gin, for all her creative input and support. To Alina, for beta reading and all the kind words of encouragement. To Cheney, for doing so much to keep this bard together so that the story would go on, Cemdus A&F.
When they returned to camp, Xena was again surprised by Samuel's thoughtfulness. Her small fire had been tended to and over it a stew simmered in anticipation of their return. Placing Sorrow nearby and wrapping her in a blanket, the warrior moved to get dinner for both of them.
"Bet you're hungry." She tried to make normal conversation in an attempt to draw the Princess back a little more. "I'm starving myself." The warrior lied. She knew she should be hungry, but her worry had easily overpowered any other primal need within her. Taking a spoonful she was surprised by the young man's cooking talents. "It's good." She carried the two bowls over and sat beside the Princess.
When Sorrow made had no initial reaction to her, the warrior placed her dinner down and moved the Princess' hands to cradle the bowl. Seeing Sorrow stare blankly at the object in her hands, as if she didn't know what to do with it, broke Xena's heart. Abandoning her own meal she took the bowl back and began the task of feeding the Princess dinner.
"I'm not hungry." A small voice protested after she'd accepted a few mouthfuls.
"Sorrow, you have to eat." Xena tried to make eye contact with her, hoping her moment of lucidity would remain. She held up another spoonful.
"Are you really here?" Sorrow stared into her through watery eyes.
"Yes." She smiled at her. "I'm real, I promise."
"Xena, I've been bad."
The warrior felt like screaming when she heard the words, knowing they would again pull Sorrow back into the darkness.
"Don't think about that right now!" Xena commanded, trying to keep her there. "All you have to think about right now is eating. Nothing else." She breathed a sigh of relief when the Princess remained with her.
"I'm really not hungry." Sorrow put her hands to her stomach. "It hurts inside. I feel like I'm going to be sick."
"Did any of their arrows hit you?" She asked concerned, suddenly afraid that her daughter might be poisoned.
Her questions were never answered as Sorrow bolted into the forest. Even with her speed, Xena could barely keep up and found the Princess already on her knees when she reached her.
"It's okay, honey." She reached down to hold Sorrow's wet hair out of harm's way. "You'll feel better once you get it up." Rubbing the middle of her sick daughter's back, she forced herself to look down into the grass. She hoped doing so would give her some hint to what was wrong.
"Sweet Artemis." She whispered to herself, leaning against a nearby tree for support. She watched helpless as wave after wave of blood, flesh and bone came up out of the Princess.
"Now you are ready for my seed." Dahak proclaimed, as they watched the demon reach into himself and pull out a handful of black sludge. It was all any of them could do to stay in place when he pushed the vile substance down into the Gabrielle who hovered before him.
"Congratulations Lord Dahak, it's a girl!" A nearby demon exclaimed when he'd finished.
"Of course it is." Dahak smiled and reached up to caress Gabrielle's face. "You'll take care of our daughter won't you? Defend her from all those who would do her harm? I trust that you will sacrifice even your precious Xena for her."
"I HATE YOU!" Gabrielle's voice broke free and her companions struggled to keep her from charging the altar. "How dare you do this to me!"
"Gabrielle, you can't stop this." Danu moved to take the enraged woman in her arms, trying to calm her. "You know the secret now. It's over, it's over." The archer's voice was soothing.
"I don't think so." Ephiny commented softly when the scene continued to play out before them.
"Lord Dahak, look!" A shrill demon voice called everyone's wandered attention back to the altar.
"What is it?" Gabrielle asked in a heartbeat.
"This can't be." Dahak's voice was filled with surprise. "A second child?"
Gabrielle had thought she'd known pain before. But as she watched Dahak reach down into her for the last time and rip the second baby out of her, she feared she would perish from it.
"My daughter, you can't stay. Father will take good care of you now." He spoke to the small creature he extracted. "I fear your Mother will be unable to bear both of you and your sister has much to do for me."
"Sorrow!" The archer's small voice shattered the silence when the small white wings broke free of the sludge around them and spanned out behind the creature.
"Why did you take her from me?" The bard pleaded with him through her tears.
"I couldn't risk you birthing her." He looked at the bard with sad eyes. "She's much better off with me. I can teach her what her demon form was intended to do. She'll be a Princess in my world, you want her to be a Princess don't you?"
"I've made her a Princess." Gabrielle countered, still crying. "You make her into a killing machine." She spat the words at him.
"Yes!" Dahak grinned at her as he handed Sorrow over to one of his minions who quickly disappeared with the baby. "Yes, I do!"
'You had no choice.' Xena reassured herself as she paced back and forth by the river. 'You need time to think.' She'd finally given in and used pressure points to put Sorrow to sleep when the vomiting had stopped.
Dipping her hands into the chilly water she splashed her face in the hopes of finding clarity. Hearing movement near the camp, she stealthily rushed back. She feared both for her daughter and for the life of anyone foolish enough to approach her.
"Samuel!" She hissed when she saw him in the tree line.
"SS... Sorry. I hh... heard crying and I tt... thought..." He didn't finish the sentence realizing how foolish his approach was. "Is sss... she going to be okay?"
"I don't know." The warrior shook her head defeated. "But you have to be more careful. She's very dangerous." Her voice was stern. After all his help, she didn't want the Princess to thank him by killing him. Nodding that he understood, he retreated back into the forest.
Moving back to the fire, she sat down and leaned against a nearby rock to watch Sorrow sleep. The sun was just starting to sink below the horizon and she suddenly became very aware of how tired her body was.
"Gabrielle, I'll make her better. I promise my love. I'll make everything right again." Xena whispered to the heavens just before she allowed herself to sleep.
"I have a riddle for me." The floating Gabrielle turned her head to address them.
"What is the riddle?" The bard wiped the tears from her eyes as she spoke.
"Creating the Twins. Took both the demon and you. Creating the others. How could just you and her make due?"
With the end of the voice came the end of the vision. As Gabrielle's double, Dahak, Xena and the rest of the scene fell away to leave them again in a small room. Only this time the walls held no doorways.
"You're awake." Xena opened her eyes to see Sorrow staring at her. The warrior was genuinely surprised; having thought the pressure points would keep her asleep much longer.
The Princess reached a shaking hand toward her through the darkness, attempting to make a connection. Sensing the unspoken plea, Xena moved closer and clasped the hand within her own.
"Please talk to me Sorrow." Her whisper was just audible above the crackling of the fire.
"It hurts inside." For the first time the familiar words came in Sorrow's normal voice.
"Hurts where? Is your stomach still upset." She tried to keep the image of the forest floor from replaying in her mind. "Did you get hurt during the fighting?"
"Yes, but it's not that. It hurts inside." Sorrow raised her free hand to her face. "Listen. Can you hear it?" She watched the warrior make an effort and then give up as her face turned sad. "Hundreds of them, wailing, screeching from the pain." Scrambling up onto her knees, Sorrow moved her free arm and placed her wrist against the warrior's ear. "Listen now."
Xena stilled her breathing and listened. First to the rushing of Sorrow's blood through the veins just below her skin and then focusing, she listened to the sound behind it.
"Sorrow, what am I listening to?" She questioned, finding her mind unable to make any guess as to what the noise could be.
"You saw what I did to them. I've been very bad." The Princess pulled away and curled up into a ball on her bedroll.
"Honey, you've killed lots of people. I know it doesn't make it any easier but why is this time so different?" She questioned as moved closer, praying that this moment of confession wouldn't end quite yet.
"I slaughtered them. I called them children and then..." Sorrow cried as her body began to shake violently. "I didn't need to take them. I don't know why, it was just so easy. I couldn't fight it anymore; thinking you were dead hurt so much. I gave in!"
"I know, I know. I saw what you did to them." Xena pleaded with her. "Grief makes you do things you'd never dream of doing. It's all right Sorrow. They were soldiers, they weren't children."
"They were innocents. They didn't know who I was, what I am." She shook her head against the warrior's reasons. "You don't know what I did. You'll hate me when you know."
"Sorrow, I could never hate you. Never!" The warrior voice was unwavering in its conviction.
"This will make you hate me." Sorrow buried her face into her hands. "Do you know why my wings have turned red?"
"The grief of thinking me dead? The belief that you'd failed your mother, that she would hate you?" Xena offered explanations.
"No. My wings turned red for the same reason that it hurts inside. It hurts inside my soul." Sorrow turned away from her.
"Why does it hurt inside Sorrow? What changed your wings?" She could barely bring herself to voice the question. The last time she'd heard those words her life had been dragged down into such turmoil. She feared the dreaded words would once again be heralding disaster.
"I lost my innocence." The Princess whispered. "The Goddess took their souls. I took their souls."
"Oh, Sorrow." Xena whispered back as she allowed herself to realize what the wailing she'd heard within the Princess had been. This was not the same consumption that had occurred many seasons ago in Ares' temple when Sorrow had killed her father and taken her birthright. No, this was something much darker. In the midst of hunting Caesar, Sorrow had stolen the souls of the slain soldiers and brought them into herself. She'd been feeding off them, torturing them to feed her rage. Now, although the rage had gone, she was left with them. Compared to her Father, these were innocent souls. Innocents taken by the Goddess and now left behind to drive the Princess mad.
Everything made sense to Xena so suddenly. The reason Argo had been scared of the bodies, why Sorrow hadn't been hurt at all during the battle, why her daughter's descent into the rage had caused such madness within her. The unimaginable had happened. Sorrow had lost her soul innocence.
After only a moment's hesitation, Xena moved to cradle her daughter's head in her lap.
"Ssssh." She rubbed her hand over Sorrow's cheek. "It's all right, I'll think of a way to fix this. It'll be all right again, promise."
"Now where are we?" The Regent asked when no one else bothered.
Danu, having moved back against one of the wall, slid down to rest on the floor and pulled her knees up tight to her cheast. She'd be preparing herself for a lot of things, but never to bear witness to the horrible moment when Sorrow was stolen from her Mother's womb. That the link between them gave her the Queen's pain on top of her own, made it all she could do to keep herself from bursting into tears.
Gabrielle, in comparison, had chosen to back herself into a corner. The riddle spoken in her own voice replayed again and again in her mind. Bringing her arms down to cradle her growing stomach, she begged Artemis to bring them back home.
"Are you all right?" Danu had unknowingly brought her own arms to her stomach and soon realized this pain was the Queen's alone.
"Just a little cramping." The bard managed a weak smile.
"When did it start?" The Regent moved over to help her sit.
"When he took Sorrow." Saying the words for the first time was so saddening to her. "It was all just a little much." She tried to explain away the discomfort.
"You're getting awfully big." Danu crawled closer.
"You were under Oxin for a while, weren't you?" Ephiny asked her with wide eyes.
"Yes?" Danu looked back at her with an equally questioning look.
"Maybe you should check to see if anything's wrong?" The Regent prompted the archer, knowing she had little skill in this department.
"Oh!" The archer breath caught with the idea. "You don't think you're going into labour do you?" She turned to the bard and asked the question after much hesitation.
"No, don't be silly." Gabrielle rubbed her hands over her stomach and smiled. "That's a ridiculous idea." She looked at the archer concerned. "Isn't it?"
"Oxin!" Solari burst into the healer's hut. "You have to come back to the temple with me."
"Ssssh. The children are asleep." The healer emerged from the back room. "What's wrong?"
"Something's wrong with the Queen!" The guard's voice was filled with fear.
"Bring me to her." Oxin grabbed her medical kit and followed the guard to the temple.
"You won't be able to wake them up." Solari explained as they entered the temple. "Artemis has sent the three of them on some sort of journey. But I don't think that was supposed to happen." She pointed down at the Queen and her huge stomach in particular.
"Sweet Artemis!" The words broke from the healer's throat before she remembered where she was. "It looks like she's pregnant!"
"Good, it's not just me." Solari rubbed her forehead. "It also looks like her water broke." She gestured to the puddle that surrounded the bard's hips.
"But I examined her the other day." Oxin bent down next to the unconscious Queen. "I can assure you she wasn't pregnant then. It would be impossible for her to be like this in just days."
"Who cares how it happened!" Solari frantically tried to regain control of the situation. "Can she give birth while she's like that?"
"Your water didn't break did it?" Danu tried to nonchalantly glance at the ground under the bard.
"No, I think I'd remember that." Gabrielle laughed at their nervousness. "Look, if this baby is coming we have to figure out this secret and get home. I don't like the idea of having Anastasia here. Where is here anyway?" She looked around the small room for the first time.
"Don't know?" Ephiny moved to investigate their surroundings. "There are no options here. No choices."
"Maybe we have to create the choices." Danu leaned to sit next to Gabrielle. "After the last place, I think we need a chance to figure out where to go next. If what Dahak did to change you wasn't the secret..." Her eyes silently apologized to the bard for putting it so bluntly. "Then maybe it will lead us to the secret if we ask the right question. We do have that one riddle."
"Creating the Twins. Took both the demon and you. Creating the others. How could just you and her make due?" The bard repeated the riddle. "Creating the others?" She questioned the meaning of the words.
"I think it means Madalene and Anastasia." Ephiny smiled and reached out to place her hand on Gabrielle's stomach. "You must admit both of them were a little unexpected, all things considered."
"How could just you and her make due!" Danu's eyes lit up. "That's the secret. How is it that you and Xena are able to have children?"
"I'd always thought that Artemis had given Madalene to us as a gift." Gabrielle tried to explain to them and to herself why she had never really questioned this. "Only when I went to thank her for giving us Anastasia did I find out she'd had nothing to do with it."
"Something else must be helping." Danu took the bard's hand in her own. "There would be only one reason for you to go back to Britannia and show yourself what was happening behind Dahak's flames." The archer sighed.
"NO!" Gabrielle pulled her hand away, refusing to believe the facts before her. "Dahak has nothing to do with Madalene or Anastasia. He can't, I won't allow it."
"Maybe not Dahak himself, but the change he made in you so that you could give birth to Hope." Danu tried to explain. Her small amount of healer's training told her that the Queen was indeed very close to giving birth and the archer wanted to get them all back home well before that happened.
"It's possible Gabrielle." Ephiny tried to help her understand what Danu was proposing. "How else would you and Xena be able to defy the laws of nature and have a baby on your own?"
"I don't know. But I dare anyone to show me that Madalene's or Anastasia's conception wasn't within the laws of nature." The bard spoke the harsh words more to protest the acceptance that her own mind was giving the idea than against her companions.
"I think you accepted the dare." Danu pointed to the door that had appeared in the wall furthest from them.
"Help me up!" The Queen ordered, wanting to get to the bottom of this quickly. She'd prove them all wrong, even herself. Dahak had nothing to do with the daughters she shared with the warrior. Nothing at all.
As Xena watched Sorrow toss in her fitful sleep, the warrior cursed herself for not killing Caesar while she'd had the chance. Again it had been his actions that brought unknowable suffering to someone she loved. First, the horrors of Britannia and the loss of Gabrielle's blood innocence and now this.
All of her hopes that the Princess' madness would pass with a little time and care, had been destroyed. There would be no lasting lucidity for her daughter as long as those innocent souls remained to torture her from the inside out. The warrior was at a loss. She was far too tired and spent for thinking. There would be no brilliant plan before the dawn. She just didn't have enough to go on. The mechanics of how Sorrow could take their souls was not something she was privy too, so how could she expect herself to know how to get rid of them? But she did expect just that. She was the Warrior Princess and more than that, this was her daughter.
'And Gabrielle's redemption for the horror's of Britannia!' The thought came to remind her just what was at stake. Not that she ever believed the bard would feel the things that Sorrow feared when she found out what had happened. The warrior knew that for Gabrielle, her daughter's actions would only bring up more questions of her failure as a mother. She couldn't count the times that she'd caught the bard teary eyed, worried that a failing in her had caused Hope to be so evil and would cause Sorrow to be the same.
Her inner ramblings were broken when the Princess turned onto her stomach and quickly shot up to stand.
"Danu! Danu, please don't run from me." Sorrow's face was contorted in torment. "I won't hurt you, you know that." Seeing through the darkness, Sorrow took off into the forest after the imaginary archer.
"Oh, Gods now what!" Xena cursed as she dragged herself up to follow the raving Princess into the night. She had no trouble tracking Sorrow. Her loud ranting words were easy enough to focus in on and the fact that she was running with reckless abandon made her trail easy to follow when the warrior was unable to match her breakneck pace. "Sorrow!" She called to her only once as she ran. It was wasted breath to call out. The Princess was focused on one thing, an imaginary archer who apparently was running away from her.
"Danu, please don't run from me." Sorrow pleaded with the archer, who cowered shaking at the other side of the small clearing. "You know I won't hurt you, could never hurt you."
"How do I know?" Danu's small voice questioned her. "I never thought you were capable of doing what you've done. You really are the daughter of Dahak, you're not mine anymore."
"Yes, I am." Dropping to her knees, Sorrow sank slightly into the mossy ground. "I thought Xena was dead. My thought communication wasn't working. I didn't know what to do. The only right answer was to hunt down Caesar."
"At the expense of everything else?" The hallucination questioned her in an angry voice. "Did you give me one thought? Did you think of your Mother, Madalene or the rest of the Nation?"
"Sort of." She hung her head in shame. "You would've all hated me when you found out I let her die. You would've never forgiven me for it. I couldn't face being a disappointment again."
"Who told you that you were a disappointment?" Danu moved a few steps closer to her.
"That's not important." Sorrow growled and slammed her hand into the trunk of a nearby tree.
The poor old oak snapped under the force of her blow and crashed down only a few feet from where the warrior had stopped to watch the Princess and her imaginary archer.
"Sorrow, I've always known you were dangerous but look at you now." The archer scolded her. "You can't control your temper at all, even with me."
"I can control my temper. Why do you think he was disappointed with me in the first place?" The Princess questioned back in whisper.
"Who was disappointed in the first place?"
"Father!" She barked the word, figuring the 'who' should've been very clear to the archer. "He said that even for a mistake I was disappointing. Hope was the precious one. He made sure that Mother only knew about her. She never searched for me, she never worried that I was hurt or sad."
"Can you blame her?" A harsh voice screamed the question at her. "Look what you've done. You're not good or bad. You're just a pitiful insane mistake who can't do anything right!"
"How can you say that?" The Princess began to cry. "I thought you loved me. You said you'd always love me."
"Love you?" The archer started to laugh. "How could I love a demon like you? Not even a powerful demon at that." She moved closer to the kneeling figure. "I've been bad. Xena, I've been bad. Pathetic, if you ask me." She mocked her in a high pitched voice.
"I have been bad." Sorrow shook her head against the condemnation. "I'm not pathetic thought."
"You're not?" Danu stopped in mid laugh to question her. "What would you call a demon whose strong enough to take souls, but so weak they drive her mad?"
"They're driving me mad because I won't give into them. I won't give into the pain." She thrashed her head back and forth as the wailing inside her increased. "The only way to quench their suffering is to bring more. Consume more to join them. But it never stops. It never ends. I could take everyone on Earth and I'd only have to go find another realm and take more. There is no end."
"You don't want to take more?"
"NO!" Sorrow screamed. "No more, never again. I knew what would happen, that's why I never let myself take an innocent. No matter how Father baited me." Her tone lowered. "I took Father, but I left him in the stone with the others. I have never taken another soul into me, NEVER!" Her words reached a feverish pitch.
"Then let them go. If you don't want them inside you, don't crave to use the power they supply you..." The archer knelt in front of her. "Then set them free."
"Set them free?" Sorrow stared at her with an innocent confusion. "Set them free?"
"Yes, my love." Danu raised a soft hand to caress the Princess' face. "If you love me and are truly sorry for what you've done in error, set them free."
"It was an error." She nodded vigorously in agreement. "I never planned to take them. I thought Xena was dead and I was so tired from so much fighting. I'm not proud of my weakness, but I really didn't do this on purpose."
"I know. I know." The archer smiled at her. "Sorrow, let them go. Let them go and come home to me."
"Come home to you! If I let them go I can come home?" Her jaw quivered as she spoke, unable to believe the archer would extend such an invitation after all she had done.
"Yes." The archer reached to lift the Princess' scarred hand and held the palm towards the night sky. "Remember you are the law. Command it, and they will leave."
"Command it?" Sorrow looked down into her palm and shivered. Turning her face up towards the heavens her words were loud and forceful. "I demand that you all leave me! I require no more of your worship, you are free to go."
Xena had watched the entire exchanged from the trees. The one sided conversation hadn't been that difficult to follow and the warrior silently thanked Danu. For even as a hallucination, she was doing her best to save the woman she loved. Hearing the Princess ask if she could set them free, the warrior's heart jumped into her throat. Was there really a way that Sorrow could release the souls and be free of this madness? It was that revelation alone that stopped her from going to Sorrow and coaxing her out of the illusion. Seeing her daughter hold her palm out and then command the souls to leave her, Xena knew she'd made the right decision.
The thin gray wisps of smoke came from Sorrow's palm one at a time. Each new soul tentatively leaving its imprisonment, fearful that is was being sent into an even greater horror. With the knowledge that they were indeed being released into freedom, the souls fought to exit her, less the chance was taken from them again. The Princess' body was taunt against their exodus and in her weakened state she shook and dropped when the last of them left her.
"I'm sorry." Her weak voice called to them as she watched them rise into the heavens and freedom.
Xena rushed to her when she saw Sorrow fall. Reaching her just in time to watch as the various injuries from the battle appeared on the Princess. With their strength no longer inside to heal her, her flesh was bruised and shredded.
"Xena?" Sorrow blinked the madness away from her eyes and tried to focus through the pain on the women that leaned over her.
"Yes, Sorrow. Does it hurt?" She moved to look her daughter in the eye. Comforted by the clarity she saw looking back at her. The multitude of injuries kept her from embracing the Princess.
"Not anymore." Her answer was accompanied with a sigh of relief. "How did you do it?"
"I didn't do anything." The warrior shook her head. "It was Danu." The confused look on Sorrow's face made her continue. "She came to you as a hallucination and showed you what needed to be done." Sorrow nodded that she understood. "I have to get you back to camp." Xena looked around trying to think.
"Is it far?" Sorrow gathered her strength and sat up despite the warrior's objections. "With a little help I can walk if its not too far."
"A little help?" The warrior snorted as she moved to help the Princess when she stood up. "I'll carry you back if I have to." She looked at her daughter and laughed happily.
"We're home!" Gabrielle exclaimed as they stepped through the door and into the courtyard of the village. "Seeing behind the flames did reveal the secret."
"Home, yes." Ephiny looked around studying the subtle differences around them. "But not at the same time that we left it."
"Then when?" The bard sighed with the realization that the Regent was right.
"Look!" Danu pointed to the funeral pyres visible in the distance. "The only time I have seen that was when..."
"When Lady Cassandra attacked!" Gabrielle cut her off when the memory of the scene cleared for her. "This is the night that Xena went to assassinate her. This is the night that Madalene was conceived."
The archer and Regent stood staring at their feet for a minute. Both knowing that any revelations from this part of the journey would require invading a privacy they both would rather not break.
"I think I can do this on my own." The bard announced suddenly and headed off. Her companions both gave a sigh of relief.
Gabrielle entered the hut, relieved when neither of the figures on the bed took notice of her. She hoped this memory would follow the rules set down in the temple. Her interaction with them wouldn't begin till she questioned one directly.
"I can't believe I didn't realize what she was planning." The bard chastised herself as she listened to Xena's pledges of love.
Leaning against the doorway she felt uneasy. Even though this was the warrior and herself and she'd lived these very moments, to now watch it from her current perspective felt like spying. She was grateful her companions had stayed behind.
"Tonight I give you all of me, everything I am or ever will be is yours." A teardrop, falling gently onto the other Gabrielle's face accompanied every word from the warrior.
"What's this?" She questioned aloud when she saw small drops of light falling with the warrior's tears on the face below her. A breath caught in her throat as she watched the little lights soak into her flesh and travel slowly through her double's body. Concentrating as a large light in her abdomen. With equal parts dread and fascination she watched as another large piece of light appeared in her own cheast and followed the same path down to meet the other. The two lights first swirling together until they were one and then disappearing. "I really did steal a piece of your soul that night."
"Not stolen, given to you freely." The warrior turned to address her.
Bolting from the hut, she ran back to the courtyard. Scaring both her companions to death when they saw her coming.
"What's wrong?" Danu asked concerned, as she scanned the area for threats.
"Give me your hands." Gabrielle commanded them and was happy when they both complied without question. Looking to the heavens she asked the only question she could think of. "What happened the night of Anastasia's conception?"
The darkness came up as the village around them dropped away for a moment, before the world came back and they were standing in the Queen's bedroom.
"We should leave." Ephiny blurted out when her eyes came to focus on the Queen and her champion sitting on the bed.
"It's all right." Gabrielle whispered and released their hands. "Tell me if you see the lights."
The Regent exchanged a puzzled look with the archer, before they both turned their attention to the scene in front of them.
"No, I'm glad you told me." They watched Xena cover the small hand on her cheek with her own. "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 other Gabrielle 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." It was as they watched the warrior loose control and begin to cry that the little lights again appeared. Soaking into the flesh of Gabrielle's hands and traveling down to gather in her abdomen.
"Do you see them?" The bard asked her companions when they didn't comment.
"Yes." Both women's answers were mere whispers as they watched the incredible spectacle before them. The second light appeared as before in the bard's cheast and moved to combine with the light from the warrior.
"She's been giving me pieces of her soul." Gabrielle wiped a lone tear from her cheek as her hands held onto her stomach. "I saw the same thing happen to create Madalene."
"Gabrielle, it's beautiful but..." The Regent caught the words in her throat, afraid to give them voice.
"But what?" The bard turned to them and with the change in focus the scene around them gave way. They were again in the small room that lacked doors.
"What we saw happening isn't..." Ephiny struggled to find the best possible choice of words. "How are you able to take pieces of Xena's soul and create children?"
"Only one form of beings I know can take possession of souls." Danu whispered. Turning to face one of the walls, she leaned forward to rest her forehead on the cool surface.
"Don't say it!" Gabrielle's harsh voice commanded. "He has nothing to do with this."
"Yes, he does." The archer whispered in challenge. "That is why Madalene possess some powers so similar to Sorrow and I expect Anastasia will be the same."
"Take it back!" The bard yelled as she moved to meet the archer's verbal challenge. "Even Sorrow wouldn't wish for such a thing. How can you?"
"I'm not wishing for it. It's the big picture that Anastasia told me to look for. It is the connection between the events. Only with the changes that Dahak made in you can you create these children and with that influence they are destined to carry unimaginable powers." The archer turned to face the Queen, surprised by the hard slap when it hit her face.
"Gabrielle!" Ephiny raced to get between them.
"It's all right, Ephiny." Danu rubbed her cheek. "She can hit me all she wants. I'd beat myself up if I thought it would change things."
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry." The bard repeated in a desperate voice as she backed away from them. The reality of the archer's words started to become visible in her mind.
"Gabrielle, you know I think Madalene is the most precious little girl in the world and I already love Anastasia." The archer's voice was soft. "But you have to admit this to yourself, Dahak has a small part in allowing their conception. The thing to hold onto is that almost all of what they are is from you and Xena."
"She's right, Gabrielle." Ephiny looked at her and smiled. "He just gave you the means so to speak. It's your soul and Xena's soul that gave them life. By the Gods, Madalene couldn't be more like Xena."
"Anastasia told me that Sorrow will say her eyes are because she inherited the best parts of each of us." The bard's distracted voice answered. Her mind was busy listing the overwhelming argument to support Dahak's involvement in the creation of her daughters.
Her companions exchanged a concerned look. Both knowing that if they couldn't get her to believe the now revealed secret, there was a possibility they would be trapped in this journey forever.
"I never questioned what he'd done to me that day." Gabrielle whispered to them and to herself. "I didn't want to know how I'd become pregnant with Hope. I never dared to think of what had happened in the flames."
"You can't blame yourself." Ephiny tried to comfort her. "It was a horrible thing to go through, your mind was just trying to protect itself. That's why it created the secret."
"The secret." The bard repeated the word and laughed nervously. "I expected to discover so many things on this journey but never did I even dream of this." Moving to take their hands she released a heavy sigh. "Artemis, I know the secret now. Please bring us home."
"What else can I do?" Xena asked Sorrow as she finished bandaging the more serious of her injuries. The familiar healing heat in the wounds comforted her, but she hoped the bandages would help speed up the healing process by limiting her blood loss.
"When was the last time you got any sleep?" The Princess asked with a weak smile.
"Look that good do I?" The warrior questioned as she tucked the blanket in around Sorrow's legs. "Are you sure you don't want to lie down?"
"No, I want to sit for awhile. The heat is comforting." She closed her eyes for a second and took a deep breath. "And yes, you do look that good."
"I'll make us some tea then." Xena moved toward the fire. "I've been a little too busy to sleep." Realizing the implications of her words, she wished she hadn't been so stupid as to try and make conversation.
"I bet." Sorrow frowned. "How did you know where to find me?"
"I didn't at first." The warrior shook her head and sat back to wait for the water to boil. "When the remainder of your men came back to alpha field, I sent Samuel to find you and tell you to stop slacking off and come help me." She smiled at the Princess, hoping her lost joke would elicit the smile it had intended so long ago.
"That would've been a cute message." Sorrow responded with the expected smile.
"But he couldn't find you and he came back to tell me." Xena stoked the fire. "The Roman's retreated shortly after that and I raced to beta section to find you." The warrior remembered the desperation she'd felt on the short ride there. "I tried to call you, but you didn't answer." Looking Sorrow in the eye, she continued. "I thought you were dead or severely injured. I began going from body to body, seeing if you were among the dead. Each time I found a body I couldn't decide if it was worse to find you or not know where you were." She stopped for a minute as the faces of the dead shuffled by her eyes. "I'd almost lost my mind when Samuel came to bring me rations. He helped me look for you and we started talking."
"Is this Samuel the fellow who's standing guard over there?" Sorrow nodded off towards the forest behind her.
"Yes, that's Samuel." The warrior smiled. "He's a good man, he had all of this set up for when I brought you back."
"I'll have to thank him." Sorrow smiled again. "For this and for helping you."
"Samuel was the one who found your armor, found the spot where you'd last kneeled." Xena sighed and turned to fix their tea. Handing the Princess the mug, she worried that her daughter's shaking hands would make it impossible for her to drink. When the Princess made out fine she continued. "Seeing the pattern in the fighting, I could tell that you'd made a stand."
"Brutus' personal guards." Sorrow filled in the perceived blank.
"Samuel remembered that he'd seen Brutus overseeing the attack in the valley so I figured as much. When I didn't see Brutus among the dead I thought my worse fears had come true." She took a large gulp of tea. "I was afraid you'd been overpowered and captured."
"You came alone to rescue me?" The Princess whispered as she shook her head. "Now, I feel even worse. You shouldn't have risked yourself like that."
"No, Samuel noticed that the cuts to the straps of your armor were straight and that the leather showed no injury to you." Her voice was soft but strong. "He knew you were the Protector, so he asked me how I could believe that you were dead." A quick smile told Sorrow she'd explain how Samuel was privy to her secret later, the current story was much too important to be sidetracked. "So, I explained to him that you weren't answering my calls. It was Samuel that finally made me realize what had happened." She finished the last of the tea. "I knew that if you couldn't hear me calling you then you'd think I was dead."
"And you knew I'd seek Caesar out to kill him." Sorrow hung her head in shame. "It wasn't just not being able to hear you, Brutus told me you were dead."
"I know." She moved closer to her daughter. "It's all right, I was thinking of doing some pretty crazy things when I thought you were dead too." She tried to make her understand that her choices hadn't been that bad.
"You'd never have done the things that I did." The Princess wiped a lone tear from her cheek. "You saw them, didn't you? Saw what I did to them all?"
"I found them. Realized that you were getting more aggressive and violent." The warrior admitted as she placed her hand on the blanket above Sorrow's leg, trying to offer some contact and comfort. "I didn't know all of it then."
"Then why did you stop me from killing Caesar?" Sorrow asked confused. Xena's desperate attempt made sense if the warrior had known she'd taken the souls from her victims.
"I knew killing him would be the breaking point." The warrior shrugged as she took the empty cup from her daughter. "To face the odds you were going up against you'd be very close to the rage you work so hard to keep under control. I just knew somehow."
"Good Gods!" The Princess grimaced, as the memories became clearer to her. "I kissed him." The puzzled look from the warrior made her explain. "I cut him." She motioned across her bottom lip in mimic. "I wanted him to bleed first so I could taste his fear." She unconsciously wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, the taste of his blood very vivid to her suddenly.
"Sorrow, you don't have to talk about it." Xena brought her to a locked stare. "The things that have happened here don't need reliving, ever again."
"No, Xena." She shook her head. "I have to face what I've done. I can't hide from what I let myself become." She laughed sadly. "It'd be a little hard to explain why my wings are now blood red."
'Damn you Caesar!' The warrior cursed him in her head. How dare he cause her daughter this much pain?
"I didn't take the first few I killed." Needing to explain, she began and was relieved that the warrior didn't interrupt. "It was only when I started to weaken that it seemed so right to take them. After all I'm a Goddess they should worship me, right?" She laughed at her own arrogance. "I didn't feel like myself. It was if the real me was wrapped up in layers and layers of cloth and I couldn't stop what was going on." She sighed. "I was happy to see the hundreds of soldiers between me and Caesar. I wanted him to see me, see what I could do before I killed him." She rubbed her forehead as her thought process during that time came flooding back. "I took them all just to scare him and to satisfy the hunger. I broke his legs for you though." She frowned at the warrior. "That I will never regret." Xena's small nod was comforting. "He's lucky you arrived when you did. I was just about to gut him." A wave of nausea rose with the words.
"I'm just glad you were strong enough to hear me." Xena answered her self-hatred with a soft voice. "I didn't stop the rage, you did."
"I should've never given in to begin with." She started to cry. "How am I going to explain this to Mother?" A heavy sob broke free from her. "How am I going to explain this to Danu?"
"We'll both explain it." The warrior gathered her sobbing daughter into her arms. "They'll understand Sorrow, we'll make them understand. It wasn't your fault." Rocking her back and forth, Xena held her until Sorrow was to tired to cry. "Why don't we get some sleep?" She asked trying to ease the pain a little. Helping her lie down, the warrior stretched out beside her and within moments the two exhausted women drifted off.
Gabrielle blinked her eyes as the ceiling far above her came into focus. She was vaguely aware that she still held hands with Danu and Ephiny, as the realization that they were no longer in the doorless room but instead back in Artemis' temple solidified in her mind. The bard only had a heartbeat worth of relief before the agony of the contraction engulfed her and cleared her head of any other thoughts.
"Gabrielle?" Solari asked shocked, when she saw her Queen's eyes blinking and scanning around the room. Gabrielle groaned and released her companions' hands as she reached down to her stomach.
"So good to have you back, your Majesty." Oxin moved up so that she could look her Queen in the eye. "I have a lot of questions for you, but most of them can wait. The most pressing is how are feeling?"
"I think I'm in labour." She relaxed her jaw as the contraction subsided.
"Whether or not you are in labour is not up for debate." The healer smiled brightly at her. "The answer is most definitely yes. The question is are you feeling anything abnormal or do you feel stable enough for me to enlist these fine woman to carry you to the infirmary?"
"That shouldn't be..." She began her answer only to be cut off by the return of the searing pain.
"I'll take that as a no." The healer moved to inspect the baby's progress. "This baby seems to be in the same hurry as Madalene."
The reference to the Princess made the bard's mind leapt to life. Both with the revelations provided by her recent journey and with concern for her daughter.
"Is Madalene okay?" She looked up at Solari scared.
"She's fine." The guard spoke the white lie quickly. Assuring herself that it wasn't a complete lie because the Princess was fine at the moment, asleep in the healer's hut with her small friend. There would be ample time later to explain the recent incident.
"Danu, move behind her." Oxin commanded the stunned archer to life. "Your Majesty, I want you to push with the next contraction."
The bard nodded, trying to calm herself in preparation for the contraction.
"Are you all right?" Solari crouched down beside the equally stunned Regent.
"Huh?" Ephiny asked her in a daze. "Oh yeah, just fine. How are you doing?"
"Perfect!" The guard answered sarcastically in a sharp whisper. "I've just been dealing with all of this." She motioned around her.
"Sorry, love." The Regent hugged her mate tightly. "I'll explain everything later."
A sudden straining groan from Gabrielle moved both of their attentions away from their conversation and back to the Queen.
"Is there anything else you need?" Ephiny asked the healer in a frantic voice. She said a silent prayer to Artemis that they'd gotten back in time for the baby's arrival.
"I need more light." The healer commanded concerned by the unusualness of the delivery. Secretly, she feared she'd be birthing a very sickly infant.
Both of the unoccupied women scrambled to fill her command and the healer's working area was soon brightly illuminated.
"Come on, Gabrielle. You can do it." The archer coached the straining bard through another contraction. The archer momentarily thought of calling out to Sorrow, but dismissed the idea when she remembered that Madalene was blocking all of their communications.
"Xena!" Gabrielle screamed the warrior's name as she bore down against the pain and pushed.
"Very good, I can see the head." Oxin prompted her in a soothing voice. "Just a couple of more good pushes and it will all be over."
"I can't do it." The bard whispered, exhausted.
"Yes, you can." Danu whispered in her ear. "I have never told you this but I believe you are the strongest woman in the world." Not bothering to acknowledge the bard's look of confusion she continued. "You have battled things that would send everyone else into insanity. You're the voice of reason when everyone else loses sight of things. You are the person who everyone leans on and you never falter, never let any of us down. You can do this Gabrielle. You'll do it because you're strong. You'll do it because you love Anastasia."
Gabrielle smiled at the archer and nodded. Even though she would've argued against some of Danu's statements, she would do this because she loved Anastasia. That fact alone would give her the strength.
"Thallia, wake up." Madalene shook her little friend slightly.
"Mads, what's wrong?" Thallia snapped to life fearfully.
"Anastasia's here!" The joy in the Princess' voice was overwhelming. "I'm a big sister now. Just like Sorrow is to me."
"Now there will be balance." The Princess whispered the words to herself. "Blessed balance."
Despite her exhaustion, the small movements in the forest nearby woke Sorrow. Focusing through the darkness, her sharp senses easily picked out the man within the trees. Moving to sit she motioned for the figure in the treeline to join her by the fire. A finger to her lips and a motion in the direction of the still sleeping warrior greeted Samuel as he stepped into the firelight.
"SSS...Sorry." He whispered as he sat quietly down close-by. "I was just cc... checking to ss... see if everything was okay."
'It's just Samuel, no reason to wake up.' She sent the thoughts directly to the sleeping warrior. 'And I'm just having more tea. Please stay asleep. Everything is fine.' She was happy when the muscles of Xena's face relax and the tired woman turned away from them to continue sleeping.
"It's all right Samuel." She smiled at him. "I was just about to have some tea, would you like some?" She could tell he was studying her through the darkness, but it was also obvious that he intended no malice with his curiosity.
"Yes, thank-you." He smiled and moved his eyes when he realized she'd caught him looking.
"I must look a tad strange." She smiled brightly at him and motioned to the bandages. "Even knowing that I am the Protector."
"NN... Not sss... strange." He looked back at her and cursed himself when the stuttering started. "I ww... was j...j... just w...wondering hhh... how much ppp... pain you ww... were in?"
"Not much." She studied him for a moment in return. Curious as to the origin of his speech impediment, which seemed to get worse when he made eye contact with her. "Xena explained a little of how much you helped her. I wanted to say thank you." She spoke without looking at him, trying to relieve some of his anxiety. A string of clumsy movements toward the fire, caused Samuel to motion that he would get the tea.
"No need." His words came fluid as he fixed their tea. "Xena saved me during the battle and it was the very least I could do."
"That's not why you helped her." She commented as she stared up into the night sky. "You're a good man Samuel and very smart it seems. Figuring out that I'd cut the armor off myself and that Brutus was involved."
He shrugged his shoulders and handed her a mug of tea.
"How did you get mixed up in this?" She stared into the tea and asked him in a whispered voice.
"I've spent my whole life bb...b...being told I wasn't gg... good enough, b... because of..." He didn't finish the sentence as the reason became obvious. Trying to return some cadence to his speech he stared into his tea as well. "I hoped that by proving myself on the battlefield that I would finally be able to go home and prove my worth to everyone." He looked up to the sky and sighed.
"What's her name?" Sorrow couldn't help looking at him as she asked.
"Leila." He looked at the Princess with a growing curiosity. "How did you know?" She shrugged her shoulders. "I don't want everyone to think she settled for the village idiot. I want her to be proud of who I am."
"Samuel, did she want you to do this?" The Princess questioned.
"No." He shook his head sadly. "She doesn't understand. I ddd... don't have ttt.... this pp... problem with her." He tried to explain.
"Why do you think that is?"
"She makes me feel confident. She doesn't look at me and see the person everyone else sees." He turned to meet Sorrow's eyes and saw a profound understanding looking back at him. "What's her name?"
"Danu." She gave him a small grin at his astuteness.
"Did she want you here fighting?" He turned the questions back on her.
"No, not particularly. But she understands my duty." She bit her lip as she responded, remembering her last night with the archer.
"Duty?" A small laugh escaped him. "Sounds like a small understatement for the Protector."
"How did you know?" She finished her tea and gladly accepted another from him.
"I watched you defeat an army on the Amazon border a few seasons ago." He kept the explanation simple.
"You were the boy behind the wagon?" She scanned back in her memory and suddenly became aware of his presence that day. She'd always known that someone had been watching her, but her senses had not perceived him as a threat so she hadn't been concerned with him at the time.
"Yes." He studied her for a heartbeat before shrugging again. He feared he would never truly understand how it was this woman could know so much. "I haven't told anyone." He suddenly felt the need to reassure her of his loyalty.
"I have complete faith in your loyalty Samuel." She held his eyes in an attempt to show her sincerity. "I want you to know that if you ever need my help, for any reason, just send word to the Nation. I'll be at your side in a heartbeat." She extended her arm to him and was happy to see him shake it so readily. "I also hope to meet your Leila one day. I'd like to give her my thanks as well."
"Why?" He released her arm.
"For recognizing what you couldn't see." She smiled brightly at him. "You're special Samuel. I have a feeling great things will come to you in the future. Not that I'm an oracle or anything." She laughed at his shocked expression. "That isn't one of my talents, but I just have this feeling."
"She'll forgive you without hesitation." Samuel spoke after a brief silence rested between them. "Whatever unforgivable transgression you feel you have made, she'll think you stronger for it." It was Sorrow's turn to look at him shocked. "Not that I'm an Oracle or anything." He smiled and mimicked her words. "Not one of my talents either, but I have a feeling."
"It's a girl." Oxin whispered the announcement, as she carefully checked the newborn over. Her shock at the child's perfect state of health was obvious. "The Nation has a beautiful new Princess." She repeated the familiar phrase out of habit as she tried to regain her focus. Smiling, she handed the bundled baby to her mother.
"Hello, Anastasia." Gabrielle whispered to the bright-eyed child in her arms. "I love you."
"She's beautiful." Danu peered over the bard's shoulder and down at the new arrival. "I knew you could do it." She whispered the last thought so only the Queen could hear her.
"Yes, she is." The bard was captivated by the child in her arms as little eyes closed softly and the child drifted to sleep. "Sleep now little one." She kissed her forehead softly. "It's been a tiring journey for both of us."
"If I could now enlist the help of these fine Amazon's." Oxin wiped her hands and addressed the room. "I would like to move you to the infirmary."
"Couldn't I just go home?" The bard pleaded with her. "Other than being tired I feel fine."
"I don't like the idea of you two being by yourself." The healer shook her head at the request.
"Danu will stay with us." Gabrielle didn't bother to look at the archer, knowing the request would be readily fulfilled. She doubted that Danu wanted to go home and face an empty bed with Sorrow still away. Also, the bard liked the idea of the house being filled with family right now. Especially since her warrior wouldn't be home either. A profound sadness filled her suddenly as she realized how upset Xena would be to have missed out on this blessed event. Gabrielle knew that the surprise she'd be coming home to would make up for everything that she missed.
"Okay. But if you feel anything abnormal at all, I want to be called immediately." Oxin stared sternly at Danu as she spoke.
"You have my word." The archer vowed solemnly.
"You ready?" Xena finished packing the last of their gear onto Argo. After two straight days of rest they'd both become restless at the same time and the decision to head back home agreed upon that dawn without words.
"Ready as ever." The Princess gave her a weak smile as she pulled herself up onto Siko.
"We'll take it slow." The warrior commented as they started out. "No need to push, I doubt anyone is expecting us home this soon."
"They've been hoping we'd arrive back since the moment we left." She corrected the warrior with a sad smile.
"Sorrow, they'll understand." Xena whispered to her, just audible over the sound of the horse's hoofs on the trail.
"I hope so." The Princess whispered back. She'd have more than enough time to worry about this as they traveled. Each step closer to the Nation would be one step closer to having to admit the monster she'd become to those who meant the most to her. Her wings strained to be released after days of confinement. She vowed not to give them freedom until they were revealed anew to her archer.
"Good evening." Danu greeted the bard as she came into the house carrying Madalene in her arms. "How are we both doing?" She smiled towards the sleeping baby in the cradle next to the bard's chair.
"Wonderful." Gabrielle smiled at her. "How long did it take before she feel asleep?" She laughed softly at the little Princess who was limp in the archer's arms.
"Middle of the second story." Danu smiled as she carried the child into her room and tucked her into bed before returning to sit by the fire. "Thallia was awake for the whole thing. So I didn't have the heart to take her home early. I just let Madalene sleep in my lap."
"This has been very hard on her." Gabrielle frowned slightly as she remembered Solari's account of the child's outburst. What the Queen was unaware of was the editing the guard had chosen to perform on the story. Solari had not mentioned the little Princess' revelation about the horrors that the Warrior Princess and Protector were facing. When Madalene had made no immediate mention of it to her mother, the guard had hoped her words had been prompted by the stress of maintaining the block and not actual fact.
"No word?" Danu asked in a soft voice and received the expected head shake from the Queen. "Soon. I have a feeling we'll hear something soon." The archer smiled at her, not knowing where the feeling came from, but believing wholeheartedly in it.
Xena stood silently in the doorway, just watching the archer and her bard talking in the firelight. Taking a deep breath she removed the saddlebag slung over her shoulder and let it drop near the doorway to announce her arrival.
"Xena!" Gabrielle's head snapped to the doorway with the noise. For a moment she feared that she was hallucinating the women who stood there. But the tiredness in the warrior's eyes was too real for anything her mind would conjure up. She rose out of the chair slowly and with equally slow steps crossed the room to where Xena stood waiting for her.
"Hi." Xena gave her a crooked smile as she re-memorized each detail of the women who approached her.
"Thanks the Gods!" The bard exclaimed suddenly as she threw herself into the warrior's arms. They held each other tightly, both feeling the weight of the recent events that the other carried. For the longest time they just stared into each other's eyes, reconfirming that the other was real.
"I promised you I'd come back." Xena whispered as she took the bard's head in her hands and kissed her gently. "I never go back on a promise." She was comforted by the feel of the bard's breath on her face.
Danu stared into the fire. She acknowledged that this was their moment and she felt uncomfortable being in the room at all. The hardest part was keeping herself from asking where Sorrow was. A sudden sinking in her cheast made her very afraid of the warrior's answer.
"Hello, Danu." Xena spoke to the archer as she continued to stare into the green eyes she'd missed so desperately. "Sorrow is at the stables tending to the horses. She would like you to meet her there please."
The archer released the breath she'd been holding. If the Princess was at the stables doing something so mundane as tending to their horses then nothing could be wrong. Trying to keep herself from running, she moved to leave.
"Danu!" Xena reached out to the archer as she passed, stopping her departure for a heartbeat. "Nothing." She shook her head, suddenly unsure what to say. The first account of the events during the battle would be Sorrow's to give and she could do nothing to prepare the archer for what she would find in the stables.
"Glad that you're home." The archer filled in the silence. "I'll see you both tomorrow." She gave a quick smile to Gabrielle and hastily moved out into the night.
"Xena, what happened?" She could see the sadness in her lover's eyes.
"I promise I'll tell you, just not right now." Xena pulled the small woman close to her. "I just want to..." Her words stopped as her vision came to focus on the cradle sitting next to the bard's chair. "Gabrielle?"
"I have someone to introduce you to." She pulled back from the warrior's embrace and hurried over to retrieve the baby. "I promise to explain everything, but for now..." She gathered the precious bundle up into her arms and walked slowly to meet the warrior halfway. "Xena, this is your daughter, Anastasia."
Shaking, the warrior took the infant into her arms. Overwhelmed when she looked down into the child's little eyes of both blue and green.
"How?" She questioned. "Are you all right?" She became very alarmed.
"It's a long story. Let's go lie down and I'll explain." Gabrielle spoke softly as she placed a loving hand on the warrior's arm and led her into their bedroom.
Danu had made it only a short distance from the Royal house before she could no longer contain herself. She broke into a feverish run and was out of breath by the time she reached the stables. The door was open and she slipped in to find Sorrow standing near the back of the structure with her back to the doorway.
Silently, the archer moved up behind the Protector. Sorrow was completely surprised by the warm arms that encircled her suddenly.
"I love you." The archer whispered the words against the Princess' back.
"I love you too." Sorrow whispered in return without moving.
"Whatever happened while you were gone, it doesn't matter." Danu held her tighter, not knowing how, but just knowing that Sorrow was very worried about something.
"You can't mean that, not without knowing." Sorrow twisted in the embrace so that they were face to face. Taking a deep breath, she finally gave freedom to her cramped wings.
"Oh Sorrow, your wings." The archer reached her hand out to touch the crimson feathers. Taking the Princess' face into her hands, they locked eyes. "It doesn't matter. Whatever happened to cause this, doesn't matter!" She spoke slowly and shook her head against the tears that welled up in Sorrow's eyes to protest. "You came back to me. That's all that matters." She softly brushed her lips across Sorrow's, trying to prove her acceptance of the unknown actions with the contact.
"I can't believe this." Sorrow started to shake. "Not until I tell you everything."
"Then tell me everything." Danu took her by the hand towards a clean empty stall and sat down in the fresh hay. Pulling the Princess down to sit in front of her, she waited for Sorrow to get comfortable before she crawled up into her lap. The archer fit perfectly and their faces were only inches apart. "Look me right in the eye while you tell me. That way you'll believe that none of it matters." She spoke in a soft commanding voice, seeing the need to exert herself over Sorrow's distraught state.
"I've been bad." The Princess whispered the familiar mantra of the recent events as she forced herself to maintain eye contact with the archer. "It all started when I discovered the Roman's were attempting a sneak attack on our camp..." She began with the beginnings of the battle. Hoping that by starting at the beginning she would give herself the time to figure out just how she would explain her descent into madness.
Danu listened silently as Sorrow described the battle and her fight to reach Brutus at the border.
"I tried to call her, tried to find her with my mind." Sorrow whispered as hot tears streamed down her face. "I couldn't find her and I was convinced that she was dead."
"Madalene's block!" Danu blurted out the words before she could stop herself.
"What?" The Princess questioned in a little voice., realizing she'd be interrupted but not having really heard the archer's words.
"Nothing, I'll explain later." She kissed Sorrow lightly. "Keep going." Sensing the grief within her Princess, she ran her hand through Sorrow's hair to offer comfort.
The archer listened silently to the rest of the events, retold by the Princess in a soft voice. She knew Sorrow had not made any real attempt to describe the slaughter to her, but the images easily sprang to her mind. She was more than aware of what the Protector was capable of. Lost in her own thoughts, the sudden silence caught her off guard.
"I'll understand if you want to call the wedding off. I can't expect..." Sorrow misunderstood her silence as shock and horror. Not as the simple moment of contemplation and sadness for the trauma that her lover had suffered alone.
"No!" She spoke forcefully, snapping out of her thoughts quickly. Unsure what exactly to say first, she traced her fingers softly over Sorrow's face. Studying the emotion under her fingertips in an attempt to figure out how best to calm her lover's fears. With a small smile she pulled the Princess into her arms. Sorrow began to sob within the embrace, still unsure of the archer's reaction.
'I understand and I forgive you.' Danu sent the thought straight from her heart.
'You do?' Sorrow pulled back to look into the only eyes that could offer her salvation.
'I do.' The archer smiled at the wonderful feeling that came with Sorrow's voice in her mind. The feeling of closeness that she adored so much. 'I love you. Nothing can ever change that.'
'I love you too.' Sorrow sent the thought so softly that it caressed the archer's mind and Danu found herself unable to stop herself as she captured the Princess' head in her hands. It was only then that Sorrow allowed herself to respond to the archer's kisses.
Xena looked from the bard to the baby between them on the bed unable to decide which of the many emotions that coursed through her deserved voicing first. Gabrielle watched her struggling with it all and waited. Waited for something, but as the moments dragged on she feared that no reaction would ever come.
"Xena?" She looked into cloudy blue eyes.
"You're both all right?" The warrior focused suddenly as she did the math in her head and realized the dangerously rapid pregnancy the bard had gone through.
'Just like with Hope.' The thought whispered in her head, but she buried it down.
"Yes, we're both in perfect health. Oxin has been here twice a day checking up on us." Gabrielle laughed, but her happiness ended when Xena suddenly rose off the bed to stand.
"That was dangerous, Gabrielle." She paced back and forth as the long list of possible complications from Artemis' journey piled up in her mind. "Why didn't you call us?"
"I couldn't." She moved off the bed and placed Anastasia into her cradle. "Artemis had Madalene put a block up so that Sorrow would be unable to reach any of us or us reach her."
Gabrielle hadn't expected the reaction she witnessed from the warrior. Xena promptly growled and kicked the bedroom door off its hinges. The broken slab of wood landed splintered in the main room.
"Xena!" The bard exclaimed, holding herself from approaching the warrior just yet.
"Was Artemis also aware that this little block would keep Sorrow and I from hearing each other?" She barked the question, taking deep breaths as she tried to quell her anger.
"I don't think so. She didn't mention it to me." Gabrielle answered innocently. "Xena, you hate talking with Sorrow through thoughts, why would it matter?"
"Matter?" The warrior clenched her fists by her sides as she screamed inside. "It would've made all the difference in the world."
"What difference?" Gabrielle moved towards her now. "You sent Caesar home with his tail between his legs didn't you?"
"No, I didn't." The warrior shook her head. "The One True Goddess sent him home with broken legs."
"Oh well I knew one of you..." The bard caught herself in mid-response as Xena's choice of words cleared in her mind. "The One True Goddess?" She put her hand to her mouth to catch the gasp as it escaped her.
"Yes. The same one." Xena sighed and ran her hand through her hair as she tried to think. She hadn't wanted to explain this all right now. Especially not after hearing about everything that had happened while she was gone.
"Xena, what happened out there?" Gabrielle asked very scared now. "Is Sorrow all right?"
All the warrior could do was nod. What was she supposed to say? This wasn't something that you could explain easily.
"Xena, what happened out there?" She repeated herself when no immediate answer came. "Why did the Goddess break his legs?" Her voice strained to not put too much force in the words.
"I guess it's time for me to tell you a story my bard." She motioned to the bed and they both sat down. "One I'm afraid that could've been avoided if Artemis hadn't have had Madalene block Sorrow's thought communications."
"I missed you so much." Sorrow mumbled into Danu's shoulder. Having fallen back into the hay, the archer held her tightly trying to calm her fears of rejection.
"You mightn't be very happy with me, I have a few things to tell you as well." Danu sighed, knowing it was now her time for confessions.
"What?" Sorrow leaned up to look her in the eye. As she waited for an answer, she instinctually sent her mind out to find the rest of her family. She was relieved to feel Madalene sleeping quietly and the feeling off her mother told her the warrior must be explaining the recent events to her. She would've blocked this from her mind, unable to deal with Gabrielle's response at that moment, but the other small mind in the room caught her attention and she focused in on her. The smile crossed her face slowly as the small voice hummed back happily in her head. "Danu, who is that?"
"Cheater." Danu kissed her on the nose. "I was just about to tell you." She smiled brightly at her Princess, happy to see the smile that shone back at her. "That my love, is your new baby sister. Her name is Anastasia."
"Anastasia." The Princess whispered the name with loving fascination. Her eyes got even wider as the idea of a new sister solidified in her mind. "Ah, Danu?" She looked to the archer for answers to the many questions burning in her mind.
"Let me explain." The archer laughed and began. "It all started when I went to bring your Mother breakfast one morning..."
Xena watched the bard contemplate everything she'd just been told. She'd been surprised by Gabrielle's silence as she told the lengthy story. It was unlike the bard to not ask questions, which worried the warrior more than anything.
"Gabrielle, it wasn't her fault." She began to plead a case for the need to forgive their daughter. "She thought I was dead. She though you'd hate her for letting me die. Madalene's block left her isolated."
"She took their souls." The bard whispered the words through her hands as she covered her face.
"She let them go. You didn't see her with them, she didn't want them. She hates what she did." She moved closer as she continued to argue for the Princess.
"It's all right. I just thought..." Gabrielle abandoned the idea.
"Just thought what?" Xena questioned, wondering if Sorrow's fears somehow might have been right.
"I hoped I could protect her from it. The rage that he bred inside her." She closed her eyes to see the visions from the temple. Visions of the small winged baby being stolen from her and taken to be raised by Dahak's demons. "I should have known that he'd taken her. Should have felt that she was missing. I should have been there for her." Dropping her head again into her hands she began to sob.
"Gabrielle, this isn't your fault either." Xena gathered the crying woman into her arms. "It was just an unfortunate chain of events that led to an almost horrible ending. But we didn't lose her. She fought the rage and she won. She didn't give into it. You gave her the strength."
"I gave her nothing." The bard objected forcefully. "I blocked the truth of that day from my mind to protect myself and in the process I abandoned her." She moved to face the warrior with tear filled eyes. "If it wasn't for my having to go on that journey, Madalene would never have blocked her thoughts and none of this would have happened." She slammed her fist down onto the bed. "Gods, she must hate me."
"She doesn't hate you Gabrielle. The exact opposite in fact. She loves you so much that she is worried that you'll hate her for what happened." She wiped tears from both of the bard's cheeks. "I know you're not going to forgive yourself until you hear this from her. I also know that she's not going to believe that you don't think she's a disappointment until you tell her yourself." She kissed her gently. "You two have been avoiding talking about some things that I don't think either of you can ignore anymore. Not just about this, but this can be a starting point." Xena looked at her thoughtfully, hoping she would see everything that was welling up for both of them.
"When did you get so smart with the emotional stuff?" Gabrielle teased and hugged her warrior close.
Continued in Part Five...
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