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.
"Sorrow! Honey wake up." Danu rubbed her hand over the Princess' contorted face, trying to gently pull her out of the nightmare. The shudder that broke Sorrow back to consciousness caused the whole bed to jump and she would have toppled to the floor if the archer hadn't pulled her back from the edge.
"I got you." Danu could see the scared expression on her lover's face so without thought she pulled her into a tight embrace. Although it would have been easy to fool herself into believing that her simple acceptance of Sorrow's actions in Rome would cause her suffering to end. The archer knew better and understood that her Princess would be haunted by them for along time. "I'm right here, love. I'll protect you."
They stayed tangled up in each other for half a candlemark before the nightmare finally retreated out of Sorrow's mind.
"I'm sorry." She moved to look Danu in the eye, saddened by the hurt she saw there.
"No! You have nothing to be sorry for." The archer cupped the Princess' head in her hands. "I just wish I could do something more to help you. I don't want you to ever thing you're going through this alone." Looking into the soft green eyes she felt useless. "What can I do to show you that I love you? That despite what you fear, nothing between us had changed."
They studied each other for a moment, both knowing what they wanted but unsure if the need was selfish. The previous evening in the barn the want within each of them had almost been fulfilled. An unspoken mutual agreement had suddenly sent them home to sleep and hold each other after the emotional drain of all their revelations. At this moment the want just hung between them unspoken. Seeing Sorrow sigh and pull her face back, the archer couldn't take the distance between them any longer.
"Sorrow, I need to be with you." Her voice was barely a whisper. "I know it's selfish, but..." She couldn't finish the thought as Sorrow's mouth covered her own in a heartbeat. It was only when they were breathless that the Princess pulled back.
"I need to be with you too." A raspy voice responded finally and would be the last words between them. Pulling the Princess back to her, Danu kissed her again as she spread her hands against Sorrow's bare back as she tightened their embrace.
Xena watched the sleeping infant in her arms, fascinated by the events during her absence. She was happy that Gabrielle was still sleeping so that she could have this moment alone with her new daughter.
"Princess Anastasia." She whispered softly. "My little Anastasia." The name seemed so perfect that it was easy to believe the child had been destined to have it.
A myriad of thoughts went through the warrior's mind. The quick pace of Anastasia's development and the similarities to Hope's alarmed a small part of her. But with Gabrielle's explanation of what happened within the flames in Dahak's temple, she had the comfort that the baby was hers and the bard's alone. The demon had only given them the means to have this precious gift.
"Sees beautiful, isn't she?" Madalene leaned against a nearby chair, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
"Yes." Xena looked at the little Princess and had to keep herself from crying. "Both of my babies are beautiful. Come here." She motioned for Madalene to come into her lap. The child happily climbed up and carefully gave her a hug.
"I missed you, Mommy." She snuggled her face into the warrior's neck. "And thank you so much for my present."
"Present?" Xena looked down and questioned her. Realizing suddenly that with all that had happened she'd forgotten her promise.
"Anastasia, she's the best present I ever got." Madalene smiled brightly at her. "I get to be a big sister now you know."
"That's a very big responsibility you know." She spoke softly, feeling guilty for forgetting to bring her daughter home a present, but glad that the child saw the baby as the best one of all. "But I know you'll be the best big sister ever."
"No." She shook her head and thought for a moment. "Sorrow is the best big sister ever, but I'll do my best." She snuggled into the warrior's free arm and yawned. "I'm sorry I caused so much trouble. I promise not to listen to Artemis anymore." Her soft words came out slowly.
"That's not your fault, Madalene." Xena hugged her tighter. "You were only doing what you thought was best for your Mother and the baby. Artemis should have know better." She silently cursed the Goddess in her mind.
"I hope Sorrow will forgive me." She started to whimper. "She wouldn't have been bad if I had just let her hear you."
"Madalene..." Xena stiffened at her daughter's reference to being bad. The phrasing still caused the warrior's heart to leap into her throat. The realization that Madalene's gift and concentrated effort to maintain the block would have given her access to all that Sorrow went through made her blood run cold. Turning to place the sleeping baby in the cradle beside her, she moved back to take the little Princess in her arms. "Oh honey, Sorrow doesn't blame you. Sorrow would never blame you." She held the child tight to comfort herself more than anything. She had no idea what to say, how to question the child on what she had witnessed or how to explain her sister's actions away.
"She's not bad. No matter how much she believes that she is." Madalene reached a small hand up to Xena's cheek. "She was just so sad and she loves you so much. There is nothing but goodness in her."
The warrior just looked at her in stunned silence. It was so hard sometimes to deal with the depth that came out of her small daughter. Hard to cope with the profoundness that sprung forth from the little girl at the strangest of times.
"Everyone thinks that the rage he put in her is more powerful." The Princess continued. "But it isn't. She will only ever use it to protect the goodness. She would never give into it for any other reason." Seeing that her Mommy didn't understand, she tried to explain. "It was her goodness that healed Thallia."
"Honey, you healed Thallia." Xena broke her silence with the clarification.
"No, I didn't." She shook her head against the claim. "Sorrow's goodness did. I just..." She struggled to explain an event that defied explanation. "I just stole a little bit of it and moved it into Thallia." She looked off as if deciding if her wording had been correct.
"Honey, you didn't steal anything." Xena voice was stern. "If anything Sorrow gave you her power to help you heal Thallia. You're only little, no one could expect you to have that much power in yourself."
Madalene gave her a crooked smile and didn't bother to argue. She knew the warrior wouldn't understand, wouldn't let herself understand what she was being told. Only time would convince her and the little Princess knew she must be patient. Abandoning the conversation she snuggled into the woman's open arms.
"I missed you." She whispered and yawned again. Xena just held her tightly and studied her as she fell asleep.
"Although I would like nothing more then to spend the whole day in bed with you." Danu turned back from the bright sunlight that streamed through the window sporting a wicked grin . "But I believe there are three anxious people waiting at the Royal house to see you."
"I'm dying to see Anastasia." Sorrow turned onto her back and sighed heavily.
"Sorrow, you know your Mother and Madalene will understand." The archer moved to snuggle into her.
"I don't know that." The Princess answered in a mumbled voice as she buried her face into the archer's hair.
"Come on then!" Danu commanded as she gently moved the Princess back from her and guided her up to stand. "I'm taking you straight to see your Mother and Madalene to prove that they do understand." Seeing the unbridled fear on Sorrow's face, she moved quickly to embrace her. "It'll be all right. Trust me."
"I do." Sorrow responded in a soft voice. "I'm just..." She didn't bother to finish. She knew the archer understood everything.
"Come on my love." Danu kissed her on the forehead.
Sorrow stood looking at the door to her Mother's house and swallowed hard. Danu stood behind her holding tightly onto her hand, happy when the Princess finally reached up and lightly knocked on the door.
"Come in!" It was Gabrielle's cheerful voice that called to them through the wood.
"Sorrow?" Danu questioned as the moment of hesitation stretched out. "It's a door you have to open it, remember?"
"Heh." The Princess smiled at her and walked in.
"Sorrow!" Madalene was the first to see who it was. Sliding down from her chair at the table, she raced across the room and dove into her sister's open arms.
"Hi there." She had never felt something as comforting as the little Princess jumping into her full force to hug her. "I missed you."
"I missed you too." Madalene gave her a feathery kiss on the cheek. 'I'm sorry that I made all those bad things happen.' She opted to communicate with her thoughts, not wanting everyone else to hear her.
'Little one, you had nothing to do with that.' Sorrow sent the sad thought back to her, unable to believe that the child could feel responsible for any of it. Danu had explained all about the block Madalene had put up, but in no way could she blame the child for any of it. 'Don't ever think it was your fault. You were protecting Mother, I'm so proud of you for that.' Sorrow was glad when she received another tight hug.
Gabrielle remained in the background watching the exchange going on between her daughter's. The expressions on their faces told her they were having a private conversation between their minds and she was thankful for this gift between them. She was relieved to know everything between them would be fine and was unaffected by the horror of the recent days.
"Good morning, Mother." Sorrow's soft voice called the bard out of her thoughts. Placing Madalene back into her seat, she slowly walked over to her.
Gabrielle wanted to say so much, wanted to apologize, wanted to reassure her daughter that nothing was wrong, but she managed to do none of it.
"Morning." She croaked out weakly and moved to embrace her daughter. Sorrow accepted the hug stiffly, sensing the conflict in the woman and assuming it was disappointment with her recent actions.
Xena watched them carefully. She questioning why out of all the times in the world her bard would choose this moment to become tongue tied and not babble on about the feelings of her heart. She could easily see what Sorrow was thinking. Shaking her head, she turned back to her breakfast and tried to figure out what she could do to help the situation along.
"There's someone who has been waiting to meet you." The bard voice was happy as she thought of something that she could easily talk about. "Let me get her." She squeezed Sorrow's hand and moved away.
Looking quickly at Danu, Sorrow begged the archer to help her. Danu signaled for her to not overreact.
"Anastasia, this is your sister Sorrow." Gabrielle spoke softly to the bright-eyed infant. "Sorrow..." She looked up at her daughter. "This is your sister Anastasia."
The Protector took the infant into her arms with greatest of care. Looking into the small green and blue eyes that looked back at her, she smiled. Bending down she kissed the little one's forehead softly.
"I will love you and protect you always." She whispered, astonished when a little hand reached out to brush her face. "She's beautiful." She looked from her Mother to the warrior and back again. "Her eyes are remarkable." She looked back to study her sister. "I bet they're like that because she is the best half of each of you."
Danu gasped when she heard Sorrow say the words. She had purposely not mentioned Anastasia's eyes to the Princess as a test to see if her words would be as the child had predicted. When Gabrielle heard the archer's gasp, she knew immediately that Sorrow was not speaking in repetition of the vision but on her own accord. Any doubt she'd held that Anastasia's visit was just a dream was instantly destroyed.
"What? Did I say something wrong?" Sorrow had felt the change in the room after her words.
"No, you said everything just right." Gabrielle smiled at her.
Xena waited for the bard to elaborate. Offer Sorrow some comfort from the familiarity of the words but Gabrielle stayed quiet and busied herself with removing the dishes from the table.
"I have an idea." The warrior announced suddenly, deciding she'd had enough. "Gabrielle why don't you and Sorrow go for a walk? It's a beautiful day." She added the last part so neither of them could object. "Danu and I can stay here and watch the little ones."
"And do the dishes." The archer joined in, leaving the bard no excuse to fall back on.
"That would be nice." Sorrow said in a quiet voice as she moved to place her sister back in her cradle.
"Yes, it would." The bard's voice mirrored her daughter's.
"Take a nice long walk in fact." Xena prompted as she gave the bard a quick kiss. "Danu and I have a few things to talk about while you're gone."
The archer's eyes widened at the idea. Not that she didn't feel somewhat closer to the warrior after some of the things they'd gone through. But never had the woman requested to talk with her alone. She put on her best smile as Sorrow and her Mother walked past them and out the door, trying not to cause the Princess anymore worry then she was already carrying. The archer hoped that the conversation would open up between the two women during the walk, for both of their sakes. Turning back to the warrior, her smile faded.
"Talk first or dishes first?" She questioned aimlessly, trying to judge how much trouble she was in.
"Talk first." Xena said in a low voice and motioned toward the chairs near the fireplace.
They walked in silence. Taking turns, they looked at each other, desperate to speak, before turning away to preserve the silence. It wasn't long into the walk when they found themselves by the river. It was here that Sorrow stopped and decided she had no choice but to start.
"Mother, I know you're disappointed in me. May even hate me..." She sighed heavily as she turned away from the bard and stopped to stare at the water.
"Why in the world would you think that?" Gabrielle questioned in a confused voice as she moved to stand in front of her.
Sorrow didn't answer with words as she allowed her crimson wings to spread out behind her. It was the only response she figured necessary.
"No matter the colour, they are still beautiful." The bard responded in a heartbeat. She was sure that without Xena's prior warning she would have been quite startled by the change. But the night had given her time to prepare for this and looking at them now she was still taken by the beauty that remained despite the colour.
"No they're not." Sorrow shook her head. "They are a symbol of what I did. Of the monster I became."
"You have never been nor will you ever be a monster." Gabrielle reached up to take her daughter's face in her hands. "And you will never disappoint me. This colour symbolizes the love that you are capable of, the lengths to which you would go to protect that love."
"I have always been a disappointment Mother." She moved away as the wings retreated to their hiding place. Sinking down, she sat against a large rock nearby. "Father didn't even want me. I was an afterthought, I was a mistake. I was too human to fit into his world and too much a demon to fit into this one."
"Don't ever say that." Gabrielle's voice shook as the tears swelled up in her eyes. "You have never been any of those things." She couldn't bring herself to repeat the words.
"Mother, you didn't see the things I did while I was away and I'm sure whatever Xena told you, she didn't go out of her way to relive the worst of it." Sorrow stared into the grass, hating herself for the tears she was causing. She wondered if coming home was such a good idea after all.
"Then you tell me yourself." Gabrielle sat down beside her. She could think of no other way to convince Sorrow that she understood. "Come here." She reached up and guided Sorrow head down to rest in her lap. "Tell me everything that happened." She began to run her hand softly over Sorrow's forehead and begged her to start the tale.
"I found them trying to sneak through a field to attack us..." Closing her eyes with a heavy sigh, the Princess began. Comforted as her Mother's small hand continued to stroke her forehead. She persuaded herself that as long as the movement of the hand against her face remained steady, she wouldn't open her eyes. If its cadence changed at all, she would be forced to look up and see the horror she didn't doubt would soon cover her Mother's face.
"I don't know whether to thank you or be unbelievable angry with you." Xena blurted out when the archer sat down. Seeing the poor woman tense up, looking like a small animal realizing it was in the gaze of a rather deadly foe, she tried to explain better. "I want to be unbelievable angry with you because I can't believe you let Gabrielle go on that insane journey."
"I didn't have much of a choice." Danu stammered out the words. "She was going to go regardless. I wouldn't let her do that. That's why I felt the need to volunteer in the first place."
"That's part of the reason I want to thank you." The warrior sighed. "You took care of her for me. I'll always be in your debt for that."
"I didn't do anything really." The archer smiled and brushed the debt away.
"I expected you to say that." Xena smiled back at her. "There was another reason I wanted to thank you."
"Huh?" Danu asked confused.
"For helping Sorrow when I couldn't." The warrior frowned at the memory of her own feelings of helplessness in the face of the Princess' madness.
"Xena I didn't do anything." Danu shook her head. "It's me who should be thanking you. If you hadn't of been there..." She shuddered with the thought of that future. "You brought her home to me, you saved her."
"She didn't tell you?" She looked at the archer fascinated. "I thought out of everything that would have been the last thing she'd leave out."
"Tell me what?" The archer looked at her confused.
"What did she tell you brought her out of the madness?" She answered the question with a question, curious as to what Sorrow's explanation had been.
"She wasn't speaking very clearly by that point" Danu shook her head sadly. "The bits she remembered were very choppy and distorted. She said she had a lot of memories of ranting, something about souls and being bad. All she said was that somehow they finally left her and she woke up in the forest with you."
Xena rubbed her forehead, struck by the realization that the Princess didn't remember most of what happened between when the warrior had taken her out of Rome and the release of the stolen souls.
"Danu, I didn't bring her out of the madness." Her voice was soft and uncharacteristically small. "You did or more precisely a hallucination of you did."
"Huh?" The archer looked even more confused.
"Let me explain." The warrior took a deep breath and began to recount the events after leaving Caesar from her perspective.
Sorrow wasn't sure what do to next. Her story was finished, but the hand on her forehead had never stopped its motion. She feared opening her eyes. Feared that her words had stunned her Mother into a state that even she couldn't imagine.
"My baby, I'm so sorry." The bard's whisper floated down to her.
"Mother, why are you sorry? I did these things, not you." Sorrow whispered back, still unwilling to open her eyes.
"I'm sorry I didn't protect you. I'm sorry I didn't stop him. I'm sorry I let him teach you all those horrible things." She choked the words out through thick sobs. "I'm sorry I'm such a horrible mother."
Scrambling quickly up to sit, Sorrow took the broken woman into her arms.
"Mother, what are talking about?" Sorrow rocked her gently, not understanding.
"It's all my fault. All this pain that comes to you." She sobbed harder within her daughter's arms. "I didn't protect you from any of it. I only though of myself."
"Mother, I think it's time you told me your version of the journey." The Princess held her a little tighter, seeing the holes in Danu's account now. "Please, cause I don't understand why you would think these things." She felt a nod of compliance against her shoulder and waited for the bard to begin.
"No, she didn't tell me any of that." Danu answered softly when the warrior finished. A hand to her face to keep any other words from gracing her lips. Her head swam with the reality of just how close she had come to losing the Princess. Xena's description gave her a much more vivid perspective of the madness that Sorrow couldn't explain herself.
"That's why I think I'm leaning a lot more to wanting to thank you then towards being mad." Xena offered a warm smile. "Well I'll take it that it's a good sign if they aren't back yet." She changed the subject rather abruptly, having finished her piece.
"Yes, they have a lot to talk about." Danu easily accepted the shift in topic. "They've needed to do this for along time."
"You think so too eh?" The warrior nodded. "I believe you volunteered us to do some dishes." She got up and went first to the cradle to check Anastasia. Listening as she fixed the infant's blanket to the sound of Madalene playing her room.
"Yes, I did." Danu smiled and went straight to gather the remainder of the dishes on the table. "I'll do these." She caused the warrior to hesitate for a moment.
"No, we're in this together." She smiled at the archer and started to help.
As Gabrielle began the story her tears subsided momentarily and pulling out of Sorrow's arms, she moved up to stand. The bard inside of her took over as she described the events on her journey with a slight detachment in the hopes of getting through it all without breaking down. Sorrow listened attentively, not reacting to anything that she was being told until finally with a sigh her Mother finished.
"Now, you know why I am the most horrible mother in the world." Gabrielle turned away from her daughter sadly as the emotion came back into her voice. "I let him take you. I didn't do anything to stop him. I just protected myself."
"I don't agree." Sorrow responded to her mother's self-hatred in a confident voice as she stood up and closed the distance that the bard had placed between them. "You are the most wonderful mother in the world."
"Sorrow, how can you believe that?" She refused to turn to look at her. "All this time I knew that you existed, knew that he'd taken you and I did nothing. I locked it away in my mind and I left you to suffer at his hands. You were only a baby and I did nothing to protect you."
"Mother, what would you have done if you'd know all this time?" The Princess asked her in a serious voice. Unable to believe that the bard could blame herself. "The only one who every deserves blame is Father. You did everything you could."
"What did I do Sorrow?" She turned finally to ask the question. "Allowed him to raise you, left you alone in his care so that he could teach you all those horrible lessons. That alone is enough reason for you to hate me."
"If this is about you wanting me to hate you..." Sorrow shook her head against the possibility of the idea. She tried to figure out how to convince her mother that the sheer idea of it was insane. "I tried to hate you once, tried to blame you." The Princess sighed deeply as she made the admission. "Tried to make myself hate you for not stopping him. Hate you for not coming to rescue me from his world. I thought if I could hate you then I would be able to make Father happy and the lessons would stop." Seeing the anguish on her mother's face she sped up her words. "But I couldn't, I couldn't hate you no matter how hard I tried, couldn't blame you. Because my heart knew the truth, none of it was your fault, none of it was your choosing."
"I chose to forget you." The bard's words stung at her lips.
"You chose no such thing." She shook her head again. "You didn't sit down and make yourself forget what happened within the flames Mother. That was part of it, he had to put you in a trance to do what he did. If you had known everything do you think you every would have let Hope live?"
"What does that have to do with it?" Gabrielle looked at her confused. "I let your sister live because she was my child and she was just a baby. I didn't believe she could be evil." She grimaced at her own naïveté. "And I killed her because I learned what a mistake that belief was."
"Mother, he saw the goodness in you. That's why he chose you. Why he put all of the events into action to bring you to Britannia." Sorrow pleaded with her to see. "If your heart wasn't so pure and if you weren't so capable of love..." She whispered the words in reverence for the traits she described. "He would never have been assured that you would keep Hope safe until she was strong enough to fulfill his plans. Even with all that you did know, you chose to believe in love and goodness because these are the only things that you see, the only things you understand, the only things that you have ever been. He made sure enough of the truth was hidden from you so that you would do these things without question. If you had known of me it would have ruined everything. Cause you would have came to find me. Somehow, you and Xena would have found a way."
"I would have, Sorrow." Gabrielle moved closer and took her daughter's hand. "In a heartbeat. I would have sacrificed anything to get you back from him."
"I know you would have Mother, that's why I could never hate you." She squeezed the small hand within her own a little tighter. "I heard of all the things you did for Hope, all the sacrifices you made. I loved you for being capable of that and..." Sorrow stopped to take a breath unsure of the reception her next statement would make. "And I loved you for loving Hope. I don't condone any of what she did, and if I had of been here I would have battled to stop her." Her mother's nod of agreement made her feel better. "But she's still my sister, I can't change that. A small part of me will always wish that she had been different, that she could have appreciated how lucky she was. She had you." She gave her mother a little smile.
"I loved her too Sorrow." The bard couldn't hold back any longer and she hugged her daughter tightly. "It's just all that time I should have been risking everything for you, not for her. Then when I finally found you, I was so cruel." She made no attempt to swallow down the self-hatred that welled up in her again.
"The first time I met you, you weren't cruel Mother." The Princess smiled at the memory. "I was watching down in the flames and when I came up to stop you from falling into them..." She stopped as the feeling of comfort washed over her again.
"What Sorrow?" Gabrielle pleaded in a small voice. "What?"
"The heat and the fall had dazed you." She held on a little tighter. "But you didn't fear me. You hung onto me for dear life as I flew you back up to the ledge near the top."
"Sorrow, I thought I was going to die I would have held onto anything." The bard's voice was even smaller.
"No, not the way you held onto me." She looked down into her mother's tear filled eyes. "If that was all it was you would have let me go once we were on the ledge. But you didn't. Even when you knew you were safe, you wouldn't let go. You kept telling me not to leave you, not to leave you again." She whispered the last words, just as Gabrielle had whispered them that day on the ledge.
"Again?" The tears silently spilled out of her eyes as she realized the words.
"I would have stayed if I could of. It took all the strength I had to pull myself out of your arms and return to Father." Sorrow pulled away suddenly very ashamed of having left her on the ledge. "I knew that if I stayed with you too long he'd realize what I had done before you would really be safe."
"My Gods Sorrow!" Gabrielle wanted to move back to hug her again but she could see the struggle within her daughter. That tug of war that always existed in her for believing she was too much her father's daughter and that the bard would hate her for it. "You had no choice honey. I can't believe you took the risk of saving me in the first place. I would never forgiven myself if he had of hurt you because of what you did."
Sorrow hoped she could stop the look before it crossed her face. She put her hand to her mouth to try and stop the frown she felt pulling at her lips. It was all in vain, for Gabrielle could easily see the sudden flair of pain in her daughter's eyes.
"Honey, what did he do?" Her voice shook as she asked the question. Her fear grew as she watched Sorrow crouch down to hug her knees to her chest and rock back and forth. The bard hated herself for letting this conversation go on. Too much had happened recently for her to be acting so weak and looking to Sorrow to calm her fears. But the damage had been done, as she fought the urge to embrace her daughter. "Honey, tell me what he did. There was something other than Hope's idea of banishment. What did he do?"
"It wasn't anything new." Sorrow blinked hard to get the image out of her head. "He knew the pain didn't bother me anymore, that he couldn't use my own pain to change me. He tortured them Mother and when I tried to stop it, he had his minions beat me into restraints and then he brought in more." Her voice got very small and trailed off. Glancing at Gabrielle for a heartbeat she knew she should continue. "They were innocents and he slaughtered them and covered me in their blood." She tried to say it without much description of the horror Dahak had brought to those poor people. "It was in that state that Hope suggested he banish me and that's what he did. I came into this world covered in innocent human blood."
Standing up suddenly, Sorrow forcefully brushed the back of her hands across her cheeks to wipe the tears away. Shaking the memory away, she walked closer to the river and away from Gabrielle.
"Mother, I don't want to tell you these things, don't want you to know." She spoke in a dull voice as she stared out to the water.
Gabrielle could see the stiffness in the Princess, as she stood proudly against the weight of the memories. She cursed herself again for having let the conversation start. But a bigger part of her was relieved to see the pain, because they always seemed to dance around the topic in conversation. To see the pain at all meant they were breaching the gap between them.
"Sorrow..." Gabrielle spoke her daughter's name in an exasperated voice. She wanted to hear all of it and the Princess never wanted to speak about it. "I will never see you as his daughter. No matter what you were to tell me. You are my daughter, not his." She spoke the words forcefully, putting every ounce of the belief she held into them. "And don't bother transforming cause that doesn't prove anything." The bard stared down the Protector who turned to disagree with her. "Sorrow, I have this demon flesh in me as well." Her hands rested on her stomach. "Does that make me any less myself? Does that make me rightfully his alone? Does this make me evil by default?"
"Gods no!" Sorrow answered in a heartbeat. "Don't say such things. You are nothing but goodness regardless what he did to you." Her words were forceful.
"As you are still goodness, regardless of what he did to you." Gabrielle turned the words back on her in a soft voice. "Neither of us can be free of these things, but that doesn't mean that they are all that we are. You prove that every time you use your gifts to fight evil and I proved it by having three beautiful little girls." She smiled at her, disappointed when Sorrow didn't smile back.
"Mother, I have to tell you something." The Protector wrung her hands together absently. "You don't have to live with what he did to you." She turned away. "I can take back what he gave you." She spoke the words in the smallest voice possible. Afraid her mother would see the offer as some condemnation of her current state.
"What?" The bard moved into her daughter's line of sight. "You can?" Sorrow nodded. "How?"
"I can't replace what he took from you, but I can take back what he put into you." Sorrow's soft voice answered the questions. "It's one of my rights as Goddess."
Gabrielle put her hands to her face as she realized what Sorrow was offering her. The chance on one hand to be free of the horrible flesh that Dahak had forced into her, but on the other not every again being able to have children. There would be no more miracles between her and Xena soul's, not even the possibility of a normal conception.
"Don't rush to make a decision." Sorrow voice was high and she spoke quickly. "Talk it over with Xena and decide. The offer will always be there though, if you want it. Only if you want it."
"I should talk it over with Xena." The words stuck in her throat. Now there was a conversation she wouldn't look forward too. It was bad enough that the warrior seemed somewhat reserved so far in her comments on the journey and her revelations about the change in her. A little nagging thought in the back of her mind made Gabrielle wonder just what Xena was thinking about now that she knew her precious Madalene and new little Anastasia were in part due to Dahak's actions. An even smaller part of her feared a reliving of the days when Hope was around. But she swallowed that fear down quickly and refused to think about it.
"Maybe we should head back." The Princess offered seeing the deep thoughts that had consumed her mother suddenly. "They're probably going to send a search party out for us soon. You know how they worry." She gave the bard a crooked smile and was glad to see a hint of a smile come back at her.
"Let them worry." Gabrielle smiled brightly and linked her arm into Sorrow's. "Let's walk a bit more. I like this." She whispered the last part as they started off.
Xena reclined on her back and stared at the infant that slept so contentedly on her cheast. A million thoughts ran through her head and she tried to filter them down and focus. The beauty of the blue and green-eyed creature had captured her heart the moment she'd first held her. She would never be able to deny her innate love for this child, but seeds of doubt from the past threatened her sanity. If little Anastasia's development had only been like Madalene's and not possessed the fierce unnatural timeline so similar to Hope's, then most of her fears would have washed away immediately.
"But you're not Dahak's daughter, your mine." She whispered to the sleeping child. "And that scares me even more."
She stiffened at her own words, as the millions of thoughts in her head finally did filter down to just one. Her greatest fear of all, that either or both of her precious daughter's would pay for her past. That the evil of those years would reach forward in time and pull the innocence from them as it had been pulled from her.
"If only you didn't possess these gifts?" Again she tried to place her fear into Dahak and his evil. But again the blame came back to her. "You'd have this fear all the same."
The idea of the hard road ahead that Madalene had spoken of came into her mind again. There were very few moments when those words weren't rambling around somewhere in her head as she studied each day for any indication of how to head those hard times off.
The gentle noises of Madalene playing with Danu in the main room caressed her ears and her heart. It would be so easy to blame all that she feared on Dahak and the change he had forced into her precious soulmate. It would be so easy to let herself pretend her fear rested on the chance of another Hope but she had never been one to take the easy way out. She was the Warrior Princess and had once almost ruled the world. Yet she had never known fear like this, her soul conceded as she wrapped her arms around the precious child. Never been so afraid of the future, because it held problems that she feared her sword or chakram couldn't destroy. She knew she would be helpless in the face of either of her children suffering because of her past. The blame she felt alone would freeze her in her tracks.
"We were considering sending out a search party." Danu spoke in a serious voice without looking up when Sorrow and Gabrielle finally arrived back.
"Sorry, love." The Princess smiled at her mother as she apologized to the archer. "We lost track of time."
"It's okay this time." Xena smiled as she emerged from the bedroom carrying Anastasia. "No time to get mad cause I have a hungry little Princess here."
"That would be my cue." Gabrielle laughed and walked toward the warrior to collect the baby. "I'll see you two at dinner then?" She called back to Sorrow.
"Wouldn't miss it!" Sorrow smiled back as she picked her little sister up off the floor. "You been keeping Danu busy in my absence?"
"Yep!" The little Princess answered in between squeals of joy as Sorrow twirled her around.
"Sorrow put her down before you make her sick!" Danu's playful command caused the Princess to put Madalene down and come after her.
"I think Danu wants a turn Madalene! Help me catch her." Sorrow raised a mischievous eyebrow as the little Princess took chase after the archer.
"Sorrow!" Danu laughed as she moved to her feet and scrambled away from Madalene who was already after her. She made one circuit of the room before she ended up in Sorrow's arms with the little Princess wrapped around her legs.
"What do you think Madalene?" Sorrow winked at the archer. "What should we do to her for running?"
"Tickle her!" The child's immediate squealed answer was met by the small hands burying into Danu's sides and reducing her to fits of laughter.
"Okay you three, break it up." Xena had watched the happy little romp silently until she could tell the poor archer was unable to breathe.
"I think we're in for it now." Madalene shot a sly glance at her sister as they let Danu catch her breath.
"Nobodies in trouble." The warrior laughed at them. "Just no more rough housing cause Anastasia will be going to bed once she's eaten and she'll need quite." She looked at them all sternly.
"Think that's are cue to go home love." Danu elbowed Sorrow in the side. "We'll be back for dinner though." She smiled at the warrior, who to both of their surprises smiled back very brightly.
"See you at dinner!" Madalene called as she raced towards the warrior, suddenly very intent on hugging her.
"Bye." Sorrow called back as the little Princess was caught in mid-air by Xena and hugged tightly. Squeezing the hand within her own even tighter she closed the door behind them.
"So, how did things go on your walk?" Danu couldn't take it anymore, as she sat down on the bed once they returned home. Seeing the momentary look of puzzlement and worry on her Princess' face she moved up to the top of the bed and motioned for Sorrow to come and sit beside her. "I think this was just the first conversation in a long line of them. You and your mother need to talk more. She blames herself for a lot of things that only you can help her with." The archer wasn't surprised when Sorrow snuggled down against her side and sighed. "And there are a lot of things you blame yourself for that only she can help you with."
"She blames herself for all of it Danu." Sorrow found herself still unable to believe what her mother felt. "And no matter what I tell her to try and prove that it wasn't her fault, she just turns it into another thing to blame herself over."
"You know why she does that don't you?" The archer asked in a soft voice.
"No! She shouldn't blame herself, she has been the best mother in the world." Sorrow shook her head against the archer's shoulder. "Even if I had never gotten the chance to meet her, let alone have all this time with her and with Xena and with my sisters." The Princess felt she could list things for a thousand lifetimes and never truly even begin to explain all that her mother had done.
"That's why she does it love." Danu stroked her hand through Sorrow's mane. "Because she's the best mother in the world and she wants to be even better."
"Danu, why didn't you tell me what you witnessed in the temple during the journey?" Sorrow's voice was very small and she heard the breath catch in the archer's cheast when the question reached her ears.
"That was your mother's to tell." The archer closed her eyes to see the horrible moment again and shaking her head tried to will the unforgettable vision away because it didn't matter what had happened that day. Sorrow was here, right here in her arms and she hung on much tighter now.
"She told me how hurt you were." Squirming out of the embrace, she moved to look her archer in the eye.
"I wish I could have stopped him." Danu ran her hand down Sorrow's cheek. "Even if it means we would have never met, I wish I could have stopped him."
"Never say that. Never." Sorrow spoke softly as she took the hand off her face and kissed its palm. "I would spend an eternity with Father in his realm for one chance to see the love in your eyes."
The archer didn't bother to disagree, choosing instead to lean in and gently kiss the woman she loved. She was glad when the Princess' strong arms came around her and words became very unimportant.
"Sorrow, can I talk to you about something?" Danu whispered as they cuddled together under the blankets.
"Talking? Are you sure right now?" Sorrow kissed the archer's shoulder. "Anything love?" She looked up into pools of brown knowing she could refuse this woman nothing.
"About the wedding..." The archer's voice trailed off as her mind battled with the question. Was it selfish of her to ask this?
"The wedding, yes?" Sorrow looked at her with a smile thinking she could read the question so easily on the archer's face. "How does three days from now sound? At dusk? That should be enough time to get everything ready."
"How did you know?" Danu's face lit up and she smothered the Princess with a kiss before she could answer.
"Cause I was thinking about asking you the same thing." Sorrow smiled brightly at her and stole another kiss. "I suddenly have no patience at all. I want you to be mine and I want everyone to know it." She cupped the archer's face in her hand.
"Sorrow, I am yours already and I am quite sure everyone knows it. But I know exactly what you're saying." She smiled at her and savored the feel of the hand on her face. "I want you to promise me something though?" She looked at her Princess with a serious gaze. "No flying all over the world to get me presents. Just a simple little ceremony, nothing grand."
"You didn't like my proposal?" Sorrow's eyes clouded a little. She had been making quite grand plans in her head every since to have the wedding even more extravagant than the proposal.
"I loved your proposal." Danu saw the cloud in her immediately and gently kissed it away. "I just don't want you flying all over wearing yourself out. I don't need or want anything else on that day except you to join with me and all our friends and family to witness it."
"All right." Sorrow conceded to her wishes with a little frown. "No flying all around the world promise." She put her hand over her heart and gave her archer a big smile.
"You're awfully quiet this afternoon." Xena dropped down on the couch beside her bard. Who had spent the better part of a candlemark staring off into space. "Thought that was my job in this relationship."
"What? Sorry." Gabrielle shook her head sharply to bring herself back to the real world. "Did Anastasia go down for her nap all right?"
"Yes, love." Xena studied the bard's soft features. "She's been asleep for some time. What's on your mind?" She asked the question suddenly.
"Oh, nothing." She brushed it away quickly, realizing immediately that she'd fallen into the warrior's trap. There was always something on her mind, something she was willing to babble on about. The only time she refused to talk was when there was really something troubling her.
"Gabrielle, what's wrong?" The warrior took the bard's much smaller hand in hers. "Please tell me. Did something happen on your walk with Sorrow? You two looked much more comfortable with each other when you came back."
"A little something." She whispered as she stared down at the hand that caressed hers memorizing the feeling. The long drawing silence reminded her that it was her place to talk and she almost backed out. Retreated into a different conversation, any subject, as long as she didn't have to start this one. "Sorrow made me aware of something that she is capable of doing for me, but I am not sure if I want this something done and she also asked me to discuss it with you first." She knew her beginning was cryptic and that the puzzle of it would urge the warrior to seek clarification.
"I'm a little lost." Xena asked quietly. "What did Sorrow offer to do for you?"
"Xena, due to her status as Goddess, Sorrow has certain abilities." The bard spoke the words softly. She hated references to Sorrow's status. It was a status given for years of heartache and for being Dahak's daughter not hers.
"Yes, I'm aware she has certain unique talents." Xena smiled at her and was immediately sorry for the slight attempt at brevity as she saw her lover's face darken. "Sorry." A warm smile told her it would be all right.
"I don't think you are aware of this particular ability. I had no idea it was even possible until today." She sighed again and forced herself to plow on. "This change inside me." Her free hand rested on her stomach. "That allows me to take pieces of your soul and combine them with my own to conceive our daughters." She regretted the fact she had a voice as she watched the colour drain from her warrior's face. "Sorrow can take it back, but..." The voice she wished she didn't have suddenly failed her and she was somewhat relieved when it did.
"But what?" Xena asked in a heartbeat. She knew full well what the catch to the proposal would be, but needing Gabrielle to say it to her so that she could fully judge the bard's reaction to the idea.
"It will leave me with nothing." A single tear crawled out of one of bard's eyes and slid helpless down her cheek. "There will be no more miracles, no more children because..."
"Ssssh." Xena wrapped her up in strong arms and soothed her. "I understand love. I understand." She gently rocked the small shaking figure in her arms.
"I know how much you hate what happened to me. Hate any reminder of it. Hate that he changed me, that his evil might hurt the children, that they will be like Hope." A small voice came up to the warrior's ears and its content threatened to break her heart.
"Gabrielle, love..." The fear inside her welled up again at the bard's words. Again the warrior knew it would be so easy to agree with what Gabrielle was saying, so easy to blame Dahak and Hope for all of her fear.
"It's all right Xena." Gabrielle whispered as she struggled out of the warrior's grip to take the stunned woman's face in her hands. "I don't blame you for feeling the way you do. After all the pain they caused us, I'm sorry that this change in me is a constant reminder. I'll have Sorrow take it back, without question if you want."
"I don't know what I want." The warrior whispered as she shook her head against the small hands that rested on the sides of her face. "It's not that simple. It's not just Dahak's evil that I'm afraid of or Hope's legacy." She swallowed hard, unsure if she had the strength to admit this, even to Gabrielle. "You don't understand. I'm afraid I can't explain it." Pulling her head out of the bard's hands she stood up. "I need to think for awhile. Is that all right?" She locked her jaw and finally met Gabrielle's eyes again.
"Oh course." The bard's answer was instant as she rose up and moved slowly toward her. "Take all the time you need, but please promise me you will talk to me when you're ready." She reached out a shaking hand. "Please don't shut me out Xena. I need to know everything you feel about this so that we can come to a decision together." She was glad when her hand was filled by the bulk of the warrior's hand, which griped tightly onto her. "So much has happened, I know how hard all of this must have been to come home to. So unexpected and then to find out..."
"No, Gabrielle, don't say it!" Xena's voice was stern. "No matter how or by what intervention I do not feel anything but love and joy for the gift that is my Anastasia, our Anastasia."
"Oh Xena, I didn't mean to imply that you didn't want Anastasia." The bard's voice was panicked as the grip on her hand loosened. "Just that..." Her word's stopped as she struggled to figure out what exactly she had meant. Was it true that some part of her was afraid that the warrior would not except the baby as hers? Not love her as she did Madalene? "Just that the journey brought a lot of new insight and it is hard to digest it all in one day's time."
"That's why I need time to think. To clear my head." She whispered as she brought the small hand up to her lips and kissed the back of it. "It'll all be fine love, I promise" Again, as she thought her place, she tried to take the weight of all of it onto her shoulders.
Closing her eyes, Gabrielle let the warmth of the kiss travel up her arm and to her heart. She could both see and feel the struggle going on inside her warrior, but she couldn't figure out what was feeding it. The simple words 'my Anastasia, our Anastasia' had instantly destroyed any doubt she had over Xena's acceptance and unconditional love for their new daughter. Yet something very heavy still weighed her warrior down and she couldn't put her finger on what it was. The obvious choice seemed to be Dahak and his meddling in her physicality, but her mind could not commit to this choice completely. But with the warrior's request for time to think her hands were tied. She couldn't push now and would have to wait for Xena's explanation to come when the warrior was ready to give it. Only problem was, Gabrielle wasn't sure if she could wait that long.
Sorrow couldn't help jumping when she felt the small kick to her shin under the table. Dinner was long finished and she knew the archer was impatient for her to announce their plans to move up the wedding.
Xena had been eyeing the pair all evening. Even with her mind occupied with the question of Sorrow's offer, it wouldn't have taken much noticing to see that some sort of announcement was to be made. Gabrielle was oblivious, her time filled between fussing on her little ones and then Sorrow. Although the conversation on their walk hadn't cleared up everything, she felt more at ease now and was throwing herself wholeheartedly into family life. Mostly driven by the fearful thoughts of recent days that she would never have the opportunity to do this again.
"Now that's dinners over." Sorrow happy voice trailed her as she rose from her chair to stand behind the archer. Placing her hands softly on her fiancee's shoulders she waited until both her mother and the warrior looked impatient before continuing. "Danu and I have had a change of plans regarding the wedding." She held her mother's eyes as she spoke, glad when she saw nothing but anticipation looking back at her. "We've decided neither of us can wait and we're going to have the ceremony three days from now." Sorrow glanced out the window to see the sunlight fading from the sky and then bent down to place a soft kiss on the top of the archer's head.
"Is that okay?" Danu looked at her Queen hopefully, knowing full well Gabrielle could veto the move.
"Well, you both realize we won't be able to have quite the grand affair that was scheduled before." Gabrielle mouth took on a little playful frown, which moved into a bright grin with the idea of the ceremony. "Okay? Of course it's okay. It's more than okay." She looked across to her warrior who was smiling equally as brightly. "We just have a lot of stuff to do."
"Oh no." Sorrow raised a hand in protest. "This is going to be simple and straightforward." She squeezed the soft skin under her hands gently. "No grand affair Mother. Just us getting joined in the presence of our families and friends. Nothing big."
"Nothing big?" Xena laughed at the comment. "I've been around this place long enough to know that a Princess getting married, even on incredibly short notice, is bound to turn into something huge."
"Oh I forgot." Danu whispered softly. Suddenly remember just how monumental the nation would view its Princess getting married. "Maybe we should keep the original date then." She tilted her head down to stare at her hands. Before Sorrow could object, Gabrielle dove into the job.
"Oh no!" The bard shook her head defiantly, knowing full well the archer really didn't want to do such a thing. "You're not coming in here and telling me that the wedding is in three days and then switching bake to make me wait weeks." She shook her head again softly for effect. "This wedding will happen in three days and it'll be wonderful." Gabrielle was pleased by the archer's smile and nodded when she saw Sorrow mouth 'thank-you'. "So we have lots to plan!" She looked at Sorrow and Danu.
"Hey don't look at me. I'd get you to marry us right now if it was up to me." She kissed the top of the archer's head again. "You think you're up for planning love?"
"Yes, I'm up for planning." Danu smiled under the kiss, knowing full well Sorrow would sit and work out every detail without hesitation. She recognized the gift that the Princess was giving her. The chance to make this into what she had always dreamed it to be. A flood of little girl dreams of romance came back to her.
"Well then, let me grab a scroll." Gabrielle rushed to get a fresh parchment before moving her chair to sit next to the archer. In fluent script she wrote 'Wedding plans' at the top of the parchment and looked to Danu. "Okay first decision, in the temple or outside?"
Sorrow laughed as the feverish planning began. Her attention switched quickly to Xena who leaned back in her chair looked happy but burdened.
"Xena, I was going to go sit on the porch while these two plan." The Princess wasn't surprised when her comment got no reaction from the two women beside her. "Care to join me?"
A nod from the warrior was the only indication that her offer had been accepted as Xena stood quietly and walked outside.
"How long have you known you could take it from her?" The warrior spun on her heels and jumped headlong into the topic that burned in her mind. "How long have you known about any of this?"
"I've known all along what was done to her." Sorrow admitted openly. "But it didn't dawn on me until when she told me herself that I had the power to take it back."
"And what exactly would this taking back entail?" The warrior's turned and put her hands on the railing. Her knuckles soon white from her grip. "What risk is there to her?"
"No risk." Sorrow sighed at Xena's anger and sat down on the bench . "All I do is reach in and take it back."
"To leave her with nothing?" The warrior whispered.
"Xena, I don't have the power to return the human flesh that he stole from her." Sorrow voice was small. "If I did I would in an instant, but it's not in my grasp."
"I know you would Sorrow." Xena released a deep breath and released her grip on the railing. Letting the tension drain out of her shoulders she dropped down to sit on the bench next to her daughter.
"Xena, what are you really worried about?" The Princess looked off into the night sky as she asked quietly.
"I'm worried about your sisters." The warrior spoke in a normal voice, trying to stop the frown that pulled at her lips. "After all that happened while we were away, both with us and here. It just reminded me how much uncertainty there is about the future, that's all. It'll pass."
Sorrow nodded at her brush off, knowing this was not the time and she was not the person to be challenging the warrior to talk about this. Looking at the warrior for a moment, she realized that the Warrior Princess herself didn't fully understand why she felt the way she did. Oh she had an idea, Sorrow could see that but she could also see that Xena wasn't recognizing the true origin of her worry. Giving her a reassuring smile, she looked off to watch the last of the sunlight drift away.
'Only three days!' Her mind jumped in anticipation. Only three days till something so wonderful would happen, something she never dreamed possible in her lifetime. A grin snuck up on her as an idea started to form in her mind. 'That'll be perfect!' She almost said the words out loud but stopped herself.
"What are you up too?" Xena asked suddenly seeing the change in Sorrow.
"I have to fly off. Shouldn't talk me longer than a candlemark." She looked at Xena hopefully. "Cover for me with Danu till I get back."
"Oh yeah!" The warrior looked at her and stared. "Leave me to cover for you, nice job!" She smiled slightly. "Go on, hurry up. I'm sure if you're only gone a candlemark they'll still be planning stuff and won't even notice you were gone."
"I can hope." Sorrow smiled at her brightly as she stepped off the porch and released her wings. "If they start planning any part of the honeymoon get them on another subject. I have an idea." She didn't bother to explain as she silently rose into the air and off into the dark sky.
"I bet you do." Xena laughed to herself. "In my opinion that's the best part to arrange anyway." She laughed again and went back inside, hoping the planning would keep her from having to do any covering for her daughter at all.
"Mother, you're done with the arrangements?" Sorrow landed a few feet short of the porch. Surprised to see her mother sitting there curled up in a blanket.
"Yes, we only finished a little while ago. Xena did a wonderful job of covering for you, but Danu missed you just the same." She smiled at the daughter. "She only went home a few moments ago. I'm sure you can catch her before she even gets there if you hurry."
"Actually, I wanted to talk with you first." The Princess walked up to lean against the railing facing the bard. "Is Xena inside?"
"Yes, she was tired so I made her lie down." Gabrielle looked at her daughter thoughtfully. "What do you need to talk with me about?"
"It's about Xena." Sorrow voice was low and she nervously ran her hand through her hair. "Has she talked to you about what's bothering her?"
"No she hasn't. She asked for time to think about what you offered to do." Gabrielle sighed heavily. "So I'm giving her time."
"Mother, you don't see it either do you?" The Princess looked at her surprised a little. "None of this is about what I offered. She wouldn't want you to do that, that's already decided as you don't want it either." She wasn't surprised by Gabrielle's shock. Despite the bard's own belief that she was weighing the option carefully, Sorrow had seen her answer the moment she'd made the offer. A resounding no.
"Then what is it about? Why is she so worried, I keep trying to figure it out but I can't." Gabrielle sighed into her hands.
"She's worried about Madalene and Anastasia." Sorrow offered in a gentle voice. "But she's not worried about the things you're thinking." Gabrielle wasn't as shocked this time, to hear her inner most thoughts being recited back to her so easily. "She's worried because they are her daughters."
"Why would that worry her?" The bard asked the short question confused.
"Mother, how will she feel the day that Madalene comes home to question if the stories someone has told her about Xena's warlord days are true?" The Princess tried to explain the smaller worries before she moved to the larger ones that the warrior held. "How will she explain all that is her past to her daughters, without the soul numbing fear that they won't forgive her for what she's done? How will she feel if one of them is hurt because of some old vendetta against her? How will she feel if one of them picks up a sword to follow in her footsteps?" She brought the biggest question into the light for her Mother to see.
"Oh!" Gabrielle eyes widen at the idea.
"And I don't mean her footsteps now, I mean her footsteps then." Sorrow clarified further. "She was destined to be the Destroyer of Nations, what if by fighting that destiny she has left the legacy to one of her daughters?"
"Oh!" The small word escaped the bard's lips again as her mind whirled down the path of fear being shown to her. Fears, that in her mind could be explained away. But fears she knew would plague her warrior without any explanation to calm them. "I have to talk to her."
"I think you do. But don't try to tell her that her fears are unfounded Mother." Sorrow was shocked at her own warning. "Only time will prove to her that her fears are just that, fear, and not truth. Until then she just has to know that we'll get through whatever comes. That nothing will tear her family apart, not even the sins of her past."
"Thank-you." Gabrielle whispered as she moved to hug her daughter. "I love you."
"I love you too Mother." Sorrow hugged her back tightly, breathing her in for a heartbeat, before the bard came out of her embrace and rushed inside.
"And where were you?" Danu questioned in an annoyed voice when Sorrow entered. As she turned to face the Princess she immediately regretted the idea of pretending to be angry at her lover for flying off. "What's wrong?"
"I was just thinking about how close I came to losing all of the people I love while I walked back from Mother's." Sorrow spoke softly and held out her hand to the archer. Danu took it immediately and brought it up to kiss her Princess' wrist gently. "How close I came to losing you."
"You could never lose me my love." Danu moved closer to place her hand on Sorrow's cheek. "Nothing can keep us apart, nothing in the universe is more powerful than our love." Moving up on her toes she brushed her lips softly against Sorrow's. "Let me show you just how powerful it is." She squeezed the hand in her own tighter as she led her Princess over to their bed.
After two days of feverish preparation, Sorrow decided she was exhausted. Dropping down onto the bed she closed her eyes and relaxed. She knew Danu would be home any moment from the wherever the archer was and she vowed to not fall asleep before she arrived. The loud knock on the door startled her out of a light sleep.
"Come in!" She called as she sat up, surprised to see her Mother standing in the doorway with Danu. Even more surprised that the Queen had knocked.
"Don't look at me like that." Gabrielle smiled at her. "I knocked cause you're not going to like what I came to tell you."
"Hey, she wouldn't tell me till we got here." Danu shrugged her shoulders at Sorrow's look of inquiry at her.
"Well this time tomorrow I will be joining you two right?" The bard looked from one to the other smiling. "Say your good-byes now. I'll give you till the count of twenty." She stepped back out of the doorway to let Danu enter.
"Say our good-byes why?" Sorrow stood up and walked toward the archer as she questioned.
"Cause this is the last time you will see each other before the ceremony." Gabrielle frowned at them slightly. "Count of twenty get moving." She stepped back out of the doorway to give them a little privacy and started counting in a loud voice. "Twenty.... Nineteen..."
"By the Gods she's serious!" Danu exclaimed. "I don't like this, apart for a whole day."
"You don't like it." Sorrow pouted as she pulled the archer into a tight embrace. "I downright hate it."
"It's only a day love." Danu whispered into Sorrow's shoulder. "We can survive a day can't we?" She looked up into green eyes that she loved.
"I don't know." Sorrow smiled at her. "I hope so, wouldn't want to seem unreasonable if I lose my mind and come to wherever you are regardless."
"Ten... Nine." The Queen's voice broke in again.
"I miss you love." Sorrow bent down to kiss her archer as the counting continued. "I love you."
"I love you too." Danu spoke quickly and moved to kiss her again. "I miss you already."
"Time's up!" Xena announced as she burst into the hut with Delara and Eponin, even before the bard had finished counting. "Come with us Princess." The warrior pulled Sorrow out of her archer's arms and the three of them pulled her playfully away.
"I love you." Sorrow called laughing as she was ushered out.
"I love you too." Danu laughed as she watched the display. "So who's coming to take me away?" She walked out of the hut to be met by Gabrielle, Ephiny and Solari.
"That would be us!" Gabrielle announced with a smile.
"Don't give us any trouble." Ephiny added with a laugh. "Cause we can do this the hard way or the easy way."
"I'll come peacefully." Danu laughed and held up her hands in surrender. "Where are we going?"
"Hot springs!" Gabrielle announced in a happy voice. "What would any Amazon affair be without a mandatory cleaning ritual."
"But if where going to the hot springs, where is Sorrow being taken for her ritual?" Danu asked confused.
"Oh, she gets the river." Solari patted her on the back and laughed. "Those three have some plans for the Protector."
"There's no set ritual for the Protector getting married." Ephiny looked at her and explained in a soft voice. "So Xena decided to make up a few things on her own. I'm afraid Sorrow's going to have quite the time of it this evening."
"This is priceless." Danu laughed as they walked. "I wish I could see what they do to her."
"Whoa, hold up! I'm not really in the mood for a swim." Sorrow stopped shy of the river and tried to back away.
"Not a swim, ritualistic cleaning!" Delara exclaimed in a loud voice as she took hold of one of Sorrow's arms just as Eponin grabbed the other.
"I'm not in the mood for one of those either." Sorrow laughed as she playfully struggled against them.
"Oh sure you are." Xena gently knocked her off her feet and grabbed her by her ankles so that Sorrow was hoisted off the ground. "One!" The Princess was carried closer to the riverbank and swung back to gather momentum for when she was tossed.
"Two!" Eponin laughed as Sorrow closed her eyes tightly.
"Three!" It was Delara who yelled as Sorrow found herself let go at the height of the swing and crashing down into the cold river.
The Princess came up sputtering and cursing.
"Do you three know how cold this is?" She shook the water out of her hair.
"Yes!" They responded in harmony to her inquiry.
"Oh my!" Sorrow laughed as she walked her way back to dry land. "So how am I to be tortured next?" She looked at them seriously.
"Now we can't be telling." Delara shook her head at the Princess.
"To the practice field!" Xena announced as the leader of the group.
"To the practice field!" Sorrow mimicked as they started off.
"Well I bet this is much nicer than the river." Danu leaned back against the wall of the tub.
"So do I." Ephiny laughed as she handed Danu a goblet of wine. "Do you know how cold it is this time of year?" She looked at Gabrielle and shook her head. The bard was trying very hard not to look worried about her daughter and her warrior's crazy plans.
"Surely not that cold." Gabrielle stared up into the sky.
"I'm sure its not." The archer offered her the relief in a soft voice. "Besides Sorrow's tough, she can take whatever Xena dishes out." Laying her wine on the side of the tub, she closed her eyes and felt the heat of the water seeping into her tired muscles. "So what's next for me?" She asked absently.
"Offerings at the temple." The Queen managed the answer through a stifled yawn. She always found the hot springs so relaxing and she wondered if maybe a quick nap could become part of the pre-joining ritual.
"Sounds hard." Danu smiled in response as she reached to take another sip of wine.
"So Protector!" Xena turned on her heel stealthily to face the Princess once they were in the middle of the practice field. "You think yourself worthy to marry an Amazon do you."
"Yes, I am an Amazon Princess." Sorrow challenged back playfully putting her hands on her hips. Noticing that the other two women were carefully moving to flank her from behind. She knew Xena would have expected her to see the staffs hidden within the grass. She also knew Xena would expect her to go along with the fun so she made no attempt to outmaneuver them right away. Instead she stood back and let them begin to circle her.
"An Amazon Princess?" Eponin laughed as they began to circle. "I don't remember training you and I have a hand in training every Amazon in this village. Maybe you should be forced to prove yourself worthy of that title."
"What is your challenge Weapons Master?" Sorrow began circling in her spot to lock eyes with Eponin.
"Normally I would just take you on myself." Eponin steadied her eyes with Sorrow's. "But we have decided that you deserve a much more difficult challenge."
Sorrow anticipated their movements down to pick up the staff's and shocked them all by making no attempts to defend herself. But simply standing at her full height with her arms crossed over her cheast and smiling.
"The three of you?" She raised an eyebrow at them. "You call that a challenge?" She laughed at them. "Too bad I'm getting married tomorrow. I really don't want to send any of you to the healer tonight and make you miss the party." She winked at the Warrior Princess to her left.
"Oh no one will be going to the healer." The warrior flashed her trademark smile as she twirled the staff. "Your challenge is to not even let one of us touch you. You up for that, Princess?" She let the last word roll off her tongue slowly.
"Now that's a challenge." The Princess brushed the hair off her face and waited. Opening her senses to pick up everything around her.
It was Delara and Eponin that make their attack first in tandem. The scout going high while the Weapons Master swung low. Sorrow beat them both by vaulting high enough to be out of range of both attempted blows.
When the Protector heard the war cry sound on her left, her breath caught. Shaking her head as she flipped high in the air, she realized Xena had anticipated her move and was after her. She entertained releasing her wings and soaring far out of reach, but decided that was no fun. Closing her eyes, she focused in on the warrior's aerial approach.
'One option here.' She thought to herself as she chose to come out of the tuck and offer the warrior the largest target possible. As expected Xena modified her attack to the new target and by luck alone, Sorrow felt the staff brush just past her side as she came back to earth.
Once her feet hit the soft earth, she launched herself into the air again to somersault over Delara's shoulders. She hit the ground behind the scout in a soft roll that enabled her to put a moment of distance between her and her friendly attackers.
"Very good." Xena called as she returned to earth. "We might give you beginner designation, what do you think Eponin?" She cast an amused look at the Weapon's Master.
"Yes, beginner status." Eponin broke into a run. "Let's see if she gets intermediate."
Sorrow was completely unprepared for Eponin using the staff to jump over Delara's head and catch the scout's now airborne staff as she came down. The Princess took her only option, which was to let herself fall back flat and have the staff miss her by a hair. The ungraceful but effective movement caused Xena to laugh, as the warrior broke into a run herself. Sorrow waited for the last second before rolling out of the way of the warrior's staff as it came crashing down into the ground.
"Definitely intermediate." Delara decided happily as she picked up Eponin's abandoned staff. "But the real question is will she manage advanced?" With that the scout put her fingers to her lips and let out a large whistle. It was then that all of the younger Amazons that Sorrow often taught or took hunting came racing out of the nearby forest and through the field towards the Princess.
"No fair!" Sorrow called laughing as she broke into a run to begin her evasion of the throng of youngsters.
"Into the trees Princess!" Xena said seriously, as she withheld her laughter. "It's your only hope. Either that or give up?"
"I give up, I give up!" Sorrow crouched down into a ball and allowed the youngsters to converge on her. All of them were suddenly less interested in being the first to land a blow on her and more interested in a giant group hug for their favorite instructor.
"Well that's no good." Delara laughed as she saw the group abandon their orders.
"What can you expect?" Xena shook her head happily and watched her daughter receiving happy congratulations from all of her young students.
"Well I'm not really sure if that's going to gain us Artemis' favor." Danu tried to control her laughter as they exited the temple.
"It's not my fault." The bard held her sides and leaned against the temple door giggling. "I didn't realize that the prayer rhymed so well."
"Yes, but Gabrielle..." Eponin wiped the happy tears from her cheeks. "Did you have to start just keep going and make up that silly ending part."
"Seemed funny at the time." She laughed fully at the thought of it. "Guess I'm lucky Artemis didn't show up and un-chose me."
"Un-chose you?" The archer called the bard on her absurd choice of words and the three Amazons were again reduced into fits of laughter. "What's next on the agenda?" She questioned when they all managed to breathe again.
"We have to go by the courtyard and make sure all the work is proceeding on schedule." Solari found a moment of seriousness and answered. "Then a relaxing dinner in the council hall."
"Sounds divine." Danu smiled as they walked towards the courtyard.
"What next?" Sorrow smiled as she watched the last of the youngsters' race off.
"Dinner time!" Xena exclaimed in a low tone.
"Why do I think I'm not going to like this?" Sorrow smirked at the warrior's tone.
"You'll see." Eponin waved at her to follow them and they headed toward the dining hall.
Sorrow wasn't surprised that the route taken to the dining hall was the back way. As she was sure from a distance she caught a glimpse of her archer in the courtyard. No doubt Danu was getting the easy job of overseeing the final preparations for the next day. She smiled brightly, deciding that even if these pre-wedding rituals were horrible and not the fun events she'd had so far, she would have battled through them just to glimpse Danu for that moment.
"Where is everyone?" Sorrow realized almost the moment they entered the dining hall what trap she'd fallen into.
"Everyone?" Delara looked at her confused as the scout sat down and put her feet up on the table. "There is no everyone tonight."
"Just three hungry Amazons..." Eponin began as she sat down across from Delara.
"And one server." Xena finished.
"One what?" Sorrow asked with mock horror.
"Well before we can let you marry one of our warriors, we have to be sure that you can fulfill the serve portion of your vows." Eponin kept her face serious. "You have already proved that you can protect. But my dear Princess, can you serve?"
With a flourish of her hand, Sorrow performed a deep bow for the entire table.
"Good evening, my name is Sorrow, I will be your server." She clasped her hands in front of her and smiled brightly at them. "Shall we start first with drinks?"
"Yes, that will be quite good." Delara cast a quick surprised look at Xena. None of them had expected the Princess to go along with their little fun so wholeheartedly. "I think a round of port would be good to start."
"Of course." Sorrow nodded to the scout, as she moved quickly to the back to fill their order. She had no intention of letting any of them get her on this one. She would be the sweetest, most patient and attentive server they had ever seen.
Continued in Part Six...
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