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.
NO VIOLENCE WARNING/DISCLAIMER: My stories usually have lots of violence, but this part in particular has none at all. So I figured before it shocked everyone I better put in a warning... smile. I think the horror in the previous parts will make up for it... and no worries Sorrow hasn't been converted to the "Way of Peace" or anything.
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 this story.
NOTE: This story is the sixth in my Sorrow series and begins about a moon after the fifth story ends. I strongly recommend reading the other stories to understand what is going on in this one. You might find yourself a bit confused if you don't.
TISSUE ALERT: I'm in keeping this in just in case, cause some of the scenes contained in the story are a bit heartbreaking. So, you might want to keep some tissues handy just in case. Okay this has been kept in for those of you who cry at weddings.
FEEDBACK: Any comments would be greatly appreciated.
SPECIAL THANKS: This part is dedicated entirely to Cheney for having the guts to tell me the first version of this part was unfit for posting but also having the talent to help me see how I could make it better. Cemdus, A&F Rainbow
Gabrielle saw the slight well of tears in the archer's eyes as she looked at the crew working to decorate the stage and she moved to slip her arm around Danu's shoulder.
"The only thing more beautiful than the decorations tomorrow will be you." The bard whispered softly so only the archer could hear her.
"Not me, your daughter will outshine us all." Danu whispered back in an even smaller voice. "I have dreamed of this moment for so long. I have lost her so many times that..." She found herself unable to finish the thought.
"I know, I know." Gabrielle moved quickly to hug her. "Don't focus on any of that now." She pulled back to look the archer in the eye. "Only tomorrow. Only you and Sorrow joined together, as one, forever."
All Danu could do was nod. Suddenly realizing that the moment was so close, reminded her of how easy it would be for all of this to disappear, leaving her again with nothing.
"Ephiny?" The bard turned to get the nearby Regent's attention. "Will you and Solari overlook this for us, Danu and I are going to the council chamber."
"No worries, my Queen." Ephiny bowed her head slightly, having caught the archer's reaction and knowing the bard's intentions.
"This is not working." Delara leaned closer to whisper to the other two as Sorrow disappeared into the kitchen. "I don't think she's going to give in on this one, no matter what we ask her to do."
"She is strong willed." Xena replied in a low voice, pleased that her daughter had caught onto the little game and was playing along magnificently. "We'll just have to give her this round."
"I have to say I was curious to see her finally lose it and I thought for sure she'd crack when you spilt the wine and then blamed her for being clumsy." Eponin added quickly when the Princess returned.
"Dessert is served!" She smiled brightly as she placed the platter of sugary treats down in front of them.
"Dessert?" Xena asked puzzled.
"Now I couldn't have you three going without dessert." She turned and moved to return to the kitchen. "So I flew off to Athens and picked these up for you while you had the main course."
The warrior turned to watch Sorrow disappear behind the closing door, racking her brain to figure out exactly when the Princess would have had the time. They had kept her more than busy since this little ritual had started.
As the door to the kitchen swung closed behind her, Sorrow started to laugh. She knew the dessert had them all baffled. The truth was she had flown off to Athens in a brief moment of peace. The dessert had only been an afterthought while she was there. She'd had other very important things to pick up and she feared that the three women in the dining hall would have kept her from ever getting there later on. Moving to the back of the kitchen she couldn't help but smile at the small bundle on the counter. Picking it up, she walked to the rear door. It only took a few moments before one of the children ran by. Most of them had been enlisted to assist with the wedding preparations.
"Sarahan!" Sorrow called to the wispy youth as she came out from behind a nearby building.
"Princess, what can I do for you?" The tall girl rushed over to the doorway where Sorrow stood. Her smile was bright and genuine.
"I have to ask for a very important favor." Sorrow looked back into the kitchen and listened to make sure she wasn't being called.
"Anything." Sarahan's smile almost split her face with the idea of being asked such a thing by the Princess.
"I need you to take this and tie it to the underside of my chair." She handed over the object in question. "But I need you to make sure no one sees you do it. Especially my Mother or Xena." She lowered her voice a bit to stress the point.
"Your chair?" The child asked timidly. Sure she would be able to perform the duty if she only understood what the Princess was asking of her.
"My throne." Sorrow laughed a little as she cleared up the confusion. Realizing that her own uneasiness with the word would not change that her chair was indeed a throne and that would be how all of the other Amazons looked at it.
"Oh, your throne." Sarahan giggled at the correction. "I can do that, no problem."
"If anyone asks just say you're under my orders." She smiled again. "Thank you."
"You're welcome your Highness." The child went to one knee as she had often watched the adults do. "I'll make sure none of them see me."
"Go on now, get going." Sorrow's gentle voice coaxed her to stand again. Hearing Xena voice calling to her from the dining hall she waited only long enough to watch the youngster run off around the building before she went to find out what the Warrior Princess wanted.
"I'm sorry." Danu tried to stifle her tears as the bard led her to sit in one of the chairs. "This isn't the time for this."
"This is the perfect time." Gabrielle pulled another chair up close and kept a hold on the archer's hand as she sat down herself.
"It's just... it's just..." Another wave of fearful tears reduced the archer to sobs as she leaned forward to rest her head on her free arm on the desk.
"It's just?" The bard tried to coax out the remainder of the thought with a soft voice. "Danu, you have been through so much loving Sorrow. It's okay to be afraid of the future."
"Is it?" She turned her head to face the soft voice beside her. "I should trust her shouldn't I. Trust that it will all be okay, that the love I have for her, the love that she has for me, will be enough. Doesn't being afraid mean that I don't trust her?"
"No!" Gabrielle answered quickly. "It means no such thing." She sighed. "Danu, with all that comes along with loving my daughter it would be hard not to be afraid of the future." The bard took a slow breath trying to choose her words carefully, before finally resigning herself to just speaking from her heart. "Joining with my daughter will only mean more worry and fear. We both know that with all that she is and especially her duty as the Nation's Protector brings with it very unusual perils."
"So much could happen, so much." The archer buried her face in her arm again.
"Yes, a lot could happen." Gabrielle gently rubbed the shaking hand in her own. "The possibilities are endless. But you can't be consumed by the possibilities, you must only deal with them when they come."
"How do you do it?" Danu lifted her head up and asked the question in a timid voice.
"How do I do what?" She answered back genuinely confused.
"How do you not let all the possibilities consume you?" The archer's voice grew even more timid.
"Oh!" She took a sharp breath in as the question clarified in her mind. Silently she praised the archer for seeing the parallel between them. She the wife of the Warrior Princess and Danu soon to be joined with the Amazon Protector. She frowned slightly as the memory of recent events washed over her. They had both come so close to losing so much. "To be honest it used to worry me. It used to worry me a lot." Gabrielle smiled at her softly. "But I realized that no matter how much I worried, it didn't change the things that happened. Didn't change that I loved Xena with all my heart and would stand beside her during anything."
"That's why I feel so stupid for feeling like this." Danu frowned and looked away. "I love Sorrow with all that I am, I can't even think of life without her." Her frown grew deeper as her mind corrected itself. "Yes, I can think of life without her. I have lived life without her. But even that was before and so much has happened since. I can't live through losing her again."
"Danu, you can't think in terms of that." The bard spoke in a forceful voice. "You can't live every day with the fear that this is the day you will lose her. It doesn't do her or you any good." She softened her tone when the archer turned back to look at her. "You can only take each day as it comes and love her as much as you can through each of them. Some days will pass by without peril and others will be so full of it you'll want to just curl up and cry forever. If you don't think you are prepared for that..." Gabrielle took a deep breath. "Then maybe you should postpone the ceremony?" She hated herself for asking the question, hated to put everything on the line. But her heart needed it said, both for her own piece of mind and for fear of the hurt it would bring her daughter in the future if Danu wasn't fully prepared for all that was to come.
"Postpone the ceremony?" The archer looked at her with a shocked expression. "No... never!" She mumbled out an objection, missing when the bard happily released the pensive breath she'd been holding.
"Good." The bard finally whispered as she squeezed the hand within her own.
"Gabrielle, my Queen." Danu spoke in a strong voice; the fear she'd felt only moments before slipped away. "I have loved your daughter since the first moment I saw her. I didn't realize at the time that love was what I was feeling, but I know now looking back that it was." Her lips curled up into a slight smile. "I could no more live without Sorrow in my life than I could stop breathing. Without her, my life is empty and hollow. Without her the future isn't worth facing, but with her it is worth facing both the good and the bad."
"That's my girl." Gabrielle couldn't help by grab the archer in a joyous hug.
"You knew that suggesting to postpone the ceremony would straighten me out didn't you?" Danu asked in a soft voice when they broke the embrace. Gabrielle's simple smile in response made her smile as well. "Thank you."
"I only helped you focus on what your heart already knew. No need for thanks." The bard leaned back in her chair. "Besides, it's normal to be nervous before your joining."
"Joining with Sorrow is the one thing I could never be nervous about." Danu smiled and leaned back in her own chair. "It will be a dream come true." She closed her eyes and let the memories of her love wash over her.
Gabrielle looked away as she saw the wave of happiness break on the archer's face. A moment of panic broke inside her as she wondered if Sorrow was having a similar moment of question. She only hoped that Xena would delay the endearing rituals she had planned for the Princess long enough to let Sorrow come to the same resolution about their joining that Danu had.
"Sorrow?" Xena walked into the kitchen.
"Sorry, I didn't hear you calling." Sorrow rushed to meet her at the door, fully willing to comply with any request the warrior could make of her.
"No worries." She smiled at her daughter. "You caught onto this little test of ours too quickly. You're off the hook."
"Thank the Gods." The Princess released a large playful sigh. "You three had me run ragged. So what is the next ritual you want me to perform?"
"No more from me. You passed with flying colours." She hoped the Princess would catch her choice of words.
"No more from you, but who else has plans for me?" Sorrow narrowed her eyes as she voiced the question.
"I have to escort you to meet your mother at the temple." Xena grinned at her. "As Princess there are certain rituals that must be performed prior to the ceremony."
"Lovely." Sorrow screwed up her face.
"You should be happy." The warrior put a firm hand on Sorrow's shoulder. "Your Mother fast talked the High Priestess out of the normal three day pre-joining ritual. You and her are getting the abbreviated version."
"Guess I'm very lucky then." She couldn't help but smile at the idea of her mother talking the distraught Priestess out of the traditional ceremony. "Lead on!"
Gabrielle sat on the temple steps watching the paths up to the building for any sign of the Princess. She looked again briefly to the sky, knowing by the position of the sun that her daughter should be arriving anytime. The sight of both Xena and Sorrow laughing as they appeared at the end of the North path made her smile. Curious as to what they were talking about, she stood up and started down the path towards them.
"Mother!" Sorrow called and waved to her.
The bard waved back, glad to see that her warrior's plans had done nothing to dampen the Princess' spirits.
"Hey there." Xena took a few quick steps to meet up with her first and gave her a hug.
"Hello, I missed you." Gabrielle whispered back and held on a heartbeat longer than the warrior. "And how are you doing?" She sidestepped over gracefully to give Sorrow a hug as well.
"I'm great!" The Princess exclaimed as she lifted the bard off the ground and turned them in a quick circle before returning her mother's feet to earth. "Well except for the temple thing." She screwed up her face.
"No complaining you!" Gabrielle swatted her playfully in the arm. "You should be thanking me for talking the Priestess down to one night instead of three days."
"No complaining here." Sorrow smiled and began walking toward the temple. "I'd do anything to make tomorrow happen. Even spending the night at the temple saying prayers." Feeling playful she let her wings spring from her back and suddenly leaping to the air she shot up into the sky to turn a few elaborate circles before heading off toward the temple steps. Secretly she also figured it would give her mother and the warrior a few moments alone before the night of segregation.
Gabrielle slipped her hand into Xena's and smiled. They stood close together watching the aerial display.
"I've never seen her so happy." The warrior's soft voice whispered in her ear.
"No doubt at all." The bard whispered back, her eyes only now moving from watching her daughter's to lock with those of her warrior.
"Just as sure as you were." Xena couldn't resist turning to stand in front of her love and kissing her softly.
"That was wonderful." Gabrielle sighed as she slipped exhausted to sit in one of the chairs by the fireplace. "But I'm glad it's over."
"Yes, it was." Sorrow sank to sit on the floor by the fire. "And I am."
The traditional rituals had kept them in the temple well into the night. Sorrow had been surprised to discovery part of the tradition was for her and her mother to sleep within the temple. She also knew that sleeping would be hard for her with so much anticipation about the next day. Though one thing she could thank the Priestess for was tiring her out with all the boring chanting. Her rambling thoughts were broken by the sound of Gabrielle's voice.
"Do you want this room or the smaller one?" The bard asked absently as she took off her boots.
"I'll take the smaller one." Sorrow yawned and stretched her arms above her head. "It's cold tonight and you'll be warmer in here. So will Anastasia." She added remembering that the little Princess should be dropped off at the temple and whisked into her mother's loving arms any time.
"We could all sleep in here." The bard matched her yawn. "I don't want you to catch a chill before your big day." The slight giggle that came from the Protector made her tired mind realize the absurdity of her words. "Into bed then my little one." She lifted herself slowly out of the chair and moved the short distance to kiss her daughter on the forehead softly.
"I love you, sweet dreams." She whispered snuggling back into the chair to wait for Anastasia's arrival.
"I love you too Mother." Sorrow whispered back as she let the warmth of the motherly kiss soak into her. She placed another chunk of wood on the fire before heading off to bed herself.
A slight smile crossed her face as she recognized the distinct ache in her cheast that always marked her separation from Xena. The automatic reaction was unstoppable and no logic could make it subside until she was again beside her love.
"I love you." She whispered the words of her heart into the sunrise in the hopes that the new borne light would carry them the short distance to where her warrior rested.
Trying to distract herself, she went over her mental checklist to see if everything was ready for the ceremony in a few candlemarks. She could hardly believe that by dusk her daughter would be joined. As her thoughts turned to Sorrow, an uncomfortable moan from the other room broke her concentration.
Swinging her legs over the side of the bed, she wrapped the thin blanket around her and stood up. Double checking that Anastasia was covered up and fine, she silently crossed the cold stone floor and approached the door to her daughter's room. Pausing there for a moment, she sharpened her focus in as Xena had taught her. The slight thump of a pillow hitting the floor and then the unmistakable sound of crying sent the bard into her daughter's room in a heartbeat.
Gabrielle opened the door forcefully, confident that the Protector's senses would pick up her presence and know that no harm was approaching. The scene on the bed was as she pictured it. The blanket kicked to the bottom and the pillow laying on the ground, while Sorrow herself lay curled up into an uncomfortable ball. Her face was contorted and tears streamed down her face.
"It's all right." Gabrielle whispered as she moved to the bed and put a soft hand on Sorrow's head. "I'm here. I'm here." She slipped her hand into the clenched fingers of the Princess' right hand and was happy when they relaxed into her touch. "Wake up honey, it's all right now."
Sorrow's unseeing eyes snapped open suddenly. She blinked hard as the last shreds of the horrible nightmare melted away and she came to focus on her mother's sunlit face above her. She opened her mouth to speak and felt the salty taste of a tear slide over her lip and onto her tongue.
"It's okay now." Gabrielle whispered as she softly brushed the tears from her daughter's cheeks. "You were having a nightmare."
Unable to shake the feeling of it, Sorrow darted into her mother's open arms. She stretched out her mind to make sure that everyone else was safe as well.
"I won't let her hurt you, never again." The Princess' voice was small and Gabrielle had never heard it sound so childlike.
"Sorrow, who hurt me in your nightmare?" The bard asked in a soft voice. She knew from experience that if she could get her daughter to talk about the horrible dream then it's grip on her now that she was awake would weaken. Feeling the Princess stiffen in her arms, her stomach sank and she swallowed hard. "Sorrow, please tell me." She regained her composure and asked again in a whisper. "It was only a nightmare, it's not real love."
"Hope." Sorrow's voice was muffled as she buried her head into the bard's shoulder. "Hope said she killed you and that none of this could happen."
"Hope is dead Sorrow." Gabrielle held her daughter a bit tighter. "She can't hurt any of us ever again." Taking a deep breath, she knew her own pain had to be ignored for a moment. "Sorrow, please tell me everything you remember from the nightmare. I promise it won't feel as bad if you talk about it." She felt a small nod against her and she waited for the Princess to begin.
"I woke up." Her voice was small and she brought her arms up to cling desperately onto Gabrielle. "But I wasn't here, I was... I was..." She faltered for a moment. "I was in Father's realm again, in a grand palace." She took a deep breath. "All of this was a dream. Meeting you and Xena in the tavern that night, becoming the Amazon Protector, you having Madalene and Anastasia, all of it was the dream. Even Danu." She started to shake with the admission. "Someone came in to tell me that Father wanted to see me in the throne room. As I left the room I entered a long hallway. Hope was waiting at the other end. She walked up to me and she kissed me on the cheek. Then she took my head in her hands..." Sorrow faltered again, unable to continue.
"It's all right, she can't hurt you." Gabrielle kissed her on the head gently. "Please keep going."
"She took my face in her hands and leaned in so her lips were near my ear." Sorrow shivered violently from the memory of the words to come. "She asked me if I enjoyed the dream she gave me. If I had finally known what it was like to find true love, finally known the pleasures of the flesh and the heart. Finally known what it was like to be human."
The bard took a sharp breath and held it, waiting for her daughter to continue.
"She said she gave me the dream as a gift." Sorrow's voice was reduced to barely a whisper. "She said that she wanted me to know all that could have been but that could never be. Then I felt it. All over her hands and all over my face." Sorrow moved her hands to rub at her cheeks. "Your blood was all over her hands and all over me. She'd killed you. She'd killed you. She'd killed you." The Princess' words repeated over and over in a heartbroken tone as hot tears flooded down her cheeks again.
"It was a nightmare. I'm right here, I'm right here." Gabrielle repeated the words back with some force as she began to rock back and forth softly. "She can't hurt us anymore Sorrow. She's gone. She can't hurt either of us anymore, I promise." The bard placed soft kisses in her daughter's hair as she began to cry herself. Her heart breaking all over again for that which was her daughter Hope.
"Sorry, I didn't realize you were out here." Danu spoke the sharp startled words as she stopped halfway through the front door. The sight of the warrior sitting on the porch had caught her off guard and she berated herself for being so careless as to disturb her.
It had been on the Queen's suggestion that she stay there that night while Sorrow was at the temple. The archer had spent a good portion of the time curled up on the Princess' bed trying to sleep but finding her mind to busy to even entertain the idea. Seeing the first hints of morning break across the thin linen that covered the window she'd decided to give up and venture out to the porch to watch the dawn.
"There's enough scenery for the two of us." Xena smiled at her, having heard the archer emerge from the bedroom and fully expecting her arrival on the porch. In a slight shift she moved to one end of the wooden bench that rested against the house. "Have a seat."
"Looks like we both had the same idea." Danu sat down and curled her legs up under her as she looked at the sky. "It's beautiful."
"Yes it is." The warrior added absently, her own mind not seeing the sunrise before her but remember all the others she had watched together with the bard when they traveled the countryside together.
"Couldn't sleep either?" The archer mumbled and looked down to study the worn wood of the porch railing a few feet in front of her.
"Busy day ahead." Xena answered quickly, her heart aching to voice its night laments over being separated from the bard. "Wanted to get a quiet start." She reached beside her and held up a mug of tea.
"Very busy day." Danu looked away and felt the full bright smile dawn on her face slowly. All that was left was for the sun before her to make its daily trail across the sky because once it again met with the horizon she would be joined with her Princess forever.
"Are you nervous?" The warrior took a sip of the tea. She swallowed the cold liquid and laughed inside as she remembered just how long the abandoned drink had been sitting there.
"Anxious." Danu though for a moment before she answered. Nervous still implied some sort of doubting in her mind and doubt was one thing she did not feel. "And worried." The other emotions that swelled inside her focused for a moment. "I would hate to see anything not go as planned today. Gabrielle has been working so hard to make sure everything is picture perfect, I wouldn't want anything not to be up to her expectations." She brought her hands up to her hair as she talked and expertly braided the long blond locks back off of her face.
"No worries of that." Xena gave a little laugh. "As long as you and Sorrow are joined Gabrielle's expectations will be fulfilled. Besides I predict that the whole thing will go off perfectly." She spoke confidently, hoping to alleviate whatever worry the archer was harboring.
"It will." She nodded softly.
"Sounds like one of my little one's is up." Xena smiled when her senses registered the soft padding of Madalene's footsteps across the main room of the house.
"Anastasia's still asleep?" Danu smiled back at her.
"She's at the temple actually, but I imagine out solid." The warrior smiled even brighter. "She sleeps just like her mother. Nothing short of an earthquake could wake her."
"I forgot you were bringing her to the temple." The archer nodded as she remembered. "Sorrow sleeps like that too." Danu smile darkened suddenly. "Except when she's having nightmares." The archer held her breath for a moment hoping that her Princess had gotten through the night without any.
With the mention of the word nightmare, the warrior's blood went cold. She was saved from having to say anything when Madalene burst through the front door and onto the porch.
"Good morning Mommy!" The little Princess bounded across the porch to hurl herself at the warrior.
"Good morning angel." Xena caught her with gentle arms and gave her a hug.
"Today's the day, isn't it?" Madalene twisted in the warrior's arms to look at Danu.
"Yes it is." Danu smiled at her brightly though thoughts of nightmares still shadowed the back of her mind. "Are you ready?"
"I've been practicing." Madalene squealed as she maneuvered herself out of Xena's arms and raced to the far end of the porch. Starting out with both feet together and her hands clasped as if holding something in front of her, she walked slowly across the porch in a one step then feet together pattern. "How was that?" She questioned when she reached the archer.
"That was perfect." Danu smiled and hugged the exuberant little child.
The archer had insisted that all of the Royal family have some role in the ceremony. After special though it had been decided that Madalene would carry the ceremonial floral offering to Artemis up to the stage. The little Princess had been practicing day and night to make sure she was perfect.
"The wedding will be wonderful." Madalene's voice grew deeper as she turned to look off into the light filled horizon. The tone of it made the warrior's breath catch in her throat. "No one would dare interfere, though they bide their time. Homage must be paid and you must be recognized." Her eyes glassy and unseeing, she turned to point a small shaking hand at Danu.
"Recognized by who?" Danu whispered frozen in her spot by the hand pointed at her.
"Those who will be ignored no longer." Her voice quivered as the whispered words left her pale lips. "Mommy, can I have breakfast now?" She blinked her eyes hard as she asked the question.
"Of course." The warrior stammered out as she rose and collected the still shaking Princess into her arms. She didn't care how many times this happened, she would never get used to the look that came to her daughter's eyes. The emptiness they held in them at the times of her visions. Xena knew she would give anything to free Madalene of the horrible gift.
"Those who will be ignored no longer." The archer whispered the words to herself as her body finally was released from its hold and the hair on the back of her neck rose up out of fear. Putting a weak hand up to rub her forehead, she wished that she could go to the temple and see Sorrow. Wished she could bring Gabrielle back to help the warrior deal with this newest display of Madalene's gift. Wished she knew the meaning of the cryptic words that no doubt foretold of great strife looming in the future. Trying to collect herself, she stood up and walked into the house to help Xena prepare breakfast.
Gabrielle paced back and forth in front of the small fire, cradling Anastasia in her arms as the infant slept. She knew that the building light of the day was heating the room slowly but inside she was frozen. She looked again to the bed where Sorrow slept. It had taken her some time to coax the Princess out to the bed in the main room and into sleep again, but she knew with the busy night ahead Sorrow needed to make up for the time wasted in the horrible nightmare. Carefully, she returned the little Princess to her cradle, and returned to her pace in front of the fire.
"Hope." She whispered the name as she stared at Sorrow. Her mind again returned to memories of the past. To the little perfect baby she'd once held in her arms and to the small winged creature stolen from her in the flames. As she had a thousand times before, she wondered just what Hope would have looked like if she hadn't stolen the bard's own form. She wondered what had made Sorrow chose these characteristics for her human form. As always, she wondered if the two girls would have looked alike without all of fate's cruel intervention.
"My twins." The words escaped her lips before she could stop them. She swallowed hard as they registered in her ears. Though this was what Sorrow and Hope were, it seems such an insult to the Princess to refer to it. To equate her with all the evil that Hope had brought was unthinkable and Gabrielle shied away from using the term as much as possible.
"Why would she dream of you now?" She asked herself as she sat down on the edge of one of the chairs. "It makes no sense." She steadied her mind to think. She had promised herself that she would never let something remain hidden as the secrets of the temple had. "Today is going to be one of happiest days of Sorrow's life. Why would her mind decide to dredge up such a horrible scenario?"
Though no answer would come to her mind she knew she could not let the questions rest. If there were answers to be found she would find them. A light tap at the door brought her back to reality.
"Yes?" She moved to it quickly hoping to reach it before another knock could wake her daughter.
"Good morning!" Ephiny poked her head around the slightly opened door and smiled. "I just wanted to know if you two were ready for breakfast." The slight frown on the bard's face told her something wasn't right. "What's wrong?" She asked and stepped halfway into the room.
Gabrielle motioned the Regent back into the hall and closed the door softly behind her.
"Sorrow's still asleep." She offered softly.
"Asleep?" Ephiny knew there was more too this but she would let the bard tell it in her own time.
"She had a horrible nightmare last night." Gabrielle shook her head. "She didn't rest very well."
"Oh!" The Regent breathed out the sharp word, not knowing what else to say. She was well aware of all the horror that began the last time the Princess had been having nightmares.
"I want to stay with her till she wakes." The bard noticed the sudden rumble of her empty stomach. "Is it to much to ask for something to be brought to the room?"
"Course not." Ephiny smiled. "It's a special day today. No reason you shouldn't have breakfast delivered." She grinned as she turned on her heels and went down the hall. "Just don't expect this treatment all the time understand." She turned to wink at her Queen before she disappeared behind the corner.
Gabrielle couldn't help but smile as she moved silently back into the room. It was indeed a very special day and she would do her best to erase the memory of the horrible nightmare so that her daughter might enjoy it to its fullest.
"You look beautiful." Danu arrived back from the hot springs to find a very unhappy little Princess sitting on the front porch in her formal leathers.
"I do not." Madalene screwed up her face. "I look plain." She turned her head to yell through the open window behind her. "Mommy says I can't wear my necklace. She doesn't think I'm big enough yet."
"You're right, I don't!" Xena appeared in the doorway looking uncharacteristically flustered and then disappeared inside again.
"Oh!" The archer smiled realizing what the argument was over.
"So she told me to sit here until I find a better mood." The child added folding her arms across her cheast and pouting. "I'm going to look silly bringing up the flowers if I don't have my necklace on."
"You won't look silly." Danu sat down on the bench beside her. "You look beautiful with or without the necklace."
"I'd look better with it." Madalene's voice was small and annoyed.
Trying not to laugh, the archer got up and walked inside the house. She wasn't surprised to find Xena pacing back and forth in front of the fireplace.
"She's as stubborn as her mother." The warrior suddenly blurted out. Shocked herself that she was speaking but her mind deciding to go with the effort now that it was started. "I mean you'd think I won't let her even go to the wedding or something. It's just she's so careless with things sometimes and if she was to damage the necklace there is no way to replace it."
Danu took a shocked step back as the warrior's rant began. Not sure if she should interject or just stay silent. Figuring silence was always a good bet, she let Xena go on uninterrupted.
"I'm not being unreasonable here. I found her balancing a chair on the bed in order to get it off the wall." Xena let out an exasperated breath. "She could have fallen and killed herself. I mean maybe I was wrong to yell but she scared the life out of me."
"Xena, it's all right." Danu finally spoke in a soft voice. "The main thing is she didn't hurt herself and it's okay if you yelled."
"Argh!" Not knowing what else to say she let herself fall into one of the chairs. "I wish Gabrielle was here." She whispered to herself.
"What would she do if she was here?" The archer asked softly as she sat down in the other chair nearby, not sure if she was meant to hear the whispered words. The blank look she got from the warrior gave her no help. "Okay, can I try something then?" She asked timidly.
"Knock yourself out." Xena answered with a little shrug.
"Be right back." Danu smiled and quickly walked back to the doorway and stuck her head around the corner. "Madalene, would you come inside please?"
The child nodded silently as she rose and stalked through the door.
"Come sit by the fire." Danu clasped her hand gently and led the child over to sit in the chair next to the warrior.
"Now this is my wedding day." The archer forced a frown to her mouth as she began. "And I refuse to have you two like this. So..." She paused to let her ultimate authority on this day sink in. "I expect the two of you to talk this out right now."
The expected silence came from the two of them and it was all that Danu could do to not laugh at how similar they were. Both sitting with their arm's crossed over in front of them and faces like masks.
"Okay well let me start this off." She took a deep breath. "Madalene, why did you not ask someone to get the necklace down off the wall for you?"
"Because..." The child shot a quick glance at the warrior. "Because I knew she wouldn't think I was big enough to wear it."
"Xena, why don't you think that she's not big enough to wear it?" The archer pleaded with the warrior silently to go along with what she was doing. They both knew she could veto all of this at any moment.
"Because she pulled such a dangerous stunt to get it." The warrior answered in an even tone. She instantly saw what the archer was trying to do and silently applauded her for her efforts. Though a part of her felt stupid, more of her hated it when her daughter was angry with her and she knew she'd endure anything to have this recent discrepancy over with.
'Oh, this is working great.' Danu thought as the circular basis of their argument came out again.
"So Madalene, do you think what you did was dangerous?" She asked in a calm voice, hoping to get the child to see Xena's point of view and with any luck get the warrior to see how much wearing the necklace meant to her daughter.
"NO!" The little Princess blurted out but instantly faltered in her conviction. "A bit."
"Come on now." Danu moved closer to crouch down next to Madalene's chair. "If when Anastasia is your age she does something like what you did to get the necklace would you call it dangerous?"
"Yes." The word came out tiny and the Princess' face softened as she realized she was caught.
"Angel, I'm sorry I yelled." Xena said softly to her daughter when she saw the change in her expression. "You just scared me."
"I'm sorry I scared you Mommy." Madalene said quietly, moving a bit closer to the warrior as the momentary emotional gap between them closed up again.
"I know you are, come here." The warrior gathered up the small child in her arms and held her close.
Smiling, Danu quietly walked off toward Sorrow's room. Content to let them have their moment and relieved that mother and daughter were again on speaking terms.
It was the word mother spoken in the silent voice of Danu's mind that made her movements slow and deliberate as she closed the door.
"Mother, I wish you were here." She whispered softly to herself as she moved to sit on the bed. With all that was going on she realized that she'd not given a single thought to her Mother's memory. Leaning back to lie on the bed she felt the first tear creep out of the corner of her eye and roll down into her wet hair. "I miss you."
"You better get a move on!" Gabrielle ribbed when she heard Sorrow return from the Temple baths. "Only a few more candlemarks before dusk. Are you nervous?" The bard turned around from the clothes she was setting out and asked the question in a soft voice.
"Not a bit!" Sorrow smiled brightly as she walked over to where her mother stood and sat down on the bed.
"That's good." The bard smiled back at her. "Here let me get a hair brush for that mane of yours." She laughed as she moved to retrieve the brush off a small table nearby and moved on her knees behind her daughter. "It's okay to be nervous you know." She said softly as she began to work the knots out of Sorrow's long brown hair.
"I know it's okay." Sorrow closed her eyes. "But I'm not nervous. No reason to be." She grinned to herself, unable to believe the day was finally here.
"Well that's okay too." Gabrielle nodded at her daughter's confidence and continued brushing.
"Is Anastasia with Ephiny?" Sorrow asked relaxing under her mother's hands.
"Yes, Ephiny got ready early so she could look after her while you and I got ready."
"Thank you." The Princess said suddenly in a soft voice after a few moments silence.
"I'm your Mother, hair brushing is a right." Gabrielle said happily and stopped her task to kiss Sorrow softly on the head. She knew that hair brushing was not the only thing the Princess was thanking her for but she also knew she could never accept thanks for these things. With all she did do, there was still so much she hadn't done and she would never forgive herself for that.
"I have something for you." She said anxiously as she moved off of the bed and pulled the wooden box out from underneath it. "I don't want to say much till you open it."
Sorrow took the box from her Mother and placed it beside her. Little pieces in her mind clicked together as she opened the lid and her vision came to rest on her ceremonial mask within. Thought the facial portion of the mask was the same, the ornamentation framing it had been changed. Her eyes not leaving the mask, she slid her hands underneath it and carefully lifted it from the box. The long tendrils of the decorative feather strands folding out to frame it perfectly.
Everything was as it had been before, except that now the tendrils were not solely made of white feathers. Each strand was intricately woven to alternate between feathers of the purest white and those of the deepest crimson.
"Why?" Sorrow asked the question almost silently.
"This is the Mask of the Protector. This is your mask." Gabrielle answered back softly and sat down across from her on the bed. "As all masks it will change as you change, to mark all that you do for the Nation and for Greece." She reached out her hand to touch the feathers as she spoke. "What you did, to help save Greece, to help spare the Nation from going to war and..." She reached her hand further to lay it gently on Sorrow's arm and her voice went even softer. "For all that you went through in the name of love and family. That is what I would never want anyone to forget. Would never want you to forget and that needs to be reflected in the mask you wear."
"Why would you want to remember that?" The Protector questioned in a small voice.
"Sorrow, what you did isn't something to be ashamed of and to try and forget." Gabrielle shook her head lightly at the ideas. "What you did and the things you endured cannot be imagined by anyone. I won't pretend to be blind to the fact that your actions killed many but I know that you fought to come back from a place that none of us could dare try to return from. To have ownership of the world only one simple act away. There are not many who could deny that temptation."
"Xena has done it." Sorrow whispered her eyes fixed to study the mask.
"Yes." The bard smiled slightly. "I see so much of her in you. You are more her daughter than his." She made the reference to Dahak softly.
"I might be his daughter by form." Sorrow eyes moved up slowly to stare into her mother's. "But I have never been his in my heart or in my soul." She moved one hand from the mask to her cheast.
"I know you haven't." Gabrielle smiled as happy tears spilled out of her eyes. "These mean that. Both the red and the white are proof that you are." She ran her free hand over the feathers on the mask.
The happy silence stayed between them for a few moments before the bard's tears dried and moving to capture one last hug from her daughter, she silently went to take her turn in the Temple baths.
Danu pulled the brush through her hair again with some force. After several botched attempts she tried to calm herself before she began again. Maybe it was being so anxious but no matter how hard she tried she couldn't get the hair clip Sorrow had given her to sit straight.
"Come in!" She called happily when she heard the knock at the door. She was thankful for the distraction from her uncooperative hair.
"I don't want to disturb you." Xena opened the door and came in slowly. "But I wanted to know if you needed anything." The warrior closed the door partially to give them some privacy but kept it open enough to keep an ear on the children.
"Just help getting this to sit properly." She smiled at the warrior and held the hair clip up. "You look beautiful." She added softly as the Warrior Princess walked toward her. Dressed in her leathers and with her armor sparkling in the slightly fading sunlight, Xena was the picture of beauty.
"I look adequate." Xena smiled and moved to stand next to the bed where the archer sat. "You look beautiful." She stopped to take in the archer's leathers. A short mid-drift top showed off the archer's well-muscled arms and stomach. While the short pleated skirt complemented her small frame perfectly. Both pieces were dyed a deep rich brown to match the archer's eyes. "Sorrow has impeccable taste."
"She does doesn't she." Danu smiled as her hands moved to straight the pleats of the skirt unconsciously. "I can't wait to see her in what I picked out."
"No matter what it is." Xena shifted her weight onto one foot and winked at her. "She won't hold a candle to you."
"Thank you." Danu turned a bright shade of red under the warrior's eyes.
"Let's see what we can do with that clip!" The warrior motioned for the clip with a smile. "I have many skills. But if you tell anyone that hair styling is one of them I'll have to kill you." She added in a low voice and was glad to hear the archer laugh.
"Your secret's safe with me." Danu added in a mock serious tone as she handed over the uncooperative object.
Xena ran the brush through the archer's hair, focused on the task before her. In a display of her usual skill she soon had the clip sitting perfectly within the archers long blond locks.
"I wanted to say thank you for what you did." The warrior walked to place the brush on the nearby dresser. "Madalene and I have a tendency to disagree sometimes."
"The thanks goes to my Mother." Danu spoke the words softly. "Latty and I used to fight a lot when we were younger. That was her way of helping us make up." She looked up into Xena's attentive eyes. "She always said if you could see how the other person was seeing, feel what they were feeling, then any argument could never last long."
"A very wise woman." Xena said in a reverent voice as she sat down beside the archer on the bed. "You must miss them a lot, especially today."
"Yes." She nodded her head slightly. "Especially today." Turning away from the warrior's gaze she let her mind wander. "Latty would have ran herself ragged hunting game for the feast." She gave a little laugh. "Knowing her she would have been out even now trying to get one last hunt in."
"And your mother?" Xena questioned in an attempt to keep the archer talking.
"My mother would have..." Danu turned back to look the warrior in the eye. "My mother would have been here to help me with the clip." She swallowed hard as a lone tear ran down her cheek.
A sad frown pulled at the warrior's mouth as she watched the tear trail down the archer's cheek. That she had heard crying earlier was instantly confirmed and Xena's mind raced to try and find some way to help.
"I never had the honour of knowing your mother." Xena began in a soft voice. "But one thing I do know is that if she was here today, she would be so proud of you. For growing up into such a beautiful strong woman and for all that you do for the Nation." The warrior took a small breath of pause. "She would also be so happy to see her precious daughter with so much love in her heart and I trust that she would offer her blessing to your joining."
"Xena?" Danu's voice was small. The slight smile from the warrior told the archer she had her undivided attention. "I'm sure you already know this, but by Amazon tradition it would be my mother or sister who walked me to my place on the stage." She paused to see the warrior nod. "I was wondering, and you can say no if you'd like, if you would do me the honour of walking me." Her voice gained a little volume and speed as she spoke the request.
"The honour would be mine Danu." Xena didn't even try to keep the smile that dawned on her face hidden. With the topic of the archer's mother, the warrior had been thinking of just that fact. Though she'd known that Danu might want the honour to remain open, she had been trying to find a way to offer her service.
"Thank you." Danu whispered and impulsively hugged the warrior, holding on just long enough for the warrior to return the hug before letting go. "Could I ask you something else?" She moved off the bed to the dresser.
"Oh course, anything." Xena smiled and followed her movement.
"Would it ruin the outfit if I wore my armguard?" She bit her lip with the question as she picked up the guard and slipped it on. "It's just that it has always been a part of me and since this one was a present from..." She couldn't finish her argument for wearing the piece as the warrior cut her off.
"I think you should. It is a part of who you are." Xena spoke in a soft voice. "And if Sorrow is anything like her mother, she'd want you to be wearing it. Gabrielle wouldn't allow our joining to take place until I had my sword."
"She wanted you to have your sword at the ceremony?" Danu asked somewhat shocked. It seemed quite unlike the Queen to want weapons at such an occasion.
"Yes, she did." The warrior looked off and smiled. "As she said she wasn't marrying everything but the warrior. She was marrying all of me and that included the warrior. Having my sword with me at the ceremony was a symbol of her love and support for what I am." Xena couldn't help but smile a little wider. "Of course that's the short version, Gabrielle's words were much more drawn out and poetic."
"I understand." The archer grinned back at her before her face brightened even more. "I understand completely." The warrior's simple words caused the seed of a long forgotten idea to flower in her head.
"So?" The Princess stepped out of the little side room and called for her mother's attention.
"So?" Gabrielle turned from her position at the window unaware of what her daughter was asking. The bard's green eyes sparkled as they fell on Sorrow. The Princess was dressed in a short wrap around brushed leather skirt with a matching brushed leather strapless top that laced up the front. The outfit was completed by a pair of knee high boots that intricately laced up the back of her calf. All of the leather had been left in its natural light rawhide colour and contrasted beautifully with Sorrow's pale complexion. Around the Princess' neck was the ivory choker, which contrasted the stark of pure white hair that flowed from her left temple so that they both shined against the soft brown of the outfit.
"So how do I look?" She smiled brightly and turned around slowly. "I haven't looked in the mirror yet."
"You look..." The usually fluent bard stammered for a moment unable to find the right word. "You look stunning." The bard looked her daughter up and down again with a smirk. "Though I think I'm going to have to have a talk with this archer of yours. I'm not sure if I approve of her putting you in such a revealing outfit."
"Revealing?" Sorrow cocked an eyebrow at the comment. "Compared to you, my gorgeous mother, I am overdressed." She smiled at the bard.
"I'm required to wear this as Queen." Gabrielle's face fell a little. She was more than aware of how revealing the small halter-top and short skirt she was required to wear were. "Are you saying I don't look good?" She questioned in a hurt tone, wondering if there was time to change.
"My gorgeous mother..." Sorrow repeated again. "You look positively beautiful. Xena is going to spending the entire night fending off all the Amazon's who are going to fall in love with you the moment you enter the courtyard."
"Charmer!" The bard snapped playfully at her daughter, feeling much more comfortable about the outfit. "We are going to make quite the pair." She added softly.
A sharp knock at the door drew both of their attention away from the outfits.
"It's just me." Ephiny's voice called through the wood of the door. "The Royal Guard is assembled in the temple hall."
"Come in silly." Sorrow moved to open the door for the Regent.
Ephiny lost her train of thought as she looked back and forth between the Princess and her Queen.
"You both look amazing!" She finally managed to stammer out.
"See Mother!" Sorrow grinned at the bard. "Falling Amazon number one."
"Falling Amazon?" The Regent shook her head back to reality and questioned the Princess' words.
"Inside joke." Gabrielle laughed. "Has Madalene been brought to the temple yet?"
"Yes, Xena dropped her off a little while ago." Ephiny shook her head slightly at the bard's laughter. "The Royal Guard has been 'entertaining' Madalene. I left Solari in charge of Anastasia." Her emphasis on the word entertaining couldn't be missed.
"I bet Madalene is running circles around them all." Sorrow couldn't help but laugh.
"In a word..." Ephiny laughed as well. "Yes!"
"We're all ready here." Gabrielle smiled, well aware of how rambunctious her four-year-old could be. She picked up her mask and Sorrow's from the bed and walked toward the door.
Xena stood on the porch watching the sky. The sun's soft descent to the horizon had already begun and the day was fading quickly. She straightened her arm bracers for the last time and turned back toward the doorway just as Danu walked into it.
"Are you ready?" The warrior asked in an uncharacteristically soft voice. Inside she wished that there were some way she could save what she was seeing and share the moment with Sorrow. Framed by the doorway, Danu stood confident as the radiance of the retreating sunlight swirled around her almost seeming to pay homage to the archer's purity.
"Yes." Danu nodded slightly. "Is it time?"
"Everyone is ready in the courtyard." Xena moved closer to her and offered her arm. "Word has also come from the temple that all is ready with them as well."
"Good." The archer smiled as she took the warrior's arm and let herself be guided down off the porch.
"You look beautiful." Xena whispered as they started down the path from the Royal house. Suspended on thin poles, the way was marked by thick garlands of red and white flowers. The perfume of the blossoms hung heavy in the air. "Sorrow was very upset that she couldn't be the one to arrive first. She really wanted to watch your entrance."
"I know she did, but she is the Princess and her entrance had to be last." Danu eyes were wide as she tried to memorize every detail of the world around her. The sparkle of light off the nearby trees, the feel of the soft ground underfoot, the heavy scent in the air and the feeling inside as each step brought her closer to her heart's fulfillment. Everything in the village looked a little more magical to her. "I'm happy I get to watch hers." She added softly, lost in the moment.
Xena just nodded as she led the archer down the long path. She smiled to herself as they got closer to the courtyard. The low din of voices told her that everyone was impatiently awaiting their arrival.
"The crowd will catch sight of us soon. Are you ready?" The warrior stopped their approach and asked the question softly. Though she knew that Danu was indeed ready for this, she wanted to make this moment real for the archer.
"Yes, I'm ready." She replied in a confident but quiet voice. "I have been ready for this moment for forever."
"Here we go then." Xena squeezed the arm within her own a little and guided the archer to resume walking as they rounded a building and came into view of some of the gathered.
As word moved through the crowd that Danu was arriving the crowd fell silent. It was only then in the silence that the soft melody being played by the Amazon musician's could be heard by the warrior and the archer.
As the pair turned the last gentle corner to enter the courtyard, their small pathway joined with the larger pathway that would lead Sorrow from the Temple. The garlands from both pathways joined as well to hang in a delicate weave over their heads dividing the heaven's from the earth.
Seeing them enter the last stretch of the pathway, the crowd parted in a slow almost choreographed movement to create a centre aisle to the stage. Xena halted their walk again for a moment as the gathered arranged themselves and whispered about how gorgeous Danu looked. Truth be known, she had also stopped them in order to take in the sight before them.
The weave of the flower garlands split to continue overhead around the outer edges of the courtyard and up onto the stage. The stage itself was draped in the same blooms, as were the backs of the Royal thrones that had been pushed back slightly to await the feast that would occur after the ceremony.
"It's breathtaking!" Danu whispered to herself and Xena as she memorized the stage. The setting sun was cascading into the horizon directly behind the structure and framed the entire picture in a border of soft red and orange light. All the warrior could do was nod, as she gently coaxed the archer to begin walking again. Slow, steady steps moved the pair through the crowd and up onto the stage.
"It was my honour." Xena whispered when they reached the stage and she released Danu's hand. The gentle kiss placed on her cheek by the archer made her smile just that much brighter. Stepping back to take her place as Champion, she watched an apprehensive calm come over the gathering as everyone awaited the Princess' arrival.
"Everything is ready Princess." Solari entered the temple alone and knelt before Sorrow. "Your guard is assembled and waiting."
"Solari, please get up." The Princess asked her in a strained voice. "There is no need to be doing that." A gentle hand on her shoulder stopped her.
"They'll be mutiny if the guard doesn't get to do their escort." It was Ephiny who whispered the words too her. "They've been practicing day and night for this."
Sorrow nodded and looked back to the still kneeling Amazon.
"Solari, Head of the Royal Guard." She spoke in a low confident voice. Trying to keep from laughing at her feeble attempt at Royal Protocol. "Please rise, I am ready for my escort."
"Yes, your Highness." The Amazon snapped up to her feet and marched to the door. Knocking on the door sharply, it was immediately opened by two of the guard's member. Both were in full formal leathers and their masks were already in place. A short distance away, at the bottom of the steps, the remainder of the guard waited at attention.
"Everyone ready?" Sorrow smiled at the display and turned back to the small group left in the temple.
"I am and I'm first!" Madalene answered in a loud happy voice and ran to stand in the doorway. "Come on Aunt Ephiny. You and Anastasia are next."
"Yes, we are." The Regent smiled as she collected the little Princess from Gabrielle. She kissed Sorrow on the cheek before moving up to stand beside Madalene.
"Aunt Ephiny!" Madalene said in a hushed voice and pointed to her head.
"Almost forgot." The Regent smiled at her and used her free hand to pull her own mask down over her face. "Thank you."
"All ready?" Sorrow turned and offered her arm to her mother.
"One last thing." The bard placed her own mask down and took the Princess' from her. "I am so very proud of you." She spoke the words softly as she guided the mask over Sorrow's face. "I love you." She whispered these words last as green locked green for a moment.
"As I love you mother." The Princess whispered back softly. She waited until the bard had donned her own mask before offering her arm again. Gabrielle slipped her slender arm around her daughter's.
Seeing that everyone was ready, Solari sounded the call that moved the guard into their first position. Half of the guard moved to the entrance of the garland pathway, while the other half split off to line the steps on their knees.
Somehow knowing her cue, Madalene readied herself at the top of the steps. Her little fingers holding carefully onto the bouquet of flowers and without prompting she began a slow descent down the stairs.
Ephiny gave her a few steps space, before beginning her descent at the same pace. Anastasia looked out at the world bright eyed, safe in the Regent's arms.
As Madalene stepped off the last step the two guards that had been kneeling there rose up to fill an escort just behind her. As Ephiny and Anastasia reached the bottom, Solari came from her post at the side to offer her arm as the two guards on the second last step filled in the escort behind them.
Sorrow and Gabrielle, arm in arm, framed the large doorway to the temple. As they moved far enough out for the enormous doors to be closed, the remainder of the guard on the steps moved into an arrow head formation before them.
"They have definitely been practicing." The Princess whispered to her mother as they walked down the temple steps. The gentle squeeze of her mother's hand on her arm told her the bard agreed.
With the Protector's first step onto the pathway the sound of an Amazon birdcall filled the air. Sorrow was glad for her mask, as she knew a slight blush would be colouring her cheeks. She couldn't pinpoint when it was that this particular predatory birdcall had come to signify her in the Nation. But she was sure that the Royal guard had originated its use and she knew they were using it now to honour her. She counted off another ten steps and heard the call sound again. She made a mental note to thank all of them for the enduring gesture during the banquet.
On the stage, both the warrior and the archer stood motionless as they scanned the portions of the pathway visible from between the buildings.
"Here they come." Xena said softly when she saw the first of the escort.
In perfect time, the first of the Royal Guard marched through the junction between the two paths. Increasing their step slightly, they moved ahead to line the aisle through the crowd. All turning on their heels to come to a halt facing back towards the pathways exit.
As the guard turned, the crowd turned with them. Just in time to see the little Princess enter the junction of the pathway and make her way slowly under the flowered canopy. Seeing her Mommy and the archer on the stage, she stopped to wave at them for a moment. Both waved back at her smiling. Clutching the flowers in her little hands happily, Madalene resumed her slow walk down the aisle. The two guards who had accompanied her dropped off to take their places lining the aisle. Bounding up the steps to the stage, she took her place beside the warrior.
Just as Madalene reached her place, Ephiny and Anastasia reached the junction of the pathways. The Regent smiled behind her mask as she looked up to those on the stage. The infant in her arms was silent as she took in the world around her. The guard's in their escort also moved away to take places at the sides of the aisle. Reaching the stage, Ephiny went straight to pass Anastasia into the awaiting arms of her mother.
"Missed you." Xena gave her daughter a quick kiss on the forehead before turning to carefully place the baby in the cradle nearby. She turned her attention back to the pathway's just in time to see the remainder of the Royal Guard with Solari at the head enter the junction.
One last sound of the Protector's call sent the remainder of the Royal guards to take their places lining the aisle in quick deliberate movements. The length of the aisle to the stage now had members of the guard stationed about three strides apart lining both sides.
The change in music made Danu take a deep breath and hold it. She watched the junction to the pathway anxiously for the arrival of her love. She didn't have to wait long.
With the fading sunlight dancing around them, the Queen and Princess slowly appeared. The warm evening breeze caused the ornamentation on both their masks to sway slowly around them. Sorrow took the moment to take in the web of garlands above their heads and to memorize the soft hues of the sunset framing the stage. All of this detail dropped away when her vision came to rest on the one who held her heart.
Entering the aisle under Gabrielle's lead, the two women walked with slow confident steps. Each of the Royal guards turned sharply on their heels and knelled as the pair passed their post on the way to the stage.
Danu finally remember to breath again as she watched them come up the small steps and then as Gabrielle lead Sorrow to her place.
With one last squeeze of the arm linked in her own, the bard relinquished her hold and moved to take her place before the couple.
"My Queen." Danu dropped to her knees when the Queen was in her place. Gabrielle smiled at the display. Applauding the archer for not mentioning her intended move before as the bard knew she would have adamantly refused its inclusion.
"Please rise." She instructed in a soft voice from behind her mask. The archer bowed her head one last time and rose with the request.
"My Princess." Danu turned with the most loving look on her face to lock eyes with Sorrow. Before she could go to her knees as she had planned, the Princess moved to quickly take her hand.
"It is I who should be on my knees to honour you." Sorrow spoke the words softly as she moved down to one knee and with her free hand pulled the ceremonial mask off her face to rest on the top of her head. "For I am in the presence of the ruler of my heart and soul."
"Oh Sorrow." Danu moved her hands to the Princess' face. "I do not wish to rule your heart or your soul."
'I love you.' Sorrow sent the words directly to Danu's mind, wanting to use the intimacy of it to further show her feelings at this most wonderful moment.
'I love you.' Danu sent the words back with ease.
Gabrielle watched the exchange before her. Slowly she moved the mask up off her face and handed it to Ephiny who had moved over to retrieve it.
"Thank you." She said softly and smiled. Taking her cue from her mother, Sorrow stood up fully removed her own mask. The Regent nodded and reached to take the Princess' mask from her as well. Both were hung to sit atop their respective thrones on display.
"Fellow Amazons!" The Queen looked out at the crowd and spoke in a loud clear voice.
Taking a moment to smile at the archer and her daughter she continued. Neither of them heard any of her words, as they were both lost in each other's eyes. Each fighting the urge to reach across the small gap that existed between them again.
"We are gathered here today for the most joyous of occasions. As a Nation we celebrate. As friends and family we rejoice." Not caring about protocol, she slipped her right hand to the small of her back and was glad when her champion took a step forward to take it in her own. "As Queen, I preside over this joining with pride and a renewed hope for the future. But it is as a Mother that I am really here today. My heart overflowing from happiness as I bear witness to the joining of my daughter's loving heart to another heart pure and unconditional in its loving of her." The bard smiled at her daughter and then the archer. Well aware that she was deviating from the usual words of the Queen, but knowing that no one would dare question her.
On both Sorrow's and Danu's request, she'd been asked to keep this as brief as possible. Neither of them had been very enthusiastic about a long drawn out ceremony. Though the bard had insisted that at least the basic backbone of the Amazon ceremony remain.
"Danu." Gabrielle offered her free left hand to the archer. "You have more than showed your devotion to the Amazon nation and the Goddess Artemis. What is it you ask of me?"
"I ask you to join me in heart, mind, body and soul with your daughter, Princess Sorrow for now and forever." Danu took the Queen's hand and spoke the words with loving confidence.
"And my daughter, Princess Sorrow..." Gabrielle squeezed Xena's hand one last time before unlacing her fingers and offering her hand to the Protector. "What is it you ask of me?"
"I ask you to join me in heart, mind, body and soul with Danu for now and forever." Sorrow took her mother's hand as her gentle words were spoken. Her eyes on the other hand were still locked with those of her archer's.
"As Queen of the Amazons..." Gabrielle held their hands a little higher and slowly moved to bring them together. "I honour your request and hereby join you both to each other..." She held each of their hands in her own but brought them to touch in the air. "Joined in heart, mind, body and soul for now and forever." With the last of her words she moved their hands so they were holding each other's and she moved her hands to her sides. She watched, as did the entire silent congregation, as the two young women simply lost themselves in each other's eyes for a moment. It was only a slight nudge to her back from Xena that reminded Gabrielle she had one last command to give them.
"You may kiss." She whispered the last words so that only the Princess and archer could hear her.
It was Danu who took the initiative as she released Sorrow's hands just long enough to bring them up to the sides of the Princess' face. Under the safe guidance of those hands, Sorrow let herself be lead into the gentlest kiss she'd ever shared with the archer.
"I love you." Sorrow gathered her bride up into her arms when the kiss ended and hugged her tightly.
"I love you." Danu whispered in her ear and returned the embrace. They stayed locked in each other's arms as the crowd cheered its approval.
"May I speak?" When Sorrow's arms relaxed around her, Danu turned to address her Queen as she moved away from the embrace slightly.
"Of course." Gabrielle made a slight gesture with her hand to open the ceremony up to anything the archer could want to say. Though silently, her mind raced in question as to what the archer wanted to say. During all their planning Danu had made no mention of wanting to say anything other than the traditional pledges.
"Sorrow..." She moved to brush her lips softly over the Princess' again before she pulled completely away from her. "Transform for me please."
"What?" The word blurted out of Sorrow in a startled gasp.
"Transform into the Protector for me please." Danu's soft eyes tried to soothe the fear and uneasiness that she saw welling up inside Sorrow. "It'll be okay, please transform." Her words came in a confident whisper.
"If this is what you want?" Sorrow's forced the words to breach the barrier of her dry throat and she waited for Danu to nod again that it was. Her mind raced to understand why her archer would be asking for her to become the Protector. But no matter how much she feared it, she could not refuse the simple request. Hanging her head down, she allowed the fangs to drop down through her lips, at the same time her horns raised up through her forehead and she allowed the claws to emerge on her hands.
"Fully transform." Danu coaxed in a gentle voice.
Looking up with questioning eyes, Sorrow reluctantly let the remainder of the transformation occur. Closing her eyes, she allowed her newly reddened wings to spread out behind her. She resolved herself not to engage in the display necessary to snap the spikes on her arms and legs into place unless Danu asked specifically.
"Why do you want this?" The Protector lisped out from behind her fangs in a voice to soft to come from a creature such as she appeared.
"I have been joined with my Princess." Danu spoke lovingly as she carefully moved to take Sorrow's hand. "Open your eyes please my love." She coaxed further, fully expecting the horror she saw in her beloved eyes at the action. It made her all the more confidant that what she was doing needed to be done.
"The first time I saw you, knew of your existence, it was in this form." She tightened her grip on the hand in her own. She had no fear or horror as Sorrow expected from the touch. "Though some might think I love you only as the Princess, though you might think I love you only as the Princess." The archer spoke the fears right out of Sorrow's heart. "The truth is that I love you for all that you are and within that love, I love you as the Protector." She paused to let her words sink in.
"For no matter what form carries the soul that bears the same mark as my own, that form is that of the one I love." She moved her free hand to rest on the Protector's cheek. "Here today, in front of everyone, I join not only with you as Princess. But I join with you as the Protector as well. Your duty shall now be our duty and I will do my best to help you in any way possible to fulfill the vows you have made to the Amazon Nation and all her people. Your vows shall now be our vows and I proclaim to all for now and forever, that I am joined with you my Protector. Heart, mind, body and soul."
Danu let the last of her pledge hang in the air before she did the one thing she knew would prove to Sorrow that she meant all that she was saying. Never before had she touched Sorrow while she was fully transformed and she only hoped what she was about to do would not be too much for her love to handle.
Slowly and with great care she moved closer to the Protector and stretching up she placed her lips against Sorrow's. She made no move after that, allowing Sorrow the time to realize what she was doing and react however she wanted. Her own response was just as she had expected it to be. The feel of the Protector's grayish skin didn't surprise her and the feel of the fangs against her lips did nothing but make her love Sorrow more.
It was Sorrow who was truly shocked as she felt the lips press against her own. Closing her eyes, she soaked in the feeling.
'She loves me Hope, you were so wrong.' She let the flesh she so rarely gave freedom too the chance too revel in the contact, as one happy thought raced through her head.
With great care and without breaking the kiss, Sorrow transformed back to her human form. Gathering the smaller woman up into her arms, she lifted Danu up and held her tight.
"Don't say anything my love." Danu whispered in her ear before Sorrow could speak. "Just remember this moment whenever you doubt that I love all of you. Even the parts that you often don't love in yourself."
Continued in Sisters of Sorrow
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