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.
VIOLENCE WARNING/DISCLAIMER: This story depicts scenes of violence. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.
LOVE DISCLAIMER: This story depicts a love relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If 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.
LOVE DISCLAIMER: This story is the Seventh in my Sorrow series and begins a few moons after the sixth 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. Unless of course the idea of Gabrielle having a winged demon daughter makes perfect sense to you too.
TISSUE ALERT: Just going to leave this in forever cause I am a bad judge of the soppy stuff. So you are all forewarned to keep some tissues handy just in case.
FEEDBACK: Any comments would be greatly appreciated.
THANKS: To Cheney and Puddle, without who this series would lack a lot of the positive loving emotions for which only they have given me insight and experience of. Also thank you to all those who are following the series and have been patiently waiting for this update, please don't hang a bard for being slow - BG
Moving back, Sorrow retracted the claws of her right hand. Pulling a cotton rag out of her waistband, she brushed it over her sweat-laden forehead. Reaching to the stand beside her she retrieved the bright torch and moved to inspect her work.
"Perfect!" She said to herself grinning. Placing the torch back into its holder, she moved across the newly laid floorboards. Her mind judging that they were perfectly level. "Danu, wake up love." She whispered softly when she reached the figure sleeping in the far darkened corner of the room.
"Sorrow?" Danu turned and looked at her sleepy eyed. "What's wrong love?"
"It's finished!" Sorrow whispered to her softly. "Please come see."
"Oh it's done." Danu smiled through a yawn and rubbed at her eyes. With Sorrow's help the tired archer reached her legs and walked over to the area lit by the torch.
"What do you think?" Sorrow moved the torch stand closer to the large marble hearth of the partially finished fireplace. Within the enormous stone was the intricate outline of their soul marking carved deep into the black and white stone. She moved behind her small bride and hugged her.
"Oh love it's beautiful." Danu cooed as she memorized the pattern of the marble and moved her arms to hug the ones around her. "Our mark, our hearth, our home." She whispered.
"Our mark, our hearth, our home." Sorrow whispered back. Glancing up through the partially completed rafters into the soft starlit sky.
"This house will stand for our children's children." Danu whispered as she reached out a hand to trace the pattern in the stone.
"This house will stand." Sorrow repeated trying to quell the small shiver that went up her spine.
"Hold it hold it!" Xena stern voice prompted the line of exhausted women to keep the rope on the large center beam tight despite the weight. "Sorrow, hurry up and secure that!"
The Princess let crimson wings explode from her back and moved to hover near the central beam as she drove the large support peg into place with one swift blow.
"All done!" She called back, smiling at the relief on everyone's face when the weight of the house was taken from their arms. Moving to the other end, she tapped the secondary pegs into place and inspected the seam. "Looks good this time." She flew down to land next to the Warrior Princess who was leaned over a small table pouring over blueprints.
"Much better this time." She looked up to check the angel of the roof's pitch. "Second time was the charm."
"Did you see the fireplace?" Sorrow asked as she poured a ladle full of river water down over her head. She closed her eyes to the searing midday sun. "I finished it last night."
"It's beautiful." Xena answered absently. "I'm concerned with the heat effecting the mortar in the north stone wall." She pointed to the blueprint to focus her daughter's attention.
The Princess didn't get a chance to look as her attention suddenly focused on the bird call that filled the air followed by four short whistle bursts. The pattern was being passed though the village.
"West gate, meet me there." Sorrow said absently, well aware the warrior could decipher the message. Giving her wings freedom again she bolted into the air and in the direction of the western gate.
"We mean no intrusion." The woman's long curly dark brown hair was salted with white. Dressed in the thick darkly died hides in the tradition of the Northern Shamaness she was an imposing figure even at her small height. "And we mean no harm."
"If you mean no harm Shamaness, then tell them to drop their weapons!" Monka motioned to the two heavily armed young women who accompanied her.
"Kisinda, Tawnie!" She spoke at them as she rose her hands back to motion to them. "Drop your weapons."
"Yes, Gideon." The smaller of the two women twirled her sais and let them embed into the ground near the toes of her high leather boots.. To anyone else useless but as she knew, within easy reach if she truly needed them. Bringing her hands up to her hair, she brushed the red tipped blond locks behind her ears.
"Kisinda!" The older woman turned to stare the tall warrior down. "An important lesson is to know when one must give up something first in order to gain greater things in the future."
"Yes, Gideon." Reluctantly, the tall stocky woman let the blade of the large double headed ax swing towards the ground until the strength of her arm stilled its arc and she let it drop with a stiff thud. Her arms stayed poised at her sides and none of the Amazon guards estimated that she needed the large weapon to do damage.
"What do you hope to gain in the future?" Sorrow took them all by surprise as she darted down to land next to Monka.
"I hope to gain something so simple as audience with the Greatest of all Amazon Queens." Gideon bowed and her companions followed suit. "It is an honor to meet you Princess Sorrow."
"And you would be?" Sorrow smiled stiffly at her. The logical explanation was that this woman was Amazon and would thus knew of her and her mother. But an uneasy feeling came with this Shamaness' flattery.
"I am Gideon, Shamaness of the North Ice Mountain Amazons." She woman rose slowly to her stand upright. "This is Kisinda." She motioned to the woman who carried the double bladed battle ax. "Shamaness of the South Ice Mountain Amazons." The tall warrior held her head high and held Sorrow's eyes. The move made the Protector smile. "And this is Tawnie, healer of the South Ice Mountain Amazons."
"I am Princess Sorrow." She nodded to them all in turn as she formally introduced herself. "For what reason do you seek audience with my Mother? Are the Ice Mountain tribes in need of assistance?"
"When the student is ready the teacher will appear." Gideon bowed to her as she gave the cryptic message. "There is a young one among you who is in need of guidance. "
"What sort of guidance?" It was the stern voice of the Warrior Princess who poised the question as she moved through the gate.
"Guidance in the ways of the Shamaness." The gray haired woman bowed to the leather clad warrior. "Though she knows much, there is much yet she needs to know." Gideon lowered her eyes.
"Follow us." Xena glanced at Sorrow as she walked back through the gate.
"Please this way." The Princess tried a slightly friendly approach knowing all three of them had to be aware of her abilities.
"Thank you." Gideon motioned for her companions to pick up there weapons.
"Yes, thank you." Kisinda spoke for the first time as she crouched to retrieve her ax. Twirling the weapon as she rose to settle it into the thick leather harness that crisscrossed around her shoulders. The shiny blade framed behind her head and sending sparkles of light into her auburn hair.
"Thank you." The smaller warrior nodded, her voice soft and melodic. She bent and picked her sais out of the ground fitting them in the harnesses within her high leather boots before she stood completely. She exchanged glances with the Kisinda before they seemed to silently agreed to who would carry which parcels of their gear. The trio moved silently behind the Protector and the Warrior Princess on their way to find the Queen.
"And with a mighty thunderbolt..."
In the middle of an animated story session with the children of the daycare Gabrielle's voice could be heard some distance away.
"Gabrielle." Xena's voice called her out of the story. "Visitors from the Ice mountain tribes need to speak with you." She kept her voice formal, though she knew her bard's soft side was more than evident by the activity she was engaged in.
"Oh." The bard shook herself from the passion of her story. "Okay children." She turned back to the throng. "I'll finish the tale tomorrow."
A chorus of groans came back from some of the older more attentive children while the younger ones raced off to play.
"Hello." She came face to face with the three strangers as she came out of the daycare. "I am Queen Gabrielle, welcome." She smiled widely at them. Xena stayed close by her shoulder.
"Queen Gabrielle, it is an honour." Gideon addressed her first as the trio again fell to their knees. "I am Gideon, this is Kisinda and Tawnie." She motioned to each of the other woman in turn.
"Please rise." Gabrielle motioned to them. "I am sure the journey from the Ice Mountains has been hard and tiring."
"It was your Majesty." The old woman rose slowly. "But our duty far outweighs the struggle."
"What duty?" Gabrielle asked the question for all of them.
"She's here to teach me." Madalene's voice called out from the side of the Queen's legs as she walked around and stood in front of Gideon. She looked the older woman up and down. "I must learn the ways of the Ice Shamaness."
"Ice Shamaness?" Gabrielle bent down to pick the child up as she asked the question. "I've never heard of such a thing, have you?" She turned to Xena.
"Vaguely." Xena's answer was short. "If you are an Ice Shamaness you would have a piece of the sacred crystal." The warrior poised the knowledge in challenge.
"You are more than vaguely aquatinted with our ways." Gideon reached past the thick leather of her shirt and pulled a leather cord out to reveal a thin crystal shard from within. Holding it into the sunlight, prisms of colours sparkled over their faces.
"Since when do warrior's wear the sacred ice shard?" Xena sauntered over to stand toe to toe with Kisinda. Glancing down at the large cracked crystal shard that hung around her neck.
"Warrior's do not wear the ice shard." Kisinda held her ground talking in a low even tone.
"Kisinda is the greatest warrior of the South Mountain tribe." Tawnie's voice called through the stalemate. "She was the sole witness to the death of our tribes Shamaness and received the shard from her dying hand. Kisinda is bound to follow its duty."
Xena turned and nodded to Gabrielle to show her acceptance of the explanation. The bard could tell her warrior knew more than she was letting on and that she would have to wait to know it all as well.
"So you have come to teach my daughter these ways, why?" Gabrielle asked the burning question.
"She has asked me too." Gideon looked at Gabrielle confused. "You were unaware of her call?"
"Madalene?" The bard looked her daughter in the eye.
"I must learn of the fire and the ice." The little Princess buried her head into her mother's shoulder. "I must learn of the earth and the sky." Her tone became bland and distant. "I must learn all things to conquer and preserve. I must learn these things to survive."
"It's okay angel." Gabrielle held her close and spoke softly.
"I apologize my Queen." Gideon went to her knees again. "I was unaware that she had called me on her own. I didn't mean to cause any distress, especially to the Princess."
"It's okay Gideon." She shook it off. "Sorrow would you show our guests to some quarters. We'll meet for dinner to discuss this further after you've rested." She silently urged the older woman off her knees.
"Here you go." Sorrow motioned to the empty huts. "I hope these accommodation's are adequate. Please let me know if there is anything else you require."
"I am sure they will be fine." Gideon smiled at her softly. "I am quite tired from the journey so if none of you mind I'm going to meditate until dinner." She moved off into the first hut and gently closed the door behind her.
"Do you have a weapons practice area?" Kisinda turned to ask the Protector.
"Of course." Sorrow smiled at the tall warrior. "If you follow that path you'll come to a large field. Most days there are classes if you're looking for a sparing partner."
"Very good." Kisinda nodded and looked at the two empty huts then at her small companion. "Tawnie, which do you want?"
The small warrior moved the pack slung over her shoulder down to hand in her hand as she studied the two huts. If the truth was known she wanted to be in the same one as Kisinda, but it would be too awkward to suggest that. These weeks traveling had allowed them the chance to sleep close to one another and she'd come quite accustomed to the soft rhythm of the warrior's breathing.
Sorrow watched her moment of hesitation and contemplation. She couldn't miss the look of longing Tawnie cast over at Kisinda for a moment.
"Actually, I just remembered." The Princess smiled at Tawnie unsure if her acuteness to the blonde's predicament would be appreciated. "The roof in that one leaks and we are likely to get rain after this heat wave. Would it be too much trouble for you to bunk together?"
"No, that's fine." Tawnie smiled at back at her. A slight blush rose in her cheek as she tried to contain her excitement. "Kisinda and I are used to cramped quarters."
"Anything is fine." The warrior added. "Thank you Princess."
"Sorrow." She grinned at them. "Please call me Sorrow. I'm not big on the whole Royal formalities."
"Sorrow." Kisinda said the name with a stiff nod.
"I have to ask." Sorrow folded her arms across her cheast as she stared at her reflection in the large blade. "A battle ax? That's an unusual weapon for an Amazon."
"It is." The warrior answered shortly. "But still in our tradition."
"Very true." The Princess nodded. "I hope you'll be in the village long enough to show me just what you can do with that thing. I'm sure our warriors would be quite interested in learning the skill."
"I think we will be here long enough for that." Kisinda spoke absently as she reached to take the heavy pack from Tawnie. "If you'll excuse me I'm going to settle in." Swiftly she moved into the open hut and away from them.
"It was a dare originally." Tawnie took a step closer to Sorrow and spoke in a soft voice.
"A dare?" Sorrow smiled at her.
"For the spring weapons competition." The small woman nodded, looking back to the doorway of the hut to make sure her companion was well inside. "It was her first year in the competition and the weapons master already knew she was to take most of the combat events. So Ivara, the weapons master, dared her to enter the round robin using the battle ax. Kisinda won the event easily."
"Let me guess." Sorrow laughed lightly. "Kisinda has never backed down from a dare."
"Never!" Tawnie raised her eyebrows in punctuation. "She slid down an ice cliff once on a dare. It was so dangerous."
"She shouldn't cause you so much worry." The Princess spoke softly turning back to look at the doorway where the warrior had retreated, hoping Tawnie would see that the move to put them in the same hut had been deliberate on her part.
"I'm sorry I didn't hear you." Tawnie's face fell as she took a step closer.
"Sorry." Sorrow turned back to her, thrown by the look on the woman's face. "I said she shouldn't cause you so much worry."
"She doesn't mean too." She moved a hand to push her hair back behind her ear. "I should go help her unpack." Tawnie nodded again to Sorrow and darted off into the hut before she could respond.
'I think we have a lot to learn about both of you.' The Princess shook her head and walked off.
"The tradition of the Ice Shamaness is an old one." Gideon looked at the table of intent listeners. Gabrielle sat in her place as Queen at the head of the table, with her champion to her right. Sorrow and Danu sat to her left. The circular table of the council hall allowed Gideon and her two warriors to be seated across from them. Dinner had just finished and the woman was anxious to explain why they had come to the village. "It began when the Shamaness Ixter had a dream in which the location of a powerful crystal was revealed to her by the sprits who guarded it. The crystal had been hidden with the pure ice of a glacier since the beginning of time. Until the day that an ice quake had split open the ice around the crystal and freed it from its tomb."
The gray haired woman took a sip of water before moving back out of her seat and to an open space behind the table to better tell her tale.
"Ixter gathered the most capable of her tribe to travel with her to the ice mountain shown in her vision." Gideon fell into the ritualistic dance that accompanied the tale, mimicking the difficult trek faced to reach the mountains. "What they found is that the ice quake had split not only the glacier but the mountain in two and with them the crystal itself. It was then that the Amazon forces split into two groups. One questing to summit the North peak while the others climbed the South. Ixter herself stayed at the base of the mountain collecting the various shards of the crystal that had been scattered in the avalanche." The Shamaness continued. "When the two halves were returned to the bottom of the mountain, Ixter performed a great ceremony to bind the two pieces and the various shards together. It was then that she handed out the two remaining shards to the leader of each expedition who had risked so much to bring the crystal to her." She shook her head sadly anticipating the remainder of the tale. "It was then that a tribe of Northern barbarian's descended on them, wanting to take the crystal and its power for their own. Ixter and her followers defended the crystal for ten days and nights until in exhaustion the Shamaness fell down and had another vision. The spirits revealed to her that many dark forces would quest for the crystal unless she was to take it down into the deep endless cavern that existed between the mountains. It was then that Ixter awoke and proclaimed that she would cast herself and the crystal into the cavern, but that the power of the crystal could be harnessed by the two tribes that possessed shards of the crystal and stayed true to its ways." She moved back to rest her hands on the back of her chair. "Those two shards have been the central binding force between the North and South Amazon Tribes of the Ice Mountains. Over the course of history the shards have been passed down within each tribe, the shard of the Northern tribe has come to me as the shard of Southern tribe came to Kisinda and new life comes to our ways with your daughter." For the first time in her story she addressed the Queen directly.
"But if these are the last two shards, how can Madalene be taught?" Gabrielle asked the question mesmerized by the story. She hoped that at a later date to question Gideon on its history further as she knew it made a fabulous tale.
"My shard is cracked." Kisinda's low voice answered. "It will soon break and create two where once was one. Visions have shown me it is Princess Madalene who should receive that shard."
Xena listened to the entire tale detached from the images. She had heard the story before and though she knew that Gideon hadn't spoken one untrue word. She wondered why the Shamaness had played down the powers of the crystal and the constant fight that went on to protect it.
"Has anyone outside of the ice mountain tribes ever received the crystal shards?" Sorrow leaned back in her chair and questioned.
"No, by tradition they remain passed from one of our tribe to another." Gideon spoke as she took her seat again. "A Shamaness must be diligent in training a successor."
"How then Kisinda did you come to get the shard?" The Princess looked at the young warrior.
"I was the lone witness to the death of my tribes Shamaness." Kisinda spoke softly.
"Yes, you told us that earlier." Sorrow leaned forward in her seat. "But how did it happen? Why were you alone with her? Would not the one she wished to take her place be by her side in times of peril?"
"There was not to be peril that day." The warrior looked briefly at Tawnie as she laid down her goblet. "She had asked me to journey with her to the sacred cave, why I don't know. It was on the journey there that barbarians' attacked us. I fought to defend her, but there was too many of them. I'd taken down over a dozen but was unaware that they had archers up hidden in the ice. Mayan stepped between me and an arrow, there was nothing I could do." She held the goblet in her hand white knuckled. "I killed the rest of our enemy, but I was unable to save her. As she lay dying she gave to me the shard and bonded me to the ways of the Ice Shamaness forever."
"Could you not give it to the one who she'd been training?" The Princess questioned further. She could see the warrior spirit so bright in Kisinda. The will of the fighter, of the protector and it seemed such an error to thrust upon her the constraints of a religious role. How could Mayan have missed the true spirit that lurked within Kisinda?
"No." The warrior shook her head. "With the transfer of the crystal, came the transfer of power. I am bound to it now and the way of the Ice Shamaness. It is the ancient tradition, to break it would be to risk losing our tribes link to the crystal forever."
"That would be a huge loss." Danu spoke softly, moving her hand into Sorrow's trying to urge her wife to be easy with her questions. "Your tribe is lucky you were with her to take the crystal."
"Our tribe is lucky that it was Kisinda who was there to take the crystal." Tawnie smiled warmly at Danu from across the table. "Mostly because she was able to defend the crystal that day and keep it from being desecrated."
"Tawnie, is this struggle with the Barbarians constant?" Gabrielle asked the blonde directly. Where Gideon approached from a focus of religion and Kisinda from the warrior, Tawnie seemed the easiest for her to find a common ground of friendship with.
"Not constant as an ongoing war really." The young woman talked back to the Queen freely. "More of an old feud. They make attempts at the crystals at various times as members of their tribe grow greedy to have the power of the crystal. The attack on Mayan and Kisinda was the first in over two seasons."
"I'm going to work off this meal." The tense Warrior Princess stood. "Sorrow, Kisinda would either of you like to join me in the practice field?" She hoped the other young warrior would not take offense but it was obvious that Gabrielle wanted the chance to talk to her one on one.
"Count me in." Sorrow smiled and leaned over to kiss Danu. "You want to come love?"
"No thanks." She smiled back. "You three are a bit out of my league."
"I would be honoured." Kisinda rose and bowed slightly. She moved to the back of the room where her ax sat and arced it over her head to settle into the holster she'd worn even through dinner. She looked briefly at Tawnie, concerned for her companion's safety but then realized here in the village she had nothing to be worried about. The three warriors left in silence.
"Guess that just leaves us." Gabrielle smiled at everyone. "I'm dying to hear more about the Ice Mountain tribes. I'm afraid the little I do know has come only through second hand accounts."
"The mountains are so beautiful my Queen." Tawnie smiled brightly. "We know that other tribes question our choice to live on the ice, but it has such a beauty and tranquillity."
"I can imagine." Danu added softly. "But don't you get cold?"
"When outside in the cold months we must be careful." Tawnie pulled her legs up in her chair as she spoke. A more relaxed atmosphere overtook the group. "But out homes are made in the labyrinth of caves that run in the base of the mountain. They are heated by the mountain's internal hot spring. It is not hot like this." She moved a hand over her sticky cheek. "But we are able to live comfortably."
"It's usually not this hot here either." Gabrielle laughed as she wiped a hand over her own sweaty forehead. "We're in the middle of a heat wave. We're hoping it will break."
"Actually, speaking of the heat." Gideon spoke softly and rose out of her chair. "I apologize but the journey has been very hard on me."
"Oh sorry Gideon." Gabrielle rose and apologized. "Please let someone know if you need anything. Consider the village at your disposal."
"Thank you Queen Gabrielle." The Shamaness bowed and exited in a slow shuffle.
"So Tawnie, I'd love to here more about the crystal's legend." The bard smiled at her warmly.
Kisinda watched the Princess and Xena's slow sword play as she twirled the ax in her hands absently. The pull in her shoulders from the weight of the heavy weapon comforted her. The journey here had provided her with a time of focus. Her main goal all those days was to protect Gideon and Tawnie. But now having reached their destination, she was being forced into an inactive down time. Inactivity was something she'd never been very good with.
When she saw Sorrow replace the practice sword in the rack nearby she arced the ax up back in its place on her back.
"How about a little hand to hand?" The Princess smiled at her as she moved a few paces apart from the tall warrior.
"I will do my best Princess." Kisinda bowed to her, in her mind giddy to get the chance to go against the Amazon Protector but also knowing this was not a competition. The skill of the Protector by sheer definition would pale hers.
"I expect great things." Sorrow bowed back to her. She knew that Xena wanted a chance to see just what this mysterious warrior could do and they had agreed before dinner that Sorrow would be the first to poise a friendly challenge. As she expected it was left to her to make the first blow as they sidestepped around in anticipation. The Protector smiled and aimed a telegraphed series of punches and kicks at her sparing partner.
"Princess, I believe an advanced designation is standard in all tribes." Kisinda smiled slightly at her as she blocked the movements in mid air.
"Oh, not feeling challenged are you." Sorrow increased the speed of her blows, impressed when the newcomer not only kept up with her but also managed to slip unexpected attack blows within her defense.
Xena watched from a short distance, studying Kisinda's every move. The Warrior Princess knew inborn skill when she saw it. The ability to anticipate Sorrow's attack and the fluidity of her movement was something that couldn't be taught. Kisinda was a born warrior and this did nothing to quell the uneasy feeling within her.
"I just don't want you to fear that you will hurt me in error." The warrior smiled as she sidestepped away and landed a forearm to Sorrow's shoulders driving her down.
Sorrow laughed as she felt her knees come into the grass. She'd expected strength from the woman but even with the unexpected blow it was novel to be put down like this.
"No fear of that now." Sorrow rose out of the ground and turned to bow to her again. "Open bout then?" She smiled impressed that Kisinda had made the one blow and backed off. As it was a friendly match the move would be expected but few Amazons were able to control their egos when entered in a bout with the Protector.
"Open bout." Kisinda bowed back to her. "Weapons?" She reached back to the handle of her ax. A small part of her wanted to impress with her skill for the rarely used weapon.
"Weapons." Sorrow nodded and caught the sword that Xena tossed to her a moment later.
Gripping her hand on the weapon, Kisinda drew its out of the holster. The blade hung before her as she twirled the handle in a quick arc down and up past her left shoulder before the weapon swirled down again into a firm two handed grip.
"Impressive." The Princess conceded as she watched the large weapon moved with such skill and precision. Shifting her weight she moved to attack with a short high sword thrust.
Xena slowly walked around as they battled to get the best view she could of the fighting. She noticed the chances in Kisinda's handling of the weapon. Her shifting use of first its weight then its size to her advantage depending on Sorrow's attack. She watched the deadly dance between them continue for some time. No one was getting the better of each other and she knew that Sorrow was trying to some extent.
"I am most impressed Kisinda." Sorrow backed off for a moment. "Your skill is unprecedented."
"Thank you Princess." She backed off in turn, bowing slightly. "I hope we have the opportunity to spare again while I am here."
"That won't be a problem." Xena spoke up for the first time. "If you're up for it I'd like you to come teach a few lessons on the field. It will help give you something to break the time while you're with us in the village."
Kisinda released a deep sigh as she replaced the ax in its holster. She looked back and forth between the Princess and the warrior.
"I'm afraid that will not be possible." She shook her head. "I am bound now to focus on my role as the Shamaness and not as my role as a warrior."
"Surely that duty doesn't mean you can't practice and teach?" Sorrow asked quickly. "To waste your natural talent is unthinkable. Besides one can be a warrior and a Shamaness, one does not nullify the other."
"No, that is true." A slight ray of hope beamed in Kisinda. "A small amount of time spent here couldn't do any harm to my focus."
"That's better." Sorrow moved to pat her on shoulder.
"Much." Xena said shortly as she turned to leave the field. She wanted this newcomer kept very busy while she was here. The Warrior Princess didn't know why but her sixth sense was reacting to this new group and too the ice warrior especially.
"Kisinda, its sharp enough. Come to bed." Tawnie yawned through the words as she opened a sleepy eye.
"I'm afraid the temperature change will affect the metal." The warrior responded in a tight voice. She looked again at the small woman curled up on the bed. It wasn't that she wasn't tired or that Tawnie hadn't asked her to come lay down a half dozen times now. It was just there was only the one bed. Curling up next to her friend near a fire in the open was one thing, but on the same bed in a small hut was very different. She cursed her own mind for having these thoughts.
"The metal will be fine." Tawnie swung her legs out over the bed as she sat up, moving over to take the heavy weapon out of her companion's hand. "It's late and you need to sleep." She grabbed the now empty hand and lazily pulled her towards the bed. "Don't argue with me, I'm tired and I can't sleep unless you lay down. You know how all that movement sets me on edge."
"I know." The warrior's voice was soft as she stood up.
"Here let me take off your harness." With another yawn she undid the buckles that held the heavy leather in place. Years of wear had molded it to the tall warrior's body. "You can get your own boots!" She laughed as she crawled up on the bed and moved close to the wall. "And hurry it up." She smiled and turned in to look at the wood. It would be too easy to be turned the other way watching Kisinda fumble with her boots. It would be far too easy for the wrong look to cross her face as she watched.
"I don't need that much room." The warrior commented playfully as she laid down, noticing the small figure was scrunched up against the wall.
"Good." She couldn't resist turning over onto her stomach. The move let her pull up one of her legs and she froze as it came to rest against the other woman's by accident. Making herself settle down, she concentrated on the small feeling.
"It's so quite here." The warrior answered as she moved her arms back to rest under her head and closed her eyes.
"It is, I never realized the mountain made so much noise." Tawnie yawned and snuggled in further. "We're used to the shifts rocking us to sleep."
"At least there's not that danger here." Kisinda yawned back. "Sweet dreams."
"Sweet dreams my warrior." The words came in a whisper as the young woman fell asleep.
"Xena, I know their arrival was unexpected but they seem genuine enough." Gabrielle stifled a thick yawn. She was tired, but the pacing of her partner around the room made it difficult to sleep.
"Something's not right." She shook her head. "I don't know what it is, but something is two-faced about this."
"That's fine but we can't figure it out tonight." The bard yawned again. "We have the guard on alert to watch their movements. I've made it very clear for now they are not to go near Madalene till we decide on this training and you've already said that so far that though Kisinda has great skill she's not showing off."
"You're right." The warrior dropped down onto the bed. "I think it's the heat."
"It's the heat." Gabrielle moved to kiss her softly. "It's worrying about building Sorrow and Danu's house." She kissed her again. "And mostly it's worry about your daughter." She kissed the warrior again after a nod of confirmation was given to her. "Now lets try to get some heat while it's only sweltering, cause by the looks of today once the sun comes up it's going to be unbearable."
"Okay, sleep." Xena smiled as they tried to find a comfortable spot despite the humidity and sleep.
"Sorrow, stop working and come to bed." Danu's thick sleepy voice called to her lover.
"What?" The Princess put a lazy arm around her. "I've been in bed for ages love."
"Then what's all that racket?" Her eyes shot open. "Sorrow, do you smell that?" She heard the Protector take a deep breath. "The open fire ban is still on isn't it?"
"Yes!" The word came slowly out of her. "I'm going to take a look, wait here." She stood up in a fluid motion, releasing her wings and sprang into the air. She brushed by the open beams of the roof and into the sky. Looking off to the west the sight made her blood run cold.
'What is it?' Danu used her mind to ask from the ground as she pulled on her boots.
"Forest fire!" Sorrow darted down and spoke the answer back. "We have to sound the alarm. It's in the middle of the western forest and it's big."
"Damn!" The archer cursed as she let her partner pick her up and dart off towards the village. "Drop me at your Mother's while you alert the rest of the village, I'll get them all informed."
The Protector nodded as she placed her wife gently on the steps, kissing her briefly before taking off again.
Danu didn't bother to knock, she knew time was precious now. She'd seen one of these huge blazes before when she was a child. If they didn't act quickly the whole territory could go up in mere days. As she expected her arrival had the Warrior Princess meeting her in the main room.
"Danu, what's wrong?" The warrior relaxed a bit when she saw who it was.
"We've got trouble." The archer shook her head. "The west forest is ablaze. Sorrow's gone to alert the village. She took a look from the air and apparently it's huge."
"I knew it was too dry!" Xena turned and moved back to wake the Queen.
"I'll get the children." The archer moved towards the kids bedroom.
The Queen and the archer arrived just as everyone from the village gathered in the courtyard. Gabrielle moved to place Anastasia in the small cradle by her throne and a still sleeping Madalene was deposited in a blanket on the throne itself.
"Everyone!" Sorrow stood at the front of the stage having not even bothered to retract her wings. "Everyone!" The frantic crowd calmed down. "We are in serious danger!"
The entire village stopped silent and listened to her. The thick crackling in the distance formed harsh backdrop to the Protector's words.
"There is a fire in the western forest." Sorrow unconsciously pointed that direction as she spoke. "I've scouted it from the sky and the only hope we have to save the village is to cut it down on the north and east sides and steer it towards the river."
"We're going to need four teams." Xena stepped up and instructed. "Two along the eastern side and one to the north. The fourth we need to stay behind here in the village."
"I'm going to need to set up a hospital." Oxin stepped out of the crowd carrying Thallia. "I'll need some help."
"And the children." It was Gideon who moved to the front of the crowd. The alarms having brought even the visitors to the courtyard. "The smoke in the village could get thick very quickly, they need to be taken somewhere safe."
"The school staff can bring them to the hot spring caves." Janyn called out of the crowd.
"Okay, so four fire details. One small group with Oxin for injuries and one with Janyn to take care of the children." Gabrielle stepped forward into her place as Queen. Sorrow and Xena momentarily stepped back. "Tonight we face a great challenge, but together as a nation, united in strength and purpose, even this we shall overcome."
The crowd cheered at her encouragement.
"Please volunteer for the duty you think you could best serve." She hushed them with the motion of her hands. "One group with Sorrow, one with Xena and one with me." She turned to look at her champion, the fire in her eyes telling the Warrior Princess not to question this. "Any of you who have worked with Oxin in the past please go with her."
"Everyone get something to cover your face to cut the smoke." Sorrow stepped in. "First priority is to get everything we need from the village. Buckets, blades, shovels, anything we can use to stop it."
The group seemed to stop for a moment before dispersing in a purposeful movement.
"I'll take the North since we'll be the most isolated." Sorrow turned towards Xena to plan.
"My group will take the east wall." The warrior turned to the bard. "And you will be in the village, you are not leading a team."
"Xena, don't be ridiculous!" The Queen snapped back. "You can't lead the assault on the entire east wall and I think I am the only other one here who knows enough to think like you and battle this thing."
"Gabrielle, this is not like battling soldiers." The warrior shook her head sternly. "Fire is relentless, it doesn't have conscious or direction. It just takes down everything it its path."
"I know, I've seen it before." Her eyes saddened. "That's why I can't expect anyone out there if I'm not out there myself. My team will work closer to the river so at least we have that to retreat too."
"All right." Xena conceded, they didn't have time to be arguing anyway. Many had gathered back in the courtyard and were splitting off into the necessary teams. "But you be careful." She whispered and kissed her lover softly.
"I will, I promise." Gabrielle melted into their kiss.
"Excuse me." Danu called Sorrow's attention away form the brief argument, which had held all of the stages attention.
"Yes, love?" The Protector turned at the gentle words and found herself being pulled to a empty part of the stage.
"Sorrow, how close did you get to the flames?" The archer asked quietly.
"Not too close yet." She shook her head. "Why?"
"I hate to suggest this my love." Danu looked away briefly before turning back. "But could you command it?"
"The fire?" A thoughtful look came over the Protector's face. "I honestly don't know. But it's worth a try."
"Be careful Sorrow." Danu hugged her suddenly. "I've worked with Oxin before so I think it's logical if I stay here. We're going to have a lot of casualties I expect."
"It is best, I was just going to suggest that in fact." Sorrow hugged her back. "Remember you can reach me at any time." She ran a gentle finger down the woman's head.
"I know." Danu smiled and gapped the small distance between them to grab a kiss.
"Let's go!" Xena reluctantly called them apart.
"Danu, you're staying with Oxin yes?" Gabrielle moved over to ask her quickly.
"Yes." The archer nodded, vaguely watching her wife and the Warrior Princess moving to assemble and instruct their teams. "Though I'd rather be out there on the front line with the rest of you. I know she's going to need a lot of help."
"You role here will be very important Danu." She smiled softly knowing the woman's want to be doing her best. "That's why I have two special favours to ask you."
"Anything my Queen." The archer saw the vague formality of their conversation.
"One is duty Danu, the other is truly a favour." She nodded her thanks as a heavy cloth was handed to her and she moved to tie it around her neck.
"Either way Gabrielle." The blonde smiled, nodding thanks for the cloth passed to her. "Anything."
"First, I know you'll be busy with the injured. But can you keep an vague eye on the children and how the smoke is effecting them." She moved closer. "Call Sorrow if it's too bad cause, it won't take her long to move them to safer ground."
"Of course." Danu tied the cloth around her throat. "If conditions in the village deteriorate at all I'll call her and make sure you're informed. I'll especially keep an eye on the two Princess'."
"Good." Gabrielle smiled. "The other is much more formal. I want you to be acting here in the village in my place while I'm on the wall."
"But..." She tried to object.
"Danu, I need someone here that I can trust to make quick decisions regarding things." She put a soft hand on the other woman's shoulder. "It's just in case something needs to be done quickly here and you're cut off from the rest of us. I have to anticipate the worst."
"I understand my Queen." Danu nodded stiffly. "I will act in the interest of your throne while you are at the wall."
"Good!" She smiled having expected it to be harder to convince the woman than this. Though she knew the light smell of smoke in the air would add to her argument.
"It's time Mother." Sorrow called up to her from the ground below the stage.
"Yes, it is time." Gabrielle moved down to instruct her team.
"Kisinda, be careful with Tawnie in the flames." Gideon pulled the warrior out of her place in line.
"I will." The warrior nodded. "You will be fine here?"
"Yes." The older woman nodded. "I'll help with the children and in the hospital as I can. I am afraid I would only be a hindrance on the wall. Whose team are you in?"
"Xena has asked for us both to be in her team." Kisinda laughed tightly. "I think she's eager to keep an eye on us."
"Don't do anything to worry her Kisinda!" The older woman spoke in a stern voice. "You will obey her as you would obey me, do you understand?"
"Of course." The warrior nodded.
"Go on now." Gideon's face softened. "And keep a close eye on Tawnie. She is best to tend the injured in the forest for transport."
"She is. She plans to explain that to Xena on the way." The tall woman nodded again and moved back to her place in line as the older woman made her way to where Danu and Oxin were organizing the duties within the village.
Sorrow cut a breakneck path through the hot air. She had momentarily left her team as they made their way through the forest, sure that with Eponin leading them they would join her at the agreed meeting place in record time.
'Hopefully there won't be anything for them to do when they arrive.' She thought to herself as she moved down towards the inferno.
The sheer heat soon made her rise higher as the flames licked at the soft feathers of her wings and singed them.
"This is not a good sign." She looked down at the white hot flames. "But I have to try." She carefully spotted a burnt out area still close to fire and swooped down to stand.
In a confident stride she moved up to the tail end of the fire.
"I am Sorrow, recognize the One True Goddess!" She held her arms up and yelled harshly at the flames.
Only the hard cracking of wood under the flames bite and the thick hiss of dry underbrush being consumed came back at her.
"Fire! Dare not ignore me and incur my wrath!" She screamed again moving a bit closer. "I am the One True Goddess and to me you must obey!"
As the wind shifted slightly, the flames licked back at her and she was forced to move away.
"This is not good." She looked surprised at the fire. 'I can't take it into myself.' She sent the thought out to her mother, Xena and Danu. 'We have to fight it another way. I'm sorry.'
Leaping into the air, the strong hot current rose her high on red wings and she hurried to meet her team at the north firewall.
"Ephiny." Gabrielle dropped a few steps out of synch with the rest of her team.
"What's wrong?" She slung the heavy ax up onto her shoulder matching pace with the Queen.
"I just got word from Sorrow, she can't take it into her. The fire will not bow to her." The bard shook her head softly. She had never liked the hastily explained plan as the risk to her daughter could be great, but the idea that the solution could be so easy had been a tempting one.
"It was a long shot." Ephiny conceded shaking her head. "Our only hope now is hard work and with luck the wind stays." She tried to smile. "Hey or maybe the heavens will open up with a great storm, stranger things have happened." She laughed lightly.
"Yeah, this season a fire and last season was a flood." The bard laughed as she remembered how water logged they'd been for a moon the same time the previous season.
'A flood.' The thought came to her as she laughed.
"Ephiny, is there a runner in our ranks?" She asked still thinking.
"Of course Gabrielle, Cantary is the fastest in the village." Ephiny looked at her a little puzzled.
"Have her go back and get me the river survey." The bard made feverish plans in her head. "I might have an idea." She let the Regent move away to follow her command.
"May I have a word your Highness?" Tawnie awkwardly half ran and half walked trying to keep up with the quick pace of the Warrior Princess.
"Drop the your Highness." Xena said shortly, not slowing her pace though she could see the young woman struggle. She waited for the red head to continue. "So?" She finally prompted when no continuation came.
"I wanted to offer my services in the field to help tend to the injured on top of helping fight the fire." The petite warrior was startled into speaking under a icy blue glare.
"You've had experience with burns?" Xena asked turning her stare back to the forest ahead as she plotted topography.
"Yes, your.." Tawnie caught herself before she said the word. "The layout of our hosing within the mountain makes fire the second most dangerous thing we face after the ice. It is not the easiest thing to fight in confined quarters filled with fuel for it."
"I bet it isn't." Xena slowed her pace a little. Her own mine a bit surprised at how judgmental she was being. She'd requested both of the strangers on her team to try and keep a watchful eye on them but it really hadn't occurred to her that they might offer help. "Tawnie, if you want to tend to the burns you are more than welcome too. The thing I need you to keep in mind though is I need women patched up if possible and back out fighting this thing."
"Of course." She nodded adamantly. "No one is served by sending anyone but the severely injured back. I have noticed..." She looked around for a moment as they walked. "That these broad leafed plants are plentiful in this forest. I think I can use them as bandages, they seem to still be quite damp."
"You're observant Tawnie." The warrior looked at her trying to suppress a smile. Just maybe having this young woman on her team would prove quite valuable. "You work whenever you can against the fire, but I'm going to leave it to your discretion to deal with the wounded. But if you need help, ask!" She stressed the last point. It would be very helpful if she could concentrate her effort on the fire and not be worried about the wounded. But when it came down to it, human life was really what they were fighting for here.
"I will." She nodded thoughtfully. "I'm going to collect leaves as we walk, just in case they become more scarce near the wall." She moved off quickly.
Xena watched as the young woman departed, not surprised when Kisinda melted out of the ranks and shadowed the red heads movements.
'I'm missing something there.' She thought to herself as she turned back to study the lie of the land. It would be her responsibility to judge a line in the trees when retreat would be there only option.
"Janyn asked me to inform you that the children are settled in the caves." Gideon approached Danu, waiting for a reprieve in the archer's stream of activities to speak.
"Do they need anything else down there?" The archer asked turning her attention briefly to the Shamaness.
"No." Gideon shook her head. "All but a few of the babes are asleep again. Only the older children even have a vague idea of what is going on. She is keeping them occupied looking after those younger than them."
"Good trick!" Danu laughed. She knew nothing helped stop fear more than keeping busy and feeling like you were doing something helpful. "We're setting up an infirmary in the ceremonial hall. It's the largest structure on the east end of the village."
"I have some training in the arts of healing if I may be of assistance." Gideon offered with a nod.
"I have a feeling in a few candlemarks we'll need all the help we can get." Danu smiled at her sadly. "Thank you. If you go see Oxin..." She pointed out the village healer among the bustling crowd of Amazons still in the village. "She should be able to direct you on something you can help with. If you'll excuse me I have to go organize the movement of the horses."
"Of course." Gideon bowed slightly and moved off in the direction of the healer. 'It seems you have wed a most competent woman Princess Sorrow.' She thought to herself as she walked.
Sorrow pulled the cloth a bit tighter around her nose and mouth. Even partially transformed the thick billow of smoke that shot back at her with ever shudder of the day's dry wind made it hard for her to breath.
She set herself some distance north of the flames. Claws fully extracted and slicing through the thick timber of the forest in heated arcs. They had to impose a stop to the ravenous flames. A line where its fuel would dwindle and end. If they didn't stand to oppose its path to the North there was no telling how far it would burn.
"Sorrow?" It was Eponin's voice calling through the forest as another large tree fell under her wrath.
"Here!" She called back, moving too work on another of the enormous towering structures that usually were the stable of Amazon life but now threatened to annihilate it.
"How do you want to do this?" Eponin's queried as she used her sword to hack at the underbrush and sending arcs of it towards where the fire would be coming.
"We need a burn out area." Sorrow kept up her work on the dry tree. Backhanding her claws, right hand then left hand into the bark to fell the giant. "There is a natural rise here that runs for some distance within the forest. We need to feel everything we can on this side of it and make the rise too barren for the fire to pass."
"Right!" Eponin signaled the instruction back through the ranks of the Protector's team. "How long do you think till the fire meets our stand?" She asked moving closer to Sorrow and spin kicking at the tree the Princess worked on. She sent it falling into the designated burn out area.
"Hard to judge, the wind keeps shifting." Sorrow shook her head, glancing up to see the shaking of the canopy overhead as the rest of her team worked. "If it holds on its southern path, maybe seven or eight candlemarks."
"Well then, we better move." Eponin winked from over the cloth covering she wore. "We need this rise as bare as the Sahara." She grasped the stalk of a dry withered shrub with one hand as her sword sliced it loose of the ground and she tossed it in a high arc away from the rise.
"I do anything for a desert full of sand right now." Sorrow laughed as she finished with another tree.
Xena halted her team, her senses memorizing even the slightest change in the surrounding wind. She looked up to eye the canopy, the small flocks of retreating birds the first sign of the danger that lurked ahead.
"We stand here at the marshland." She pointed out the obvious useful natural topography of the land. Though the recent hot weather had dried up the usually swampy area to a crisp loose grassland. It was a relatively tree barren area. "Concentrate your effort on the far side of the marsh. Angle what you fall into the fire's path." She turned to talk to the silent group. "Spread out and work fast. We have a large area in our care and only a short time to fall it. Keep careful eyes on those close to you!" She added lastly. "There is no chance for heroics here, just clean down the shore to the marsh." A chorus of agreements came back at her. "Tawnie is here to do field aid for anyone who gets injured. Don't hesitate to call her, we need you all healthy and swinging axes as long as possible." She pointed to the small warrior who stood shadowed by her much larger companion.
"Kisinda, I want you by my side." The warrior pointed to pull the ax-wielding woman from the crowd. "I know you usually use that as a weapon." She glanced to the blade that framed the woman's head as she approached.
"It will be used to serve in whatever way is necessary." The auburn haired woman nodded. "And if I might suggest, with careful planning on the takedown angle of some of the bigger trees I might be able to lessen our workload."
"Just what I was thinking Kisinda." Xena couldn't help but smile. "Everyone get going! Let's snuff this little annoyance out." She turned and took off across the marsh knowing the ice warrior was close behind her.
Gabrielle crouched down on the large bolder looking upstream. Though the heat wave had significantly reduced the rush of the ragging southern river it was still a formidable flow. She turned her face back into the hot wind that came down from the north. Though it made the work here at the southern end of the east wall even more stifling she thanked the Gods for its path. At least this would make her daughter's job a bit easier.
"Word just came from Xena." Ephiny called to her from the bottom of the boulder. "Her team is also using the marsh area as a line of attack."
"I thought she might." The bard smiled at her ability of think like her partner.
"And Cantary just got back with these." The Regent tossed the large thick scroll up to the blonde. "Your plan is going well so far. Do you want to change any of the team's placement?"
"I will in a moment." She unraveled the scroll and studied it. A wide smile beamed on her face. "If the fire won't come to the river, I'll make the river come to the fire."
"What?" Ephiny asked confused from below.
"We're going to bring the river to the fire." She called as she jumped down off the boulder to land next to the Regent. Turning she held the scroll up against the rock for the other woman to see. "Look at the river survey." She pointed her finger at the points of interest. "There are a lot of sub estuaries up further from here. If we can block them and have small canals in place here to direct the flow."
"You want to flood the forest?" The Regent looked at her a bit surprised. "I was only joking about a flood early."
"I know you were Ephiny." The bard memorized the map. "But I wasn't!"
"Gabrielle, the only problem with this plan is if we take women off the wall to block the estuaries, then we weaken our stand." Ephiny could see the possibility in the Queen's plan, but they lacked one crucial ingredient. Time was short and could get very short if the wind decided to change. "On top of the fact that it with the low level of the water you'd need to block all of them up to about here." She pointed to a high estuary. "And that is about at least at least three candlemarks away. Not including the time it's going to take to block the others on the way."
"I know." She shook her head as she contemplated. Holding the scroll in her hands she turned and paced momentarily. "If it has a chance of working I have to try Ephiny." She looked to the Regent to make sure that the plan wasn't completely insane.
"I think it has a good chance of working Gabrielle, if the wind holds." Ephiny tried to give what support she could. "It's also going to be risky, we don't know how bad the blaze is in those areas."
"True, how can I ask someone to run off into that uncertainty?" The bard lost a bit of her steam and leaned back against the rock.
"You won't have to ask." Ephiny smiled at her knowing that Gabrielle's heart and mind were set on this plan being their only hope. "I'll lead the team and I'm sure a dozen bodies off the wall isn't going to make that much difference."
"Ephiny, I..." Gabrielle knew she should say something, but no words came. "Be careful."
"Hey you know me, careful is my middle name." The Regent laughed. "Look you have the canals ready here and as soon as we can you're going to have one raging river coming down on you."
"I look forward to the flood." The bard laughed back, impulsively hugging her before the amazon pulled away to collect her team.
Sorrow watched the huge mighty tree teeter and fall as she swiped her claws through the last of its truck.
'How many years have you stood only to fall to me today?' She questioned silently as the ground shook when it landed.
"Sorrow!" Eponin called from the high area of the rise behind her.
"What?" She turned to question, happy for the momentary break to rest her arms.
"I think we're getting a bit of reprieve." The warrior called back pointing southwards. "I think the wind is starting to push it towards the river."
"Well wonders never cease." Sorrow smiled as she rushed up the hill to take a look.
"Feel it?" Ephiny turned north, her hair blown back off her face.
"Let's not waste this time enjoying the wind." The Princess laughed, swatting the warrior in the arm as she rushed back down. "I want to angle our line downwards as we head towards the village. This might just buy us the breathing room."
"Right behind you." The weapon's master came after her, whistling signals to the other's very interested in their momentary conference.
Danu paced around in a nervous state. Everything that she could possibly think to do in order to secure and prepare the village had been done. The one thing she could not prepare for was the waiting. Turning to the sky, the soft tendrils of the morning light were making a firm place for themselves in the sky.
"I am sure things are going well." Gideon stepped up to the momentarily motionless archer. "We would be swamped with wounded if the force was failing."
"Very true." Danu agreed in a silent voice. Part of her wanted to call out to Sorrow and find out how things were going. But if the Princess had made no attempt to reach her, then either her love was far to busy for interruptions or things were bad. "They won't have made the wall to close to the fire. We have time before the injured arrive regardless of the fire's status."
"I apologize for my lack of insight your majesty." The Shamaness bowed her head slightly. "I am from a world of ice and not much accustomed to dealing with fire. It is fitting that you would be here to lead at this time, you posses great power."
"Oh no it's me who's sorry, I'm just nervous." Danu turned to her trying to retract judgmental comment, the studying the old woman's face. "I have no power Gideon, I am mere archer who wishes to serve my people."
"The trait of all great and powerful leaders your majesty." The older woman bowed her head again. "Sometimes it takes great events to show those who are ready to step up and be recognized for who they are to be."
"Well a forest fire isn't much of a time to prove anything but how well you can wield an ax." The archer smiled not sure how to take the Shamaness' strange words. "I'm not a 'your majesty' by the way Gideon, just call me Danu."
"In my tribe, at the moment of joining with a member of Royalty the blood in your veins becomes as hers." The Shamaness laid a gentle hand on her arm. "And that is why I must address you this way. To ignore your rank would be a shame to my calling."
"I would never want to shame the ice crystal." Danu's eyes fell on the sparkling shard. "But I hope maybe as friends in this trying time, Danu will be good enough."
"In trying times..." Gideon smiled at the archer. "I am honoured to call you Danu."
"Would you be able to go check on the children for me?" The archer finished asking the question in a lost voice as calls came into the village that an injured warrior was coming.
"Tend to the wounded." Gideon spoke softly as she backed away. "I will look over the children."
The archer barely heard her words as she raced off towards where the calls were coming. Yelling back to the infirmary for a stretcher and bandages to be brought.
"Maris, what happened?" She rushed to where the woman staggered into view carrying a fallen sister.
"One of the trees was so dry it snapped in half as we cut it, Deye couldn't get out of the way there was no time." The dark haired woman lowered the precious cargo in her arms to the ground at the archers prompting.
"Where did it hit her?" She swallowed hard already able to guess that the limb had most likely landed blunt into the woman's now swelling abdomen.
"Caught her below the rib cage. She went down like a shot bird." Maris dragged a hand through her frayed dark hair.
In silence they loaded the injured woman onto the stretcher and she was soon being whisked into Oxin's care within the ceremonial hall.
"Maris, what line were you on?" Danu asked anxiously. "How is the wall doing?"
"I'm on Xena's crew to the East." The woman breathed heavy. "The wind is going stiff south now so apparently the North wall is building faster than ours. We've got a lot down but there is still so much to fall. I have to get back."
"Take some water with you." Danu rushed to hand her two skins as the woman moved to retreat. "Send word if the line needs supplies"
Reluctantly she watched the woman disappear back towards the trees. The archer suddenly felt very guilty for being holed up safely here in the village waiting for news and the injured.
'You are here to serve Gabrielle's throne.' Her rational mind reminded her. 'And to keep watch over the children. There is nothing more important than that.'
Turning on her heels she rushed back to the ceremonial hut. Maybe if she kept herself busy the time would pass faster.
The Warrior Princess rested the heavy ax onto her shoulder as she momentarily stood back watching the ice warrior work.
"Timber!" Kisinda took one last swipe at the tree and yelled to alert the others as the tall giant moaned loudly and lost its fight with gravity. Just as the two warriors had planned the massive trunk fell into another tree slightly smaller than it and caused the second to topple over with it into the flames future path. "If we can get a few more to go like that one we'll be well ahead of the game." She turned wiping the sweat from her forehead.
"We will." Xena nodded and found herself smiling before she could help herself. There had been little conversation between them over the last two candlemarks as they'd worked. "I think our next challenge is that one." She pointed with her ax to an enormous tree looming alone in an area already cleaned of smaller trees and underbrush by their crew.
"That one it is." Kisinda nodded back and began tramping over the fallen brush to the base of the tree. "It is such a pity to have to knock these beautiful ancients down." She spoke softly, not intending for the Warrior Princess to hear her. She put a callused hand around the crystal at her neck and thought of home. Though in some ways she wished she was back on her familiar mountain far from here, she was glad that she was in the village to help.
"It is such a waste." The warrior responded moving over to join her, walking around the trunk slowly to assess the best plan for their attack.
"Xena!" Delara came running through the brush. "Reports from the North are in!"
"I'll start with the tree." Kisinda turned away from the scout's approach and setting herself in a wide legged stance she wielded her heavy blade into the unforgiving wood.
"What's the word?" Xena moved over to meet the scout, keeping some distance between them and where the ice warrior worked.
"Sorrow's been able to begin angling her line down." Delara smiled slightly at the warrior, her eyes watching the rhythm of the ice warrior's blade. "She hopes to be able to meet us at the rock plateau near the ritual grounds."
"Rock plateau..." The warrior pictured the topography of the land in her mind. "Perfect."
"She said that the wind is keeping the flames well from her wall so far but she is sure if it shifts she has the a strong stance to block it from going further north." The scout looked back to the warrior.
"I need to ask you to do something for me." Xena looked off into the trees. The smoke around them was thickening and the sound of the forest in the distance falling under the weight of the ravenous flames was growing faster by the moment. While the stiff southern wind was helping the northern wall it had increased the pressure on her crew here on the east wall. "I need a fire report. Where it's gotten too and how fast it is traveling. Can you do that?"
"No problem." Delara smiled at her, pulling the cloth up closer to her nose.
"Be careful." The warrior said stiffly as she watched the scout rush off into the forest.
Ephiny braced the river survey against a large tree mentally marking off how far they'd gotten.
'Three candlemarks at least.' She looked up through tree break near the river. 'We're behind!' She cursed to herself.
Her small crew had so far blocked a half dozen of the small estuaries, but that was the problem these were the smaller ones and they were taking far too much time. According to the carefully drawn survey, the next three estuaries they'd be coming too were big. Probably three times the biggest one they'd tackled so far.
"Ephiny, this one is stopped!" One of her crew called as the various woman pulled themselves out of the now drying sub-stream.
"Let's go then." She rolled up the survey and picked up her shovel. Breaking into a quick run as she headed for their next goal. Her crew fell into pace behind her. Though the task was backbreaking everyone knew they didn't have time to spare for walking.
"Kisinda?" Tawnie approached her companion tentatively. Not wanting to startle the woman as she concentrated on her work.
"One..." Her ax cut into the tree with a painful snap. "Moment..." The tree swayed as she hit it again. "Almost..." The enormous tree seemed to hover for a bit while the ice warrior stopped her ax. Wiping her brow lightly, she turned in spot and hit the tree with a hard roundhouse. Unable to withstand this last assault the mighty giant began its low descent to the ground. Taking out a line of smaller trees in its wake just as the woman had planned.
"You need water." Tawnie moved over to her and handed her a freshly filled skin. "And I think maybe you need a few things looked at." She ran a finger near a large slice in the woman's forearm.
"Tawnie, its nothing." She took the water thankfully and drained it in a few long swallows.
"Hey!" The small healer flicked the red area near the wound sharply causing Kisinda to jump as a small shot of pain unexpectantly went up her arm. "I am the field healer here and I want two moments of your time to bandage that."
"Fine, fine!" The warrior put one hand up in defeat. "I might as well sit while your doing it and kill to birds with one stone." She shuffled over and rested against the newly fallen tree's stump. She carefully placed her ax nearby.
"We'll you are being extra co-operative today." Tawnie joked as she stood beside her companion, undoing the small kit she carried. She started cleaning the deep wound.
"It's Xena, she's watching ever little thing I do." The ice warrior sighed heavy. "This is the first time that she's even ventured a small distance away."
"You're used to everyone watching you Kisinda." The blonde smiled at her softly and tried to hide her concern as she removed a relatively large piece of wood that was embedded in the wound. She was very glad she'd made the warrior stop now. "And the truth is we're strangers. None of them have any reason to trust us any further than they could throw us." She stopped to grin at the warrior. "And I'm sure that Xena could chuck me really far!"
"Ha, ha." Kisinda couldn't help but grin back slightly. "Have you had to do a lot?" She asked seriously.
"Some." Tawnie nodded as she filled the open wound with a salve she'd had brought to her from the village during one of the water runs. "Mostly small stuff like this, or big problems I've sent straight back to the village." She completed the bandage with some leaves and a tightly tied bit of cloth. "All done." She impulsively bent and kissed the warrior on the forehead.
"Thanks." Kisinda spoke softly. Taking a moment to enjoy the rare contact. "The last scouting report says that the fire is maybe only a candlemark out from us." She stood up and looked down to Tawnie. "Even Xena's agreed we need to tighten up the crew so that the fire can't separate us if it breaks in at points. I don't want you straying far from me now, agreed?" She held the woman's hazel eyes with her own.
"Agreed." Tawnie nodded slightly. She knew that look and when her friend got it there was no point in arguing. The truth was she was happy to have a reason not to stray far from her. With the fire getting closer the forest was filled with too much motion. At Kisinda's side she could concentrate on her tasks without having to worry about the world on top.
"Let's go fine the rest of the crew." The ice warrior swung her blade up into its harness and began to lead the other small warrior along the marsh bed.
Continued in Part Two...
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