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.
NOTE: 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
Gabrielle stood by the river watching the small group of teenagers playing by the bank. It was nice to see their carefree games. It was a stellar reminder of just how easily things had melted back into normal day-to-day life for the whole village. Most of the smoke damage had been fixed and the new river was partially dammed up in order to secure the village from its wrath and almost all of the injured had recovered completely. She'd even been able to implement the beginnings of a forest regeneration program so that the burn out areas might not take quite as long to return to their once luscious splendour. All things considered they had gotten off lucky, though the bard wasn't about to admit that in case something else bad decided to make up for it.
"So my Queen, is all to your liking?" Xena had come up behind the bard and wrapped caring arms around her.
"Yes, even better now that you're here." She snuggled into the warm embrace. "I thought you were over at Sorrow's working on the house?" She questioned kissing the skin of the warrior's upper arm.
"The Protector was called off for more pressing matters, though you'd be happy to hear we actually have a wall up now." Xena explained. "Seems we're a little short on fresh game for the rebuilding celebration and she got volunteered to pitch in. The aerial approach seemed the best method since the forest is still low on wildlife."
"And why then aren't you off hunting?" The bard smiled to herself. A definite good sign that the village was back on track was the fact that they were having a rebuilding celebration at the full moon.
"I got volunteered to move wine barrels." The warrior flexed her arms around the bard. "We just finished up. Seems the plan is to have many drunk Amazon's this evening."
"That is the outlined plan I've been told." The bard laughed. "Does anything need our expert assistance?"
"No, everything is just about ready." Xena kissed into golden hair. "Just need your daughter to bring home some fresh meat and we're all ready."
"Good." Gabrielle broke the embrace and took her hand. "Why don't we go amuse ourselves for awhile?" She gave the warrior a wicked grin as she pulled her towards the tree line.
Sorrow turned and picked a wide leaf off a nearby bush and wiped her hands of the thick hot blood. She looked down at the large ten-point buck she'd just finished gutting for the trip home.
"You were a true and noble adversary." She closed the buck's eyes and got herself ready to hoist the large creature up into her arms. She was just about to pick the animal up when the spark of a slight shine struck the corner of her eye.
"What do we have here?" She stopped to tune in for a moment, quite sure after only a heartbeat that there was no one in the vicinity. She flown quite north to a remote forest to gather meat for the feast and moving away from the buck slowly she manoeuvre through the bush with a silent grace.
Approaching the small obviously man made clearing she slowed her movements down to a crawl as the scene before her came into focus.
"By all that is holy." The Protector has seen enough carnage in her life that she was shocked by the repulsion the scene in front of her caused.
The corpse was decomposed to a point far beyond recognition. Stripped and skinned there was no hope for her or anyone to ever be able to identify who it had been. Four iron stakes and thick thorn rope held the corpse with its arms and legs spread far from its body. Emerging through the corpses throat were strips of what the Protector could only guess was rabbit fur. The fur had been cut into small shreds and pulled from the back to the front of the corpse, draping onto the bright white of scrapped clean collarbone. Sitting in the hollow of the corpses abdomen the two small creatures that had given their fur were skinned as well and placed in a well-staged curl to mimic how they would look within their burrow.
"Why haven't the animal's attacked it?" The question came to the Protector as she circled the area. Surprised that with the blood stained grass and thick smell of death even the scavengers hadn't been attracted to it.
"The only thing I can do is offer burial." She cringed to herself as she brought out one claw to break the cords that held the poor sacrifice in place. She moved off to a spot outside the bloody scene and started digging.
After dropping the buck off at the mess hall, Sorrow made her way straight to the Royal house. She'd memorized the grotesque scene as best as she could in order to replay what she'd found to the Warrior Princess.
"Xena?" She called to the warrior as she came through the front door slowly.
"Sorrow, how goes the hunt?" The tall woman came out of the back bedroom wringing water out of her long hair.
"Got a ten-point, but I found something else I wanted to talk to you about." The tone in the Protector's voice was low. The warrior walked up to her and guided her out towards the front porch.
"What did you find?" Xena asked a bit disturbed by her daughter's obvious uneasiness.
"I'm not sure, but the best way I can describe it is a sacrifice." Sorrow dropped down on the bench while the warrior leaned against the railing.
"Go on." She didn't like the sound of this.
"The person was skinned and staked down spread out in a cleared circle in the forest." Sorrow began to recount want she'd seen. She gave a vivid description of the scene, knowing she couldn't leave out any detail if she expected the warrior to offer any help in interpreting the find.
"Nothing had touched it?" The sheer idea of that made the Warrior Princess' skin crawl.
"Not even a nibble after death." Sorrow nodded. "I know it sounds crazy, but the only thing I can think of is..."
"Magic." Xena filled in the answer.
"My thoughts exactly." Sorrow agreed. "Have you ever heard of any cult using that set up for sacrifices?"
"I don't, but maybe our newcomers do." The warrior grasped at straws. It wasn't something she liked doing but she'd exhausted her own memory.
"I have to go that way, why don't I see what Gideon knows?" The Protector offered.
"Try Kisinda first." Xena ran fingers through her hair thinking.
"Taken a bit of a liking to her eh?" Sorrow stood up and moved off the step.
"Let's just say I have more reasons to trust her at the moment then Gideon." Xena moved back inside, deciding to keep the Protector's gruesome discovery from the Queen for the moment.
Kisinda swung the axe happily into the tree. Such a different chore then she'd had weeks before. Cutting wood for the bonfire they'd have that night at the celebration was a much more rewarding task.
'Going to be so good to just relax tonight.' She let her thoughts drift as she worked on the tree. 'Should be a great chance to indulge in your favourite passive activity.' The image of the petite blonde healer glowed in her mind. Things had definitely changed slightly since the night that Tawnie had come back from her meeting with the Queen intoxicated. Though she'd said nothing, and for that fact neither had Tawnie, they'd settled into a rhythm of not making such an issue of leaving space between them when they fell asleep and by the morning they were always cuddled together. The oddest part of all was that no embarrassment or awkward moments arrived with the dawn. They simply disentangled themselves and then went about their normal morning routine. She hoped that the trend would continue.
"Kisinda." The Protector called to the ice warrior as she approached.
"What?" Kisinda turned with the axe poised for her next cut a little out of her element as she'd been deep in a daydream. "Sorry, what can I do for you your Highness?" She swung the weapon back to its harness.
"First, remember to drop the your Highness." Sorrow smiled at her. "And secondly I had a question to ask you." She went on to describe the scene in the forest hopeful the Shamaness would have some answer.
"It sounds primal." Kisinda racked her brain to find answers. "I've never heard of anything like it. Not even if I break it down into pieces."
"Do you think Gideon would?" Sorrow leaned against another tree.
"I can't be sure, but she is only an authority on our traditions." Kisinda appraised. "I can meditate on it and see what the spirit world offers." She made the offer reluctantly. She hated the access she had to the spirit world, resented its oddness even when it did offer helpful information.
"Anything would be a help." The Princess agreed. "Do you need me to get you any supplies?"
"No. I won't be able to do the ceremony until the full moon is waning." The ice warrior shook her head. "Then I'll just need a quite place, and Tawnie and I can work it all out."
"Well then just have to push it from our minds and enjoy the celebration." Sorrow smiled at her. "You need a little help with that?" She looked to the large tree ready to fall.
"I would be honoured." Kisinda bowed her head slightly, retrieving her axe and preparing to take another swing at the tree.
Gabrielle leaned back heavily in her chair and enjoyed watching the Amazon's dancing around the huge bonfire before her. Their traditional masks and pre-scripted movements had all been cast aside as the night grew old and the party had turned much more casual. Everyone moved with a wild abandon now, urged on by a lot of Amazon wine and unrestrained hearts. The threat to the village was over and for many tonight was the first to offer relaxation and revelry.
"Another drink my Queen?" Ephiny stood from her chair and offered.
"That would be great, thanks." The bard smiled and watched the Regent walk away leaving her alone at the head table. Their lavish feast was long over and all of the formal commendations for those who had gone above and beyond the call of duty during the forest fire had been given out.
Gabrielle watched it all with a smug smile of satisfaction. After all she had been the one with the river idea and how often was it that she saved the day? She glanced around the area. To one side the Warrior Princess was holding mock court with a group of other warrior's. She wasn't surprised to see her daughter and Kisinda included in the ranks. No matter how the rest of the village had relaxed, they seemed as always unable to be anything but on guard.
'You really do like her Xena.' She thought as she watched the two conversing over a mug of port.
Continuing her appraisal of the scene she came across one thing she hadn't expected to see. The sad forlorn face of Tawnie sat off in the shadows as she watched the dancing.
'Really watching the person visible behind the dancing.' Gabrielle appraised and without thought she got up and made her way through the drunken crowd to the healer.
"In need of a dance partner?" The Queen appraised softly as she approached with her hands behind her back. "Or should you and I get into the wine again and see what other stories we forgot?"
"Pardon?" Tawnie looked up, drawn out of her thoughts.
"Not having fun?" She tried again.
"No my Queen, it is a magnificent celebration." Tawnie tried to cover her mood. She couldn't have Gabrielle think her ungrateful to be included in such a splendid affair.
"Cut the formality Tawnie." She sat down beside the healer. "You obviously have something very big on your mind, say about six foot worth of something?"
"She's just over six foot." The petite warrior made the observation without thinking to hide what she said. "I mean..." She abandoned the cover when she realized she was caught. "I'm being obvious again aren't I?" She laughed to herself as she looked at the Queen.
"Naw, I just have the inside information remember?" Gabrielle reached a slim arm around the healer and gave her a brief hug. "Anything to add to the secret Kisinda file since we last talked?"
"Nothing too much." Tawnie smiled at the Queen. Though she still had difficulty dealing with the changing informality that this new friendship demanded, it was something that she wouldn't pass up on. The freedom alone to speak about how deeply she loved Kisinda without worrying about what she was saying. "Any success with the block twirl yet?" She asked thoughtfully.
"Checking to make sure I've been practising are you?" Gabrielle laughed. "Yes, I think at our next lesson I might even impress you."
"You have already impressed me." Tawnie nodded as she thought of the talent the Amazon Monarch was showing with the sais. She'd barely remembered when the Queen had met up with her in the practice field that their night of merry making had led to her agreeing to teach Gabrielle the weapon she'd chosen for herself so long ago. "With some practice you'll have them mastered even better than I."
"I doubt that Tawnie, but I swear you are the most flattering teacher." Gabrielle looked back out at the dancing to pinpoint the tall ice warrior who was still talking to her warrior. "Well I hate to do this to you really..." She flashed a bright grin at the healer who looked at her blankly. "But looking at the night sky tells me..." She guided both of their eyes upwards with her words. "Tonight is the night my friend."
"I know, but how do I tell her? What if she doesn't feel the same? What if she hates me for saying it?" Her fears spilled out and her eyes welled up. "Things have been going so well, what if I ruin everything?"
"Hold on." Gabrielle put her arm around the healer again to comfort her. "That's a lot of what ifs there."
"I know, but if I lose her because I tell her I don't know what I'll do. Aren't I better off just being her friend?" The healer asked the honest question she been wrangling with since their first conversation.
"Well that depends on you." The bard assessed. "Is it easier to stay her friend pining over her or to tell her and take the chance that she feels the same? From the way the last few weeks have been going I think you have some signs that this isn't a big of risk as you thought." It was taking all of her strength not to reveal that she knew for a fact Kisinda felt the same. Though one thing Gabrielle did know was that if she did, the ice warrior's pride would never get over the blow and it could very well ruin the couple before they even took the first step.
"I don't know." Tawnie shook her head. "Sometimes it drives me so crazy that I just want to grab her and kiss her."
"Just do it!" Gabrielle prompted giving her a little squeeze before she removed her arm. "Just walk across the courtyard, grab her and kiss her with all you have in your heart."
"You think so?" The healer had completely forgotten that it was the Queen she was talking too. This was just her friend now, Gabrielle the bard and she knew that no matter how easy the petite redhead said this was, it just wasn't. "I can't do that." She shook her head, her own doubts creeping in at her again.
"Tawnie, I only say this because I have been in this predicament before but you have to just take your courage in your hand and do it." Gabrielle's voice was firm. "You either loose her when you tell her or you loose her by not telling her, there isn't really a choice."
"But, but..." She wavered as she looked across the clearing again at the ice warrior.
"You love her, share that with her." The bard's voice dropped a bit softer. "Call this an outside intuition Tawnie but I think she needs you to make the move."
"You do?" The blonde thought about it.
"Well think about it, if she did have feelings for you do you expect that she'd tell you?" Gabrielle made an internal bet that Tawnie would know the ice warrior enough to know how she thought.
"She'd..." Tawnie's mind came up with only one answer. Pushing her hands into the wooden bench she pushed herself up and began her walk without a word.
'Go get her girl!' Gabrielle sat back smugly as the healer took off.
The music went on and the dancing went on with it as the small figure stalked her way across the courtyard. Somewhere under the notes the slight swish of the sais in her boots kept a courageous rhythm, as she walked towards her goal. Her small hands were flat on the sides of her brushed beige suede skirt.
"I think you'd be much better served..." Kisinda was busy trying to offer her support to the Warrior Princess on the recent schematic dilemma with the Princess' house and she didn't see the healer's approach
"Excuse me." Tawnie made the small apology to the Warrior Princess and Protector before she turned to lock eyes with the ice warrior.
"Tawnie? Is everything..." Kisinda wasn't able to finish her sentence as two small hands went to her cheeks and hot lips rose up onto hers. It took her mind more than a moment to catch up to just what was happening but by that time her hands had already figured it out. Her mind came back to herself to realize she held the healer tight in her arms as they kissed deeply.
"I need to talk to you." Tawnie broke the kiss as she pulled back to look the warrior in the eye, their faces close together. All Kisinda could do was nod as she felt her hand being taken and she was lead away.
The stunned ice warrior didn't even see the happy smiles on the other two warriors.
They had been in silence for some time. Kisinda standing and pacing while Tawnie sat on the bed. The healer knew she'd started this and she had no idea why her confidence had waned so drastically.
"You said we needed to talk?" The ice warrior didn't have any other way to start this and most of all she needed to figure out if the kiss had only been the result of too much wine.
"We do." Tawnie took a deep breath and stood up. "We've known each other for along time Kissy." She used the comforting name as she approached the warrior slowly.
"We've known each other forever." Kisinda's voice was quiet and she held her place in nervous anticipation.
"Yes, forever." She thought of the talk she'd had with the Queen. "I think there is only one thing I have done longer than that."
"What?" The warrior's voice broke as she asked the strained question. The healer had moved up very close to her and she was having trouble focusing.
"Kissy, I've been keeping something from you for a very long time." She reached out and ran her finger down the warrior's face. Ever reaction she was seeing edged her into saying more, but the reaction she was seeing also edged her into the hope that her love would say something as well before she laid everything down to the wolves.
"So have I." Kisinda made the admission softly.
"Could it be so sad that we've both been doing the same thing?" Tawnie cupped her hand over her companion's cheek.
"I love you." Kisinda gave the only answer she could think of, expressed the one and only thought moving through every bit of her being. She didn't know where she found the courage, maybe she'd found the font that had given the healer the ability to just walk up and kiss her.
"As I love you my warrior." Tawnie urged the warrior's face down as she whispered the words and their lips met again.
Sorrow walked through the littered courtyard and opened her red wings up fully behind her as she stretched them out. The various mugs and articles of clothing strewn around the now burnt out fire made her smile.
'At least it seems everyone made it back to a hut last night. Even if it might not have been their own.' She smiled to herself when she thought of her own archer safely tucked up in the shell of their new house. It has been her misfortune to agree to bring breakfast in bed, but then again Danu had given her such motivation to make the offer.
Stopping for a minute, she turned in a neat circle looking at the village, at the sky and taking in every minute detail. Had she ever even dared dreamed during those days with her Father that she'd ever be living a moment like this?
'Somehow you knew.' She thought holding her hands behind her. 'It was the idea of this that always gave you the strength to keep going.'
"The key is never to take these things for granted." She reminded herself as she headed towards the mess hall.
The guard member was almost on top of her before the Protector came out of her euphoric thoughts.
"Your highness, I'm sorry to bother you so early but there is..." The small woman struggled to think of what to say. She'd been one of the few who'd pulled guard duty at the borders of the village while the celebration had gone on the night before. The truth be known she had purposely picked the short feather, as her wife had been one almost lost in the fire and without the work of many of their sisters she'd be facing life alone. Giving them one night of drinking and dancing without worry of threat was the least she could do in repayment.
"There is what?" Sorrow heard the concern in her voice.
"One of the patrol's found a body in the forest."
"Who was found?" The Protector felt the small hairs on the back of her neck stand up.
"We don't know, the body was skinned." The guard grimaced as the mental view of the scene played back to her. "It's a male though, so not one of us. It's just before the southern crest."
"I know where you're talking about." Sorrow abandoned the idea of breakfast. "Don't say another word to anyone about this right now, I'll go take a look."
"As you wish Princess." The guard nodded happy to be free of the burden.
In a quick decision, the Protector decided that maybe two takes on the subject would be better than one. Awakening the Warrior Princess would involve worrying her Mother, something they had both agreed should be avoided for as long as possible. The recent fire had but her under so much stress.
Without at thought she headed to her next choice, knocking loudly on the visitor's hut door. It was only when a very dishevelled Kisinda opened the door in nothing more than a hastily wrapped sheet that she realized her error.
"I'm sorry to wake you so early." The Princess cursed herself for not having remembered the little events of the night before.
"There is no need for apology your Highness." The ice warrior shook her head. "How can I assist you?" She tried to wipe the sleep out of her head with deep, silent breaths. Having only decided with Tawnie at dawn that they had to resist making up for more lost time and get some sleep had left her now a bit dim. She turned her head briefly to the angelic figure sleeping on the bed, and tightening the sheet around her she stepped outside and closed the door slightly.
"I really am sorry." Sorrow stressed the fact before going on. "But I think another body has been found like the one I told you about. I wondered if you'd come have a look with me to see if anything sticks out to you that might explain what's going on."
"Of course." Kisinda's mind snapped into its normal sharpness as she realized that the Protector was coming to her for help against an unknown threat. "If you'll give me a moment to change."
"Take your time. I'll be right here." Sorrow backed away still a little embarrassed that she'd barged in on them.
"Tawnie." Kisinda called her new lover out of her sleep with gentle caresses and an even more gentle voice.
"If last night was a dream I don't want to open my eyes." The blonde healer snuggled into the hand that strayed across her cheek.
"It wasn't." Kisinda bent down and kissed her softly. "It's just Sorrow has asked for my assistance and I didn't want to risk you waking alone and not knowing where I was."
"Is something wrong?" Tawnie opened her eyes, thanking every God and Goddess to have this morning.
"Another body has been found." The ice warrior gave the precise answer. "This scene is still intact and she wants me to observe it in case any clues are there to who or what has done this."
"Kissy, please be careful." She sat up and ran her hands over her lover's face trying to solidify in her mind that all of this was real. "I have a bad feeling about this."
"I know Taw. I'll be with the Protector." Kisinda smiled slightly. "Surely that must offer some assurance of my safety."
"Just be careful, promise me." The healer held her in a serious gaze.
"I promise." The ice warrior gave the vow in a serious voice. "I love you." Her last words came in a soft voice though it was no less serious.
"As I love you my warrior." She repeated the heartfelt words as she had said them the first time the night before.
Their movement through the forest was silent, only broken as they approached the southern crest.
"There is a stench to this place." Kisinda felt the horrible aroma come to her as if she'd crossed an invisible barrier.
"I don't smell anything." Sorrow looked at her concentrating. Even tuning into her demon flesh she still picked up nothing but normal forest scents.
"It is not a physical smell, it is a spiritual one." Kisinda pulled back a tree branch to reveal the carefully cleared circle. "It is the smell of depravity and bloodlust." Her eyes came to focus on the skinned body. "Is this how the other was?"
"Not quite." The Protector moved into the circle with her. Unlike the first this poor person hands and legs were bound together and then pulled taunt by two thick ropes wrapped around thick trees at the edges of the clearing. "The first one's arms and legs were spread out and it was rabbits instead of foxes." She motioned to the small creatures curled up dead within the corpse.
"The staging is important." Kisinda knelt down by the figure closing her eyes. Her hand immediately went to the crystal at her throat. "The first could imply a call to the four corners, while this one focuses on only two."
"To what four corners?" Sorrow bent down with her trying to understand.
"The four directions, the four elements. I'm afraid it could be anything Princess." Kisinda opened her eyes and shook her head. "You are right though, this is not for the sake of violence or revenge. There is evil magic afoot. That is why the animals stay away."
"We should bury him." Sorrow shook her head sadly.
"Yes, he deserves at least that after his ordeal." Kisinda stood up and moved outside the circle. "Not here though, it would only compound the evil that lives here."
Willing to let the ice Shamaness take the lead, Sorrow cut the body free and prepared to move it to wherever she agreed its burial should be.
Kisinda slipped back into the hut as quietly as she could. Though she knew she'd have to awaken her new lover again soon regardless, she couldn't help but take the small chance to watch her for a moment. Here in the quite morning light it was perfect opportunity to soak all this in and truly realize what had happened the night before.
She eased herself down next to the slight figure on the bed on her side. It was a comforting surprise when Tawnie, still deep in sleep, was drawn to cuddle up next to her. She was glad she'd made the extra effort to convince the healer to go back to sleep while she went off to investigate the body.
"How did I ever get so lucky?" The ice warrior asked as she ran her hand over red tipped hair. "You deserve so much more than me."
"You are all that I've ever wanted." The healer's voice answered softly as slight arms hugged the warrior's body a bit tighter.
"Good morning again my lovely." Kisinda smiled and kissed the top of the healer's head.
"Good morning." Tawnie finally opened her eyes and looked up. "I missed you." She didn't hold herself back as she leaned up and kissed her warrior long and deep.
"Sorry." Kisinda finally tried to explain as they eased themselves back from the kiss. "It was as Sorrow feared, something magical is behind the killings." Tawnie shivered as she realized what she was being told. "We're needed in the council chamber, she's called a meeting of the Royal Family and she'd like us there to advise."
"I guess I should get dressed then." Feeling particularly awake and amazed after their night of lovemaking, Tawnie moved her still naked body against the warrior.
"If you keep doing that we won't be getting anywhere." The warrior growled low into her ear as she felt every sense within her lit on fire. A part of her automatically fought to quell the inferno after so many years of doing just that but it was quickly overpowered by her heart and its newfound freedom.
"Later my love." Tawnie kissed her again before easing herself out of bed.
Sorrow looked around the table knowing she had no answer, but that she was soon going to be facing a lot of questions. A brief consult with the Warrior Princess when she'd returned to the village had concluded the necessity for this meeting. They couldn't hide what was going on from Gabrielle anymore. She'd finished the grim recount of both scenes and felt the silence of contemplation creep in and engulf them all.
"I've never heard of anything like it." Danu made the small observation as she reached over the arm of her chair to take her lover's hand. She knew that despite all the carnage that her Princess had seen, all that she had brought herself, something about these scenes in particular were worse than any other.
"Could it be Alti?" Gabrielle made the fearful suggestion to Xena as she pulled herself back to the room from her spiralling thoughts.
"It can't be ruled out." Xena admitted. "We could send messengers to the Northern tribes to make sure that her remains haven't been disturbed."
"I'll send a group right away." Ephiny nodded, sure that it was better to cover all their bases.
"Do you have any insight into this Gideon?" The Queen drew the older woman at the end of the table into the conversation.
"It does not sound as anything I have ever heard of." The Shamaness' answer came after a long contemplated silence. "But I agree with Kisinda's assessment that someone is dealing in the black arts. We are best to be on our guard."
"Agreed." Gabrielle nodded. "The question is how do we keep this from happening again? I know neither of these poor souls were from our tribe but I don't want it to happen to anyone else." The reality of just how much pain the men would have suffered made her sick to her stomach. "These men have family somewhere."
"We can up patrols around the border." Danu made the suggestion she knew was on everyone's minds. "Especially since this scene is much closer to village, maybe it's better to assume whoever is doing this is plotting something against the Nation."
"That seems reasonable." Gabrielle took her role as Queen knowing from Xena's nod that she agreed. "Though I would prefer to keep this as hush, hush as we can. I don't want to have the village panicking before we know anything for sure."
"If it please our Queen, Kisinda and I will continue lessons with the Princess as to not arouse suspicions." Gideon stood up slowly.
"Of course. She looks quite forward to them." The bard admitted.
"Very good my Queen." The Shamaness bowed her head. "Kisinda." She beckoned the ice warrior to follow her. Which after a small squeeze of the healer's hand she did.
Ephiny held back in the council chamber as everyone else was filtering out. She knew the Warrior Princess would notice her move and wasn't surprised when the tall dark warrior came over to her.
"What's on your mind?" Xena asked in a low voice, looking back to check that Gabrielle was in a deep conversation by the door with Tawnie and Danu.
"This new body was found at the southern ridge yes?" The Regent asked for clarification. The warrior only nodded. "That is well within our territory. I know the first one was far enough out that it couldn't be seen as a direct threat against the Nation, but this one most definitely is."
"I know." Xena nodded again. "At the very least whoever is doing this wants us involved. Make sure the patrols are doubled as Danu suggested and Ephiny..." She looked back again to make sure that Gabrielle was occupied. "When word comes back on Alti's remains, tell me first okay?"
"Of course." The Regent bowed her eyes slightly. "I know how she worries about the vision you were shown."
"I don't want whoever this is having free passage back and forth into our territory if they plan on doing this again." The warrior's voice was low as she tried not to let the evil vision of their crucifixion replay in her mind. "I'm going to ask Sorrow to begin a nightly patrol as well."
"I was going to suggest that too." Ephiny smiled briefly. "At the very least we need to stop this from happening again.
The lessons would seem simple and almost foolish to be conducting with a five year old to most. Hours spent trying to teach her the art of silent contemplation and the history of the crystal as only one who would possess its shards should know it.
"Kissy, why do you feel it's your fault that she died?" Madalene opened one eye, no longer happy with the silent task. The visions she was getting were boring and mostly about the past. She knew one day they would help her but right now she didn't understand. "There was nothing else that you could have done."
"Princess there is much I should have done." Kisinda opened her eyes, letting the meditation she'd been unable to truly fall into dissipate. "Where did you hear that name?" She asked her mind catching up to hearing it from someone other than Tawnie.
"It was your name when you were my age wasn't it?" The little girl scrunched up her nose. "Do you know what my nickname is?" The ice warrior shook her head. "It's Mads, you can call me that if you want too. Usually only Thallia does but I don't think she'll mind if you do."
"Well Mads." Kisinda smiled at the connection the child was giving her. "My friend Tawnie is the only one who has every called me Kissy, but I don't think she'll mind if you do either."
"Have you always had these funny visions?" The child's voice grew timid. "I have funny spells that make me see things in the future."
"Yes, I've always had them in one way or another but I tired for along time to ignore them." Kisinda knew the small creature before her would see through any lie.
"It's hard to ignore when they won't let you." The Princess stood up and walked closer to the cross-legged warrior. "You knew one day you would get the crystal didn't you?"
"I did." Kisinda nodded. "Just as you knew we would come so that you would have it as well."
"I must learn all things in order to survive." Her voice was bland and confident but quickly perked back to normal. "Will it hurt you when the crystal breaks? I don't want to hurt you."
"No, there were just be two where once there was only one." The ice warrior smiled and reached to the crystal at her neck holding it in her hand.
"You must remember that there was a reason you were chosen." As she stepped closer the young child's eyes glazed as she looked into Kisinda. "To be both, to be balanced and to heal the sins of another." A small hand went over the crystal, the fingers and edges of her palm just coming around it to touch the warrior's.
The room suddenly filled with a great white light and to Kisinda it was as if the two of them swirled around the crystal. Opening her eyes against the blinding glare she was surprised when the small child no longer stood with her, but had been replaced with an youngster just on the brink of womanhood. She expected the girl to be panicked by what was happening, but the Princess remained calm and eerily composed.
"You must make them understand that though the change is brought by evil hands, it is good and necessary." Madalene's voice was thick like honey. "The time they think they have lost was never to be so it cannot be mourned." She moved her hand off the warrior's to be palm up beside it. Half of the crystal was held in her hand now.
"I pledge all that I am to do all that I can." Kisinda felt the words leave her mind, though she didn't quite know what she pledged.
"I see all that you are: warrior, Shamaness, friend and lover." Madalene's other hand came up to brush over the older woman's forehead. "So pure of spirit and a heart forged of true loyalty. Though I know you ask for no repayment, you will receive that which you long for most as thanks for all you do. I am so glad it was you who came to help me."
"As I see all that you are." The warrior knew somehow she would loose this insight as the vision ended, but for this brief moment she saw all that was to come and it made her heart ache. "And I could not have let any other come to aid you when I knew you were in need."
The light receded back slowly and Kisinda watched the young child blink the change away unharmed. She felt memories, knowledge being pulled from her head and she knew from experience there was nothing she could do to hold it. These were things she would again know in time, and their return would be marked by a vague familiarity that would alert her to consult the vision.
"Did I break it?" Madalene's voice called her back into reality.
"No Mads." Kisinda smiled at the two shards. "The time of split has come. Which piece would you like?"
"Can I have this one?" She picked up the one still attached to the leather strap that the warrior had worn around her neck. "It's the special piece cause of your necklace."
Kisinda nodded and moved to slip it over dark hair, placing it softly around the child's slender neck.
"We should go tell Gideon." The child reminded, as she impulsively moved to hug the large warrior. Kisinda held her tight, knowing that to most it wouldn't seem like much but it was this simple moment that bound them together forever.
"I'm just not so convinced this is the best time." Gabrielle reluctantly continued to tie up the back of the ceremonial outfit that had been prepared for her by Gideon. With the unexpected split of the crystal during one of Madalene and Kisinda's lessons, they'd had to rush to enact the necessary ceremony. "Especially since the scouts haven't returned to say if Alti's remains have been disturbed."
"Kisinda's crystal has already split." Xena shrugged lightly as she pulled on the smock of her own outfit. "If the ceremony isn't done there will be great consequence to your Ice tribes." The warrior mimicked the Shamaness' daunting voice with a slight amount of playful mocking. "It's just a lot of chanting and such, I bet Madalene falls asleep in the middle of it. If not you as well, so please try not to snore." She didn't expect the pillow that was playfully tossed at her.
"It's not that. It's just with the bodies in the forest." The bard shook her head as a more serious worry overtook her than her lover's mocking of her snoring. "This black magic that Kisinda says is lurking. Is it really smart for us to have the ceremony now? I just feel really anti-magic right now."
"I know it seems a bit ill timed." The warrior had felt that fact gnawing at the back of her mind but was trying to hide it from her lover. "But remember this is all about good magic, maybe the evil forces will head for the hills when the get wind of it." She tried to be optimistic.
"How do I look? How do I look?" Madalene bounded into her parent's room to show off her newest outfit. The small fox hide had been prepared with the animal's head still intact and it sat atop the small child's head. It's body hung back over to partially obscure her raven hair while its tail trailed down her back. The rest of her outfit was a patchwork of fox fur and lightly tanned deerskin. Her piece of the ice crystal hung sparkling around her throat, the long cord that Kisinda had used to fix the piece had to be wound around her thin neck almost three times. "I'm the fox cause that's the smartest and fastest little animal in the forest." She darted about the room recklessly.
"You look like quite the little Shamaness." Gabrielle tried not to dampen her daughter's enthusiasm. After all it really was a harmless ceremony, just a bit of chanting and the chance to wear silly outfits. "Give us a twirl." She prompted the giddy child as she put her own headdress on. The horns of the young buck sat heavy on her head and she tried not to show the strain as Madalene showed off for her.
"What you think Mommy?" Madalene stopped and looked at the Warrior Princess.
"You look perfect." Xena smiled as she pulled on her own heavy headdress. Tradition usually called for Gabrielle to have worn the more ornate larger horns of the ten point buck, but with her previous experience in this realm made her the more likely choice.
"Is Anastasia ready?" The little Princess rushed over to her sister's crib. Bubbling when she saw the small infant already wrapped in the rabbit skin prepared for her. The creatures small ears hung around her head as she slumbered. "Everything is so perfect." She nodded as she turned away from the crib. "Sorrow knows what to wear too right?" She questioned nervously.
"Of course I do little one. I'll put my wings on when we get to the hall." The Protector appeared in the doorway smiling having let herself in. "I wouldn't miss your big moment for the world. Even if I don't understand why I'm part of the ceremony." She cast a curios look as she added the last part to the warrior in a low voice.
"We need your blood silly." Madalene scrunched up her nose as she moved back towards the doorway, oblivious that her statement had been odd. "I'm going to get a drink." She intended to move past her sister but was stopped.
"My blood?" Sorrow bent down a little shocked and more than a little worried. "Why?"
"Didn't Gideon tell you?" The little Princess looked at her a bit surprised.
"No, why don't you tell me?" Sorrow prompted, knowing all eyes were on the child.
"By tradition I have to make a blood sacrifice." Madalene stuck out her tongue in disgust. "But I'm only little so Gideon came up with the idea that if I was to use a needle to prick your finger I would be getting my inituatien..." She struggled with the last word.
"Your initiation." Gabrielle helped as she picked her daughter up and sat down with her on the bed. "Go on."
"Well since Sorrow is so powerful, if I have her blood as my offering." The child fidgeted with the fringe on her outfit. "Then it would guarantee the crystal's acceptance of my initiation." She managed to get the word right after some fumbling. "Which would be a good thing since I'm so little and need lots of time to learn."
"Oh I get it." Sorrow smiled at her mother's frown. "Gideon knows you'd never agree to her performing a sacrifice and I've got to be the closest thing to an..." The colour in her face paled as she realized just what she'd been about to say.
"Since you are powerful." Xena jumped in trying to keep this from turning into a chance for an ill timed argument. "It's not about the sacrifice, it's about the power obtained from the conquering and the offering."
"I'm starting to like this less and less." Gabrielle frowned deeper as she looked between the Protector and the warrior. "Let's go get you a drink honey." She picked her daughter up and moved out of the bedroom.
Kisinda hung at the back of the hall reluctantly moving to rest the harness and her axe near the entrance. That she felt naked without the weapon was an understatement. When her only calling in life had been that of a warrior, the forged metal had never been more than an arm's length away. But in her new role, the times she'd been separated from her trusty weapon had gotten longer and more frequent. She'd always thought that one day she'd be forced to hang it up for good and focus solely on her role as Shamaness but for the first time something inside her hung onto a seemingly genuine hope that she could be both. Running her calloused hand down the smooth handle she turned back to survey the hall, the long canine teeth of the leopard headdress she wore obstructing her view partially.
"Do you need anything else?" Tawnie moved away from the altar and approached her lover quietly.
"No. Are you going to be okay?" Kisinda asked worried. She knew only the Royal family, Gideon and herself were allowed in the hall during the ceremony. Her need to keep the healer safe had always been strong, but now that that her feelings had been expressed the priority of that safety had doubled overnight.
"I'll be just outside silly." The blonde leaned forward and kissed her softly. "Danu is supposed to be coming as well to wait, so I won't even be alone."
"Be careful." The warrior's voice was low as she ran a finger down the healer's cheek.
"Kissy, I'm in a village full of Amazon's." She laughed lightly. "But I know I'll be careful." She winked before moving back away and out the door.
"Kisinda." Gideon called to her as the healer left to join her at the front altar. "Our sister approaches, come we must prepare for her arrival."
"Well hello, fancy meeting you here." Gabrielle tried to hide her growing trepidation as she approached the hall and saw Tawnie exiting the building.
"Good evening your Highness." The healer smiled and bowed her head slightly having read the greeting from a distance that wouldn't have allowed natural hearing with the level of volume the bard had used.
"Looks like they ran out of funny headdress's before you got here." She laughed lightly. She appraised the difference in the young woman since the night of the bonfire. The old tension that had floated around her was now replaced with a aura of harmony and happiness. No one was more happy to see this than the Queen. Her appreciation and fondness for the young ice warrior had grown every time they had been able to talk or practice. Gabrielle knew when it finally came time for them to return to the mountains it would be difficult to see her new friend go. At the very least she owed the young warrior for showing her that a bladed weapon not always be solely used to kill. Though she knew that she wouldn't be giving up her staff anytime, her confidence with the sais was growing and she would now have two weapons to rely on to defend herself and her family.
"Such a shame I know." The healer laughed as the rest of the silent entourage hovered around. "I was so looking forward to my own pair of bunny ears but I hear someone special got those." She looked to the yawning baby in the Queen's arms.
"I'm sure if you ask Kisinda nice she might whip something up for you." Gabrielle smirked at the ice warrior and they exchanged knowing smiles. "So are they ready for us?" She asked finally knowing that she couldn't delay things much longer.
"Everything is ready inside." Tawnie nodded.
"We just have to wait for Danu." Sorrow looked back to the path just in time to see the archer arrive with a little girl in tow.
"Why is Thallia here?" It was the Warrior Princess' turn to feel a bit out of the loop.
"She has to be." Madalene gripped the hand in her own a little tighter as she looked up at the tall woman. "I'm going to marry her member?" The statement was made more as a fact that a question.
"Oh right." The warrior raised an eyebrow at the bard whose look quickly told her to drop it for now.
"Sorry we're late." Danu let Thallia climb down off her back.
"Is everything okay?" Gabrielle looked at the pale little girl, reaching out to the archer to take the lamb headdress from her that Thallia should be wearing.
"Just a little tummy ache, Oxin says it should be fine but right home after the ceremony." Danu reassured everyone.
"It'll be okay now." Madalene approached her small friend confidently and placed chubby fingers against her cheek.
"I know Mads and I wouldn't miss your big thing regardless." Thallia smiled enthusiastically though none of the adults could miss the strain in her face.
"We should get inside." Sorrow reached out and held Danu's hand for a second. "You two try to stay amused while we're inside." She smiled at the healer before leading the group in.
Danu and Tawnie hung in silence for a moment as they all went in. Looking around aimlessly at the trees and the closed doors of the hall.
"So Gabrielle tells me you're quite the wiz with those?" Danu pointed to the sharp weapons in the healer's boots in an attempt to break the silence.
Gabrielle was more than shocked by the transformation that had overtaken the hall. The walls were draped in various animal furs and magic totems while one end of the room was filled by an enormous skin covered table.
"Welcome to all who enter this sacred place." Gideon greeted them in a low sober voice as they came in. She made a small gesture to the Queen to put Thallia's headdress on.
"Why is it that you come?" Kisinda took her place at the other end of the table.
"I come to be recognized." Madalene stepped forward confidently, the tone of her voice overpowering her young age.
"And why would you be worthy of recognition?" Gideon asked her picking up a torch from the wall and lit another smaller one that sat near her in a holder on the floor.
"She is my daughter." Gabrielle moved forward to kneel in the middle of the room as she'd been instructed. Hanging back behind her daughter who was much closer to the table and the two ice Shamaness'. "I am Gabrielle, Queen of the Amazons. In her flows the royal blood of my line and my kingdom one day shall be hers."
"She is my daughter." Xena moved forward next and she kneeled to the bard's left slightly behind. "I am Xena, Warrior Princess. In her flows the blood of my intellect and skill and one day she shall surpass me in all that I have done."
"She is my sister." Sorrow stepped forward and kneeled down behind the bard to the right. "I am Princess Sorrow, Protector of the Amazons. In her lies the embodiment of my loyalty and to her I vow all that I am in service when she is Queen."
"This is Princess Anastasia her sister, she will be the balance, blessed balance." Thallia came last to repeat the words that the Princess had told her she need to say. She cradled the young infant safely in her arms as she moved forward to place Anastasia in the small woven cradle before kneeling beside it, her form almost obscured behind Gabrielle's. "I am Thallia. In her flows my life's love and my protection." The simple words of the child resounded in the hall.
"I am Kisinda, Shamaness of the South Ice Mountains. She bears the twin of my crystal." Kisinda moved from her place at the table and took Madalene's hand. "I stand with her and beseech the recognition of her devotion to the sacred ice crystal."
"If she be worthy of the shard, let her bring forward her sacrifice." Gideon moved around behind the thin table.
Releasing the ice warrior's hand, the Princess moved to Sorrow as the Protector released her wings. Grasping her sister's hand tightly, the little Princess led her to a small bench placed in front of the table.
"My sacrifice is the greatest on earth." Madalene retrieved the large thin needle from the table and lapped the area to drag it carefully through the flame of the torch Gideon had lit earlier. "The blood of pure power, given to me a child at my simple asking." Glancing up into Sorrow's comforting eyes, she took the Protector's hand and jabbed the needle into the top of her thumb. Her little face contorted in a grimace as she did so.
"I give this to you great Shamaness." Sorrow spoke the scripted words as she felt the trail of thick blood trail down her skin before the simple wound heated and closed itself. Turning her hand she reached out and rested it against the clean tan patch of skin that rested below the crystal around the Princess' neck. The drops of blood soaked in and turned the hide a deep crimson.
"It is time to ask the ancient keeper of the crystal if she accepts our newest sister." Gideon bent down onto her knees and closed her eyes. Knowing their place Madalene and Kisinda did the same. It was then that the older woman began chanting.
Solari made her way quickly to the two blonde's that stood talking outside the hall.
"Has it already begun?" The guard looked at the closed door already knowing the answer. She was having really bad luck lately with getting to see Gabrielle when she needed too.
"Yes, it's been going on for a bit already." Danu felt a tension grow into her shoulders. "Why? What's going on?"
"Well other than a big lynch mob from Kathans arriving at the west gate demanding immediate audience with the Queen things are just peachy." Solari rolled her eyes at their predicament.
"What's going on?" The archer wouldn't have figured Kathans to be the one causing trouble, their relations with the Nation had always been very peaceful.
"I think we finally know what village those two poor men belonged too." Solari frowned deeply. "They think the disappearances have something to do with us."
"They think we're the ones that killed them?" Danu couldn't believe what she was hearing.
"I don't even think they know their even dead yet." Solari looked to the hall again. "We have to at least stall them till Gabrielle can get there and explain."
"We should go see what we can do." It was Tawnie who tried to inject some rational into things. "It would be very unwise if someone was to let it slip that the men were dead or explained just how they were killed."
"Can you stay and bring the Queen as soon as this is over?" Danu turned to the healer.
"I'll have her there as soon as I can." Tawnie smiled and motioned for them to go.
As the archer and guard approached the gate it was easy to see that things weren't going well. The leader of the mob, a thick tall man was pointing his sword at various members of the gate's guard as he barked questions at them.
"I'm sure you are well aware that they will not take orders or inquiries from you sir." Danu approached him slowly, making sure to keep her quiver of arrows nearer the back of her leg to make her approach less aggressive.
"We want answers now!" He barked at the archer. "And if your Queen is afraid too see us we'll fight our way in to get what we want."
"Now you must know that would be a foolish idea sir. Our warriors are well trained and battle hardened." She shook her head lightly. "My name is Danu, I am married to the Queen's daughter and I assure you she will be here as soon as possible but she is other wised engaged at the moment."
"Two young men of our village are missing and one of them is my son. All tracks of them lead to your woods." He pointed the sword at her. "Tell her there is nothing more important right now then her answering my questions!"
"It's alright." She motioned for the guard who'd been racked into attack mode by his motion to back down. She knew there duty to protect her would dictate their actions long before their heads would realize that taking up the assault of these ill trained villagers was a mistake. "You are upset sir, can I please suggest you lower your sword and we can talk in a civilized manner till the Queen arrives."
"She better be quick." He reluctantly put his sword away as he eyed the dozen well skilled warrior's threatening to descend on him. "My son's life hangs in the balance."
"When was the last time you saw him?" She asked thoughtfully trying to get as much information as she could out of him. She was sure that once he knew the young man was dead there would be little hope of getting any help from them.
Gabrielle raised her eyes slightly to watch the scene before her. It was true she'd seen a lot of strange things in her travels over the years, but that an entity was being materialized before them in the hall was quite the new one.
"You have called me from my place in the caverns." The dim shadow of a form hovered cross legged above the table.
"Yes Ixter." Gideon dropped to her knees before the apparition. "We humbling ask for your blessing and permission to bring this young one into our circle."
"This is no child." The spirit of Ixter waved a shadowy hand to guide Madalene forward and to everyone's surprise the child did so without any sign of fear or hesitation. "Who are you?"
"I am the one." The Princess' hollow voice answered the apparition. "I am time."
"Where is the balance?" The shadow looked around her gaze falling on the cradle near the back of the group and Thallia standing beside it.
"All things are complete." Madalene nodded to her. "The time of training has begun."
"The crystal is yours as it should be." The shadow bowed to the young Shamaness. "But beware that which this power brings to you and the balance." The apparition pointed a wispy finger at Madalene's chest as the crystal there began to glow and her form disappeared.
"It's over." Madalene turned back to face them and smiled the smile of a child, all the normal tone back in her voice.
"What exactly was that?" Xena rose up first, more than a little unhappy with what had gone on.
"That... that..." The older Shamaness voice wavered slightly.
"That was Ixter." Kisinda's voice came a bit stronger. "I can't believe it."
"What can't you believe?" The warrior walked around to face her.
"She spoke." Gideon stated simply as she stood up. "Madalene spoke with her." She turned to look at the Princess.
"That wasn't supposed to happen?" Gabrielle finally rose up and went to the cradle to pick up Anastasia who had begun to whimper slightly. The child calmed the moment she was in her mother's arms.
"That has never happened." Kisinda finally made it to her feet. "Ixter only announces herself and then nods her approval or just disappears to say that she does not."
"We needed to talk." Madalene shrugged as she moved back to her small friend. "Thallia needs to go home now, can I take her?" She looked at the stunned group of adults waiting for someone to give her permission.
"Of course." Gabrielle nodded at her and looked to her warrior for comfort on what was going on.
"Sorrow, take your Mother and your sister to drop off Thallia and then straight home. I need to talk to Gideon and Kisinda." The Warrior Princess spoke in a stern voice and was met by a submissive nod from the Protector.
"Yes, there are things to discuss." Gideon nodded as well to the tall dark woman as the fading light of the day was cast into the darkened hall as Sorrow opened the door for her mother. The healer immediately filled the space.
"Is the ceremony over?" Tawnie was visibly agitated. She knew that along time had elapsed since Danu's departure and now.
"Yes, what's wrong?" Sorrow picked up on her state immediately.
"What's wrong?" Kisinda's voice mimicked a heartbeat later as she moved over to her new lover.
"A group of villagers from Kathans arrived at the west gate wanting answers." She moved over slightly towards the ice warrior. "From what Solari could gather the young men found in the woods were from that village. Danu went to see if she could keep things calm till you arrived my Queen." She nodded at the bard.
"We have to go." Gabrielle looked at the Warrior Princess. "They are a peaceful village, if they've arrived as a war party things need to be dealt with immediately."
"Mother, you and Xena go." Sorrow stood back holding the door open. "I'll bring the children home and bring in the guard to look after them so I can join you at the gate."
"Solari has called the guard to the gate." Tawnie broke in trying to fill them in. "A few of them ran by a short time ago."
"If it pleases the Queen, I can go and try to explain what happened to their men." Kisinda's voice was soft as she made the suggestion.
"I'd rather have you there in case of trouble." The Warrior Princess looked around the room. "The truth is none of these villagers is going to really give the guard any trouble but I don't want any of them getting killed accidentally. They're only upset and no one can blame them for that."
"As you wish." Kisinda removed her headdress and shrugged out of the heavy robes to reveal a small leather bikini top and short skirt. It was in answer to an unspoken request that Tawnie moved over and helped the ice warrior with her harness, so that her axe was soon in its place.
"Tawnie, would you be able to stay here with the children?" Gabrielle made the request as she tactically summed up who in the room was necessary at the gate. Leaving the Protector behind to baby-sit wasn't the most tactically sound idea and even though it would allow her personal comfort she had to think of the poor distraught villagers.
"Oh course my Queen." The healer nodded. "I'm sure Gideon and I can amuse them until you return."
"Just keep an eye on her." Gabrielle bent down and kissed the small black haired Princess on the nose. "She had a habit of running away from sitters and causing trouble."
"I won't Mother." Madalene shook her head. "I have to look after Thallia." Abandoning the adults, she moved off with the other youngster in tow.
"Let's go." Xena's order dragged everyone necessary back to the task at hand as they hurried towards the west gate.
"Would you assist me in clearing up then Tawnie?" Gideon, who had remained silent during the discussion, waved for the attention of the young healer.
"Oh course Gideon." She nodded and after checking on Anastasia, moved to pack up Kisinda's robes.
"Sir, again I suggest that you keep your feelings in some check for a moment and lower your sword." Danu repeated the familiar order without much fear of the rusty sword that was vaguely being waved in her direction to punctuate the man's statements. The Royal guard had been summoned and stood at the ready behind her. He would be unlikely to even get in one thrust before he'd be killed. "As I have told you I am the partner of Princess Sorrow, if the Royal Guard fears for my safety they will defend me and neither of us wants that to happen."
"You think your women warriors could take me?" He barked at her, flexing his arms. "I might seem out of shape but I was a skilled swordsman in my day and I could run you through before you'd even level your bow."
"Would that really be advisable?" Gabrielle entered the fray without a second thought. Seeing the tension in her daughter at the man's proximity to her wife made her immediate intervention necessary. "You have wanted my presence, but might I advise you will lose it if you don't stand down and speak rationally with me."
"It's about time." He finally sheathed his sword at the bard's arrival. "What have you done with our young men?"
"I have done nothing with them." The bard answered softly. "But I understand your worry and fear, as I have children of my own." She felt the Warrior Princess and Sorrow hovering behind her as she approached him. "Please there is no need to come here threatening violence. I will tell you all I know and offer all that I can to assist you."
"Easy thing to say when they've gone missing at your borders." He backed away a little from her softness.
"The first thing I ask is how you knew they were near our borders?" Gabrielle wanted to establish that these men were indeed the ones found brutalized.
"Serrin, my son, is a painter. He was gathering a certain flower in order to make pigment." He ran a hand through salt and pepper hair. "Your patrols have always let him cross the border to retrieve what he needed. One day he went to get flowers and has never come back."
"And the other missing boy?" Gabrielle scanned her memory banks unable to recall any report of a young man being allowed to gather flowers. It was a small transgression but with the recent events now a costly one.
"One of your harpies lured Morus away." The man's voice spat the words at her.
"Are you trying to say one of my warrior's came to Kathans and kidnapped him?" She found the idea preposterous.
"No, she came into the tavern and lured him into the forest with her promising things I would rather not repeat." He looked down briefly. A chink showing in his current hard armour as it embarrassed him to repeat such things to the young redhead in front of him who he realized looked far to much like his daughter.
"I assure you..." She realized she didn't even know his name.
"Regon." He filled in the missing information.
"I assure you Regon, none of my people have had leave to pass beyond our borders and visit your village. Whoever it is that lead him away was not Amazon. I suspect that someone is trying to make the disappearances of your young men look as if we are the perpetrators but I assure you we are not." She kept her voice even as she held her ground. She knew she would soon have to admit to him that the boys were dead and already buried but if she appeared to retreat from him now he might sense the movement and see it as fuel for his anger.
"I don't care who did what, we just want them back." Regon's voice dropped slightly.
"He means you no disrespect." A younger woman worked her way through the crowd. Her long reddish hair hung down over her shoulders and though tall she was very slight and fragile looking. "Queen Gabrielle, it is in haste that our village has appeared her today seeming to bring violence. What we really require is assistance to find them."
"Patria please." Regon put a hand on her arm to still her.
"No Father. There is no point coming here to threaten the Amazon's, even if indeed they have killed Serrin and Morus. Her guards could cut us down before we even drew a breath." She patted the hand on his arm. "We only need to know what happened so that our hearts might be put at peace either way."
"May I speak with you in private Patria?" Gabrielle saw the young woman's wisdom immediately. With any luck she might be able to use the girl's temperance to quell the anger within the situation.
"Of course." Patria nodded before she turned back to her father. "Go home now. I will come back and tell you all that they know."
"No!" He stood firm against the idea. "What if they..." He couldn't finish the idea.
"Father, they will not harm me any more than you would." Patria smiled at him. "Go home now before anyone gets hurt."
"I swear to you she will not see harm while she is within my borders and will be escorted home to you in safety." Gabrielle bowed her head to him.
Reluctantly the man turned, before looking back to his daughter to object. He knew there was no way he could and simply he began to walk away with the others in tow.
"Will you accompany me to the council hall?" Gabrielle asked formally, happy to see the young woman nod and begin to follow.
As the pair walked away, the Warrior Princess followed close behind. Though it would be foolish to quell the villager's offer of peace by following with a contingent of the guard, she could not be lax enough to leave Gabrielle to deal with the woman alone. The warrior had seen danger come in many forms and there was no reason it could not come as a thin redhead who seemed a bit too eager to embrace rational conversation over hot headed reaction. As the Protector and her archer fell into step beside her she felt another idea come to mind.
"Sorrow, follow them home by the air but make sure they don't see you." Xena kept her voice low. "I don't want whoever has done this getting another chance to take any of them." The Protector nodded and moved off immediately leaving the archer by the Warrior Princess' side.
"Please have a seat." Gabrielle pulled out one of the chairs as she herself took the one next to it. She'd been glad when Xena had hung outside and kept the rest of their unobvious escort with her.
"I do not mean to be direct but they are dead aren't they?" Patria sat down folding her hands in her lap.
"I can't lie, they are." The bard's voice was sombre. "But I swear that it was not by Amazon hand that they died."
"I believe you, there is no reason for one so great to take two so small." The young woman's voice was shaky as she dealt with the confirmation that her brother was dead.
"Their bodies were found within our borders and we have struggled to find out who they were and how they came to be here." Gabrielle continued to try and explain.
"How were they killed?" Patria stood up and moved to the small cloth covered window nearby.
"I can't tell you." The bard shook her head. "Those who found them said that it was impossible to tell what had been done to them. The violence was too great."
"Where are their bodies?" She turned from the window with a mist of tears in her eyes.
"They are both buried close to where we found them." Gabrielle rose to walk to her desk and retrieved a small cloth offering it to the woman. "I offer the service of my guards so that they might be laid to proper rest with their kin."
"That would be very kind. It has always been my brother's wish to be laid near our mother if he was unmarried." Patria took a deep breath. "Do you have any idea who killed them?"
"I'm sorry." She shook her head. "But that is a mystery we've been trying to solve ourselves."
"Father didn't know, but Serrin didn't come into your territory just for the flowers." Patria sat down again sighing gently. "I didn't want to tell him when all of this nonsense about attacking your border started because I knew it would only fuel him on." She watched the Queen sit down with her and waited till she had settled before she continued. "There is one named Leri among you, yes?" Gabrielle nodded. "She and my brother were..." She didn't bother to finish.
"I see." The Queen nodded. "I will speak with her to see if she can offer any other insight into what happened but in the meantime." She reached across and patted the other woman's hand. "Might I offer rest or dinner while things are prepared so that you can bring them home to rest."
"You are very kind." Patria nodded.
Gabrielle waited impatiently for Leri to be brought to the council chambers. Xena had agreed to go with the first team to exhume the remains of the young man they'd found close to the southern ridge. While a quick call from Danu to her daughter had sent the Princess directly to meet the other team in the northern forest.
"You summoned me my Queen." Leri entered the room scared as she went to her knees immediately.
"Yes, I did." Gabrielle motioned for her to rise. "I have a few questions for you."
"I will answer anything." The young woman rose slowly unable to meet the Queen's eyes.
"How long have you been secretly meeting with a young man from Kathans?" She asked the question bluntly. She was neither in the mood for tact or decorum.
"Four moons." Leri's voice cracked as she answered.
"How many times have you met with him?" She intended to make her questions quick and direct in order to facilitate the flow of information.
"Every time I had patrol in the forest near Kathans." The warrior wished she could crawl under the floorboards at her feet.
"So at least three times a month you have disobeyed all protocol and probably a number of direct orders in order to meet with this young man?"
"Yes, your Majesty." Leri dropped to her knees again. "I'm sorry, I didn't want to betray the Nation. I meant no harm, it's just..." She hesitated and the glare of Gabrielle's eyes made her continue. "I'm in love with him."
"Well then Leri I have something to tell you that is likely to be much worse than punishment." The Queen rose from her seat with her voice soft for the first time. "Serrin is dead." She moved over to put her hand on the woman's shoulder. "Enemies unknown used his travels into our territories in order to kill him and frame the Nation for his death."
"Serrin's dead?" The warrior tried to blink the hot tears from her eyes.
"Yes, I'm sorry." Gabrielle frowned as she urged the woman to get up. "Go back to your quarters, there will be no other punishment."
Just able to hold back her tears until she was outside, Leri ran towards her hut past Danu in hysterics. Not sure what had gone on the archer went into the council chambers.
"Is everything okay?" Danu asked softly as she came in to see the bard leaned over her desk slightly.
"Yeah, I just had to tell her that her lover is dead." Gabrielle turned and pulled herself up to sit on the desk. "And worse of all that he's probably dead because of meeting her."
"Never an easy thing." Danu tried to be supportive.
"No, it's not." The bard nodded. "I only wish I knew who was behind this. All I know is someone breathing down my neck but I can't figure out who."
"Try not to let it worry you right now." Danu moved over and patted her shoulder. "Sorrow and Xena's teams will make sure that everything goes smoothly and then we can all focus together on catching whoever did this."
"Your right." Gabrielle smiled at her. "I just wish I could shake this feeling that the answer is right under our noses but we're missing it."
To be continued in Part Four...
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