Trial by Sorrow
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. Also note: some of the violence portrayed results in children being injured and the aftermath of these injuries is dealt with in some detail.
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 fifth in my Sorrow series and begins the day after the fourth story ends. I strongly recommend reading the other stories to understand what is going on in this one. You might find yourself a bit confused if you don't.
TISSUE ALERT: I've been warned to include this after not warning people of the sad nature of some of the other stories. As there are some sad scenes in this one too, you might want to keep some tissues handy just in case.
FEEDBACK: Any comments would be greatly appreciated.
SPECIAL THANKS: Thanks to Alina for beta reading my latest little rambling and for being the first ever to call me a romantic mussball. Thanks to Lizzy for going on vacation (hope you had a good time) and making me realize how just how much easier life would be if I paid more attention to grammar. To Gin the Answer Lady, thanks for reminding me I had no one to blame but myself for the plot and for believing I could actually finish it... even when it looked impossible.
"Good Morning, my Queen." Danu called when she saw Gabrielle sitting on the porch, as she approached the Royal house.
"Danu," the bard responded, looking up from her scroll. "I think after all we've been through you can call me Gabrielle."
'Or maybe soon you'll be calling me Mom.' She thought to herself, remembering the exchange between the archer and her daughter the day before.
"Gabrielle," Danu spoke her name to consolidate her right to use it. "I was wondering how Sorrow's doing?"
"She slept soundly through the night. She's still asleep but I'm sure she wouldn't mind waking up to find you there." Gabrielle squinted through the morning sunshine. She found it hard to believe that after the torrent of rain the day before, this day could've awoken so brightly.
"Are you sure?" Danu took a step closer. She'd hated leaving the Princess the previous night, but by her own admission, Sorrow had desperately needed to sleep. When she'd been taken to the Royal house Danu had reluctantly let her go and went home. Home to find Tearnon patiently waiting for her. Home to an argument, that she was sure, half the village had heard. Gabrielle watched the archer's face first beam and then cloud over as the moments passed.
"Danu, please come and sit with me." Gabrielle decided to get all of the formality out of their relationship right then, hoping it would allow the archer would open up to her. Taking the request as an order, Danu moved quickly to sit on the bench next to the bard. "I know at certain times it will be necessary for you to treat me as your Queen. But I'd really like to keep those times to a minimum. The rest of the time I would like us to be friends. I'm not sure but I think my daughter is quite fond of you." She winked at Danu.
Danu allowed her mouth to curl into a half smile and nodded.
"Now get in there." Gabrielle laughed as she turned back to her writing. She knew it would still take some time before Danu was totally comfortable around her.
"I think she's even more afraid of you then me." Xena came from around the corner of the house, just as Danu disappeared inside.
"That would be a mistake!" The bard's response was punctuated by Xena flipping over the porch railing to land beside her on the bench.
"I'm just a little old Warrior Princess..."
"And I'm just the Queen. I'm trying to get her over that." Gabrielle cut her off.
"I don't think that's the only thing." The warrior rested her arm behind the bard and played with her hair. Gabrielle just stared at her, waiting for her to explain. "You are Sorrow's mother. That does result in a little nervousness for the person in love with her."
"I never thought of that." Her face saddened a little at the thought. She really did like the archer.
"And after your recent display of over-protectiveness." Xena moved her hand from the golden hair up to the bard's shoulder and began to lightly massage the taunt muscles.
"I don't think I was the only one guilty of that and beside he was a madman." She sighed as she thought of their most recent brush with death.
"What are you writing?" Xena tried to change the subject. Silently cursing herself for bringing up any reminder of King Rike.
"Actually, I was writing about just that." Gabrielle held the scroll up for her to see. "So don't worry. You didn't cause that sigh." She read the warrior's thoughts easily.
"You don't usually start a story so soon after." Xena commented, as she read the parchment. "So that's what I looked like through your eyes." She finished reading the passage that described her arrival into the courtyard with Sorrow the day Lord Dunlop had visited.
"No, not entirely." Gabrielle took the scroll out of the warrior's hands and leaned in closer. "I left out the part about you being drop dead gorgeous and how my heart nearly leapt from my cheast at the mere sight of you."
"Good thing!" She released the low growl as she pulled the bard closer. "Then you would've had to mention how unbelievably beautiful you looked sitting there in the sunlight." Not waiting for a response, she leaned in for a kiss.
Danu slipped as silently through the door as she could. The small twitch of Sorrow's lip told her that she hadn't been quite enough. Despite being in the deep sleep that allowed her body to heal, Sorrow's senses still picked up on the slightest sound or movement. Danu was happy to see the nervous twitch turn into a little smile as Sorrow's senses realized who had entered the room. The Princess didn't stir as Danu pulled a chair beside the head of the bed and sat down. Instinctually, Sorrow rolled over to that side of the bed to face the archer as she slept. Danu almost laughed as the hand of the sleeping form moved lazily to capture hers. Knowing what was being asked, Danu placed her hand onto Sorrow's head.
"Sleep my love." She whispered as she ran her fingers through Sorrow's mane. "I'm right here where I should be."
The regenerating sleep possessed her for another candlemark before Danu saw signs of her awakening. A sudden flex of her leg and then a change in her breathing. No longer the fast and deep pace then would make anyone else hyperventilate.
"I'm having the most wonderful dream," Sorrow spoke without opening her eyes.
"And what would that be?" Danu stayed her hand but quickly continued stroking when Sorrow frowned in protest.
"This." She whispered as she opened her eyes to stare into the archer's. How she loved to look into those rich brown eyes. Reaching up she brought Danu's hand down and kissed its palm. The sudden feeling of extreme heat on the archer's hand couldn't be accounted for by her arousal alone.
"How are you feeling?" She scooted out of the chair and onto the edge of the bed.
"Why don't you tell me?" Sorrow countered the question with a mischievous grin, as she placed Danu's hand onto the bare flesh of her collarbone.
"You're burning up!" Danu couldn't hide her worry.
"It's all right. It means I'm healing." Sorrow saw the archer's fear and tried to calm her. "Fire is a very powerful tool in my Father's realm. The heat is just my body's way of using that power to repair itself."
"It's much nicer that when you were cold." Danu remembered the icy feel that Sorrow's skin had once possessed.
"With you around, I could never be cold." With the little reserve strength she'd accumulated, she shot up to wrap her arms around Danu and pull her down onto the bed.
"Sorrow, your Mother is just outside on the porch." Despite her own objections she snuggled into Sorrow's shoulder.
"Don't worry, I'm afraid I'm still too weak to do anything that would get us in trouble." Sorrow bent down to steal a quick kiss and was happy to let it become an extended engagement.
"Sorrow, be good." Danu finally made herself break the kiss. "What would your Mother and Xena do if they saw me in here taking advantage of you?" She didn't understand why she was feeling so shy. After all they were in an Amazon village and she was an Amazon.
"Xena's going to close the door and make sure we have some privacy for awhile," She whispered the words so only Danu could hear them. Before the archer could question her choice of phrasing, she heard the small thud as the bedroom door was pulled shut. Turning a very deep shade of red she buried her head into Sorrow's cheast. "It's all right Danu. If there are two people who know about the importance of love, it's my Mother and Xena. They've been to Tartarus and back to be with each other."
"Kinda like us." Danu mumbled the words into the Princess' cheast, not knowing if she was wrong to make the comparison.
"Exactly." Sorrow's gentle touch coaxed her face upwards. "They know that you beside me is the only medicine I need."
"I'm still embarrassed." Danu answered honestly. "I don't know why but I'm so nervous around your Mother now."
"You weren't embarrassed or nervous yesterday." Sorrow teased her. "Mother, Xena and half a dozen other Amazon's were in the room with us then."
"That was different." She said blushing again. Sorrow watched sadly as the blush turned pale. "I'd said all those terrible things and then you'd died in my arms."
"Sssshh." Sorrow stroked the archer's blond hair. "I didn't mean to make you think about that."
"I wish I had the power to take back every one of my hateful words." Lost in her own guilt, the archer suddenly felt very unworthy to be laying there with her Princess. "I love you."
"You have a greater power than anything I've ever know." Sorrow spoke the words knowing they had extra meaning coming from the daughter of Dahak. "And you wield it every time you say those three little words."
"Then I love you, I love you, I love you..." Danu punctuated each 'you' with a gentle kiss.
"Would you like to go for a walk, my love?" Xena came out of the front door beaming.
"Yes, but I thought you were going inside to clean up?" Gabrielle rolled up the scroll and tucked it into its case. She was glad to have a good reason to stop writing. Although she knew this was an important story to chronicle, she also knew it would be very hard to write.
"Sorrow is feeling a tiny bit more energetic this morning. I figured it would be nice to give them some privacy." Xena offered her hand and helped the bard to stand. "We both know they have a lot to talk about." She attempted to clarify what she's seen, knowing Gabrielle had gotten another idea from her first comment.
"That's no fun." She wrapped her arms around Xena muscular neck. "You and I wouldn't be talking."
"If I had gone through what she has, I'm afraid that we would." The warrior laughed.
"He poisoned you as well, remember?" The bard's brow furrowed with the memory of seeing Xena fall.
"I've been meaning to talk to you about that," Xena answered, leading her off the porch. "I was really hoping that you could leave the part about sticking your fingers down my throat out of the story."
"You're not mad at me for doing that are you?" Gabrielle has seen the warrior stiffen at the memory. She knew the idea of being that vulnerable hurt Xena's pride.
"You saved my life Gabrielle. How could I be mad at you?" Xena halted their steps and turned to face at her. "But I would be upset to have all of Greece knowing about it. I have a reputation to maintain." She raised an eyebrow.
"All right! Not one word about you throwing up. I'll just have to stretch the truth a little and say that not being affected by deadly poisons is another one of your many skills." Gabrielle smiled widely at the look she was getting. "After all this time I think I know what's good or bad for your reputation."
Laughing, Xena clasped the bard's hand and they resumed their walk.
"You look tired," Sorrow whispered, when she saw Danu's eyes getting heavy. "You didn't sleep well last night, did you?"
"No." Danu yawned. She knew sleep would have to wait a few more minutes. "When I went home Tearnon was waiting for me."
"She didn't hurt you did she?" Sorrow tensed at the guard's name. "Cause if she did..."
"Calm down," the archer hugged her closer. "She just had a few questions about what was going on."
'And a few choice comments about you.' Danu kept that thought to herself.
"You want to tell me about it?" Sorrow let herself relax in Danu's grip.
"She was just standing outside of my hut. She didn't understand what was going on, so I explained it too her." Danu knew the short explanation wasn't going to cut it.
"And she understood? Just like that?" Sorrow asked.
"Not really. She ended up screaming a lot. I just kept telling her that I love you and nothing will change that. I think she was really bothered that all the time I was with her, I really wanted to be with you." Danu tightened her grip on Sorrow to reinforce the truth in her word. "Finally after awhile she just swore at me, took her stuff and stalked off."
"I'm sorry, I should've been there to calm her down. You don't deserve to be yelled at like that." Sorrow cursed her own weakness and then cursed Ares.
"It's all right. She's just really hurt. I'm sure she'll get over it." Danu didn't know if she believed her own words. One thing she had learned during her time with Tearnon, was that the guard didn't forgive things easily.
"I'm not worried about her, I'm worried about you. Are you all right?" The Protector spoke softly.
"Better than I have ever been." Danu's heart answered as she snuggled in, taking a few deep breaths she allowed herself to sleep.
Sorrow patiently waited for the archer's breathing to reach a steady pace. Yawning, she gave into her own body's demand and went back to sleep as well.
"Do you really think they'll start a war?" The Queen asked as they walked.
"I hope not." Xena felt less confident about her answer when she saw Ephiny wave to them across the courtyard.
"I was just coming to find you," the Regent said, handing a scroll to Gabrielle. "This just came in from the northern border."
"I can't believe this." The Queen had already finished reading the short letter and handed it to Xena.
"Now this is something I didn't expect." Xena reread the letter, focusing in on the name at the bottom. "I don't remember meeting a Queen Delany when we were in Aldernon."
"What?" Ephiny asked for an explanation. "Are they declaring war?"
"No," the warrior spoke coarsely. "They want to put Danu on trial for murdering King Rike."
Ephiny's eyes widened. Gabrielle just shook her head and sighed.
'One day,' she asked the heavens silently. 'Could we just have one day without any problems?'
"I'll find Danu." Ephiny tried to offer her help, expecting that the pair would need time to work out a plan.
"That won't be too hard." Xena thought of the happy pair curled up at her house. "She's at our place. Come on."
"Danu," Sorrow whispered, hating to disturb sleeping woman in her arms. "Danu, I think you better wake up."
"What?" Danu's eyes darted open, expecting the worse. Seeing Sorrow's smiling face she relaxed.
"Well not that it bothers me, but I thought you should know that Mother, Xena and Ephiny just came through the front door." She placed a soft kiss on the archer's forehead. "I didn't want you to be embarrassed."
Stealing a brief kiss, Danu moved to a sitting position just as the Xena knocked on the door.
"Come in," Sorrow called out, smiling at Danu who was busy smoothing out her skirt.
"Sorry to interrupt." Entering first, Xena winked at Sorrow. The Princess couldn't help but laugh.
"How are you feeling?" Gabrielle moved past the warrior towards her daughter.
"Better, but weak." She knew they could all see how frail she was. Ares' poison had almost been successful and her body was working overtime to fix itself.
"But you're still burning up." Gabrielle placed her hand on her daughter's forehead. "Remind me again that's a good thing!"
"It's a very good thing." Sorrow tried to give her a bright smile. "Hey there Ephiny."
"Hello Princess, I'm glad to see you're feeling better." The Regent smiled at her.
"Oh no, she's calling me Princess. I knew something was wrong." Sorrow looked directly at her Mother. Hers would be the one face that would give her a true idea of what was going on. "So?"
"I should give you some privacy." Danu squeezed Sorrow's hand and moved off of the bed to stand.
"No Danu, please stay." Gabrielle tried to ease the woman's nerves for the moment. "A letter arrived from Aldernon."
"I'm going to assume it wasn't an apology for trying to kill Xena and myself." Sorrow joked lightly, as her insides turned.
"No, not exactly." Gabrielle handed Sorrow the letter. She read it quickly and handed it to Danu. They all waited for her to finish reading.
"Can she really do this?" Danu looked to her Queen for answers.
"I'm afraid she can try." The bard bit her lip, remembering the treaty she had signed with King Rike. "There is a little clause in the treaty that says prosecution with occur in the kingdom in which the law has been broken and that the judicial system of that kingdom will be used."
"Maybe I'm missing something here. She hasn't murdered anyone. He had a dagger over my heart at the time. Not to mention the fact he'd tried to kill Xena. Danu hasn't committed any crime." Sorrow was visibly upset.
"By their law she has. Killing a member of their Royal family, no matter what said member is doing, is considered murder." Gabrielle hated to be the antagonist, but they both needed to know the truth.
"So, either the Nation goes to war..." Danu took a deep breath. "Or I go on trial for murder."
"Oh no! There isn't going to be a trial or a war. I'm going to put an end to this right now. " Sorrow moved quickly to stand, thinking her growing rage would give her strength. When her vision went black, she knew she had made a slight miscalculation
Xena took two quick steps, catching Sorrow just as her knees buckled.
"It's all right, I've got you!" Xena knew that the Princess couldn't hear her. She said the words more to comfort Gabrielle and Danu, as she lifted her unconscious daughter back onto the bed.
A heartbeat later, Sorrow's eyes flickered open.
"I passed out didn't I." She looked sadly at Danu. All the archer could do was nod. It was so hard to watch Sorrow this way and even worse to watch her struggle against it. Not caring who was in the room with them, she crawled up next to Sorrow on her knees.
"Promise me you won't do that again, please?" She put her hand on Sorrow's cheek, fixing brown eyes into green ones.
"You know I can't do that." The Princess wanted so desperately to raise her hand to meet the archer's, but the limb seemed just to heavy to move.
"Could we please have a minute alone?" Danu turned and asked the question sheepishly.
Knowing what the archer intended to do, Gabrielle gave Xena a slight nudge toward the door. Ephiny had already retreated into the main room. The door closed with a familiar gentle thud.
"Danu, I won't lay like an invalid while you're in danger." Sorrow used will alone to raise her hand to catch the archer's arm.
"My Princess," she whispered, her heart falling as she watched Sorrow struggle. "I don't think you have much of a choice."
"There is always a choice." Sorrow corrected her, desperately trying to think of one.
"Funny you should say that, because I believe there is." Taking Sorrow's hand, she held it in her lap. "And my choice is to go on trial. I won't have the Nation go to war over me."
"The nation won't go to war, I will." Sorrow buried all of her physical pain down deep. She was more afraid of the pain in her heart. "You know you won't get a fair trial. They'll find you guilty and demand a public execution. Do you really think I can let that happen?"
"No, I know you couldn't." Danu's eyes welled up with tears. "But if you go into battle to defend me, sooner or later you'll tire and you'll die."
"I haven't died yet and I've faced much bigger things than a army!" She faked a big smile, hating the pain she saw in the archer's eyes.
"Sorrow, please no jokes." Danu fought for control, as a small tear rolled down her cheek.
"You know I can't bear to see you cry, but I still can't promise you that I won't try to protect you." Sorrow knew her current state left her defeated. "But the choice is yours to make. Either way, I'll support you."
"Then I go to trial." She shuddered with the thought.
"Then we go to trial." Sorrow corrected her.
"No!" The archer's voice was stern. "You're going to stay here and rest until you're healthy again."
"Wait, not only do you not want me to try and stop this, but you want me to stay here?" Sorrow's voice revealed every ounce of her displeasure.
"Yes. I don't say this to hurt you." Danu rubbed the hand in her lap. "But you're too easy of a target right now."
'If they touch one hair on your head.' The thought made Sorrow bite her lip so hard she drew blood. 'I'll hunt every last forsaken member of that kingdom down and teach them what true suffering is.'
"Xena?" Danu's voice broke the silence she found in the main room. "Sorrow would like to speak to you."
Silently the warrior rose and went into her daughter's room. Danu pulled the door closed behind the warrior and took the empty seat at the table.
"I convinced her to let me go to trial." Danu looked at the floor as she spoke. "And not to endanger herself, unless it's absolutely necessary. I couldn't make her promise..." She didn't bother to finish the thought, knowing both the Queen and Regent already understood.
"She's right. The best choice is for her to go on trial." Xena answered the unasked question as she sat in the chair next to the bed. "In the very least it'll buy you time to heal."
"I know, I just don't like this." Sorrow looked at the warrior sadly. "I know it upset her, but I wouldn't promise, I couldn't promise."
Xena nodded. If it was Gabrielle who faced this death sentence, she knew she would be unable to make that vow.
"Will you do two things for me?" Sorrow struggled to sit up.
"Anything!" Xena moved to help her. Propping the Princess up on a pillow, she sat on the edge of the bed.
"I know if there's trouble, you'll think to save Mother first. Please think of her second." Sorrow locked her eyes to Xena's. "And promise me you'll call me the moment anyone makes a move to hurt her. You have to give me a chance to save her, even if I die trying." Xena nodded and pact between them was sealed.
"There is always a chance that we can reason with the judge." Gabrielle looked up to see Xena exiting Sorrow's room. When the warrior wouldn't hold her eyes, her heart knew that something had been agreed upon behind that closed door. Something none of them would like.
"She's asleep again." Xena leaned against the wall beside Gabrielle. "Danu, she'd like you to go in whenever we're finished here and wake her."
"Actually, I was hoping you'd allow me to send someone to get your things. We'd like you to stay here with us until we leave." Gabrielle glanced up at the warrior, who nodded her approval.
"Thank you." Danu brushed a stray hair from her face.
"What are we going to do if they find her guilty? Which I'm sure they will." Ephiny asked the question again. Unable to see any way of reasoning with whomever was going to judge the trial.
"First, Gabrielle will argue against the charges. While I figure out what kind of an army they have to back up their threats. If they do find her guilty, we'll just have to buy enough time to figure out something else." Xena stared into Ephiny, resenting the bluntness of her question.
"Under no circumstances will the Nation go to war," Danu spoke loudly, not the least bit intimidated by any of them regarding this. "I don't want to die, but I will not have other Amazon's dying in my place."
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves." Gabrielle tried to bring calm to the situation. "All we know so far is that we have to be there by the crescent moon. Which means we still have three days before we need to leave. Let's not have any more talk of war or dying until it's absolutely necessary."
"I promised Madalene I'd pick her up from daycare." Xena stared out the window as she spoke. Despite the bard's instruction, she still though of war and Sorrow dying to save Danu.
"You should go and get her then. Ephiny and I are going to look over the treaty and see if we can find any loop holes." Gabrielle reached out to lay her hand on Danu's arm. "I'll tell Eponin that you're not to be scheduled for patrol until after we get all of this worked out. Your place is with my daughter."
Once everyone had left, Danu slipped back into Sorrow's room. She had no intention of waking the Princess. Half of her felt like laughing, while the other half felt like crying when the unconscious figure motioned for her to come lay down. Even deep within the recesses of her healing sleep, Sorrow knew exactly what the archer wanted. More importantly, she knew exactly what the archer needed.
"I love you." Pulling the smaller woman close to her, Sorrow awoke long enough to whisper the words the archer longed to hear.
Syn waited until she was right next to the Royal guard before she spoke.
"Tearnon, you're going to be waiting a long time for her to come home." The tall warrior used her staff to tap the door of Danu's hut.
"What do you mean? I'm not waiting for anyone." Tearnon turned viscously on the uninvited comment.
"Hey, I'm on your side!" Syn took a step back. "I just thought you should know that Danu no longer lives here." The guard's wide eyes gave her the inclination to continue. "Monka had orders earlier to come and collect all of her things." She stopped, deciding to make Tearnon ask if she wanted to know more. She wasn't disappointed.
"Where did Monka take her things?" Tearnon held her clenched fist behind her back.
"The Royal house," Syn spoke softly, trying to look saddened. "It appears the demon Princess is getting everything she wants. At the expense of loyal Amazon's like yourself."
Syn hadn't heard the argument between Tearnon and Danu firsthand. But she had been given a through report by one of her underlings. This could be just the opportunity that she needed.
"Damn right she's a demon," Tearnon answered, glad to finally have someone agree with her. "I spend every waking minute trying to make Danu happy and what do I get? She leaves me the first time that animal flies back into village."
"It's not your fault or Danu's" Syn took a step closer to the guard, not wanting to risk that her next words would be heard by uninvited ears. "The problem is Sorrow and the rest of the Royal family. The Nation would be much better off..."
"Syn, you're talking treason! I should arrest you right now." The guard's low hiss cut her off.
"Tearnon, we both know I'm telling the truth." Syn leaned in closer as she spoke. "If you really think I'm wrong, you can arrest me!" She held her hands in front of her.
"I don't have time for this!" Tearnon slapped Syn's hands out of the air.
"Why don't you come to my hut at dusk then? We could talk some more." Syn smiled. "I just want you to know that some of us are on your side."
"Maybe." Tearnon took one more look at her former home, before walking off.
'This is better than I expected,' Syn thought as she watched the guard walk away. 'This may be exactly the distraction we need.'
"Good Afternoon your Highness." Janyn, the daycare assistant, approached Xena the moment she entered the hall.
"Hello," Xena answered. "Is Madalene ready?"
"Actually," Janyn came a little closer. "I was wondering if I could speak to you about something for a minute. We've been having a little problem with the Princess."
"Problem?" The warrior looked over to see Madalene playing with another little girl at the far end of the daycare.
"Just a little one." The assistant had hoped to speak with the Queen. "Madalene has been a little aggressive towards some of the other children."
"In what way?" Xena questioned, trying to keep herself from laughing. She wondered how anyone could be surprised that her daughter was a little aggressive.
"In the last four days she's attacked five other children."
"What were they doing to her?" Xena didn't like Janyn's use of the word attack.
"Nothing that anyone can tell." Janyn cowered under the warrior's stare. "When I've broken them up, Madalene just says it was nothing. The other children are starting to fear her."
"I'll have a talk with her." Xena walked past the assistant to where Madalene was playing.
"Mommy," Madalene screamed when she saw Xena approaching. "I knew you'd keep your promise."
"I never break a promise." Xena bent down to receive a big bear hug from the little Princess. "Who's your friend?"
Xena studied the small, brown haired child. Slightly disturbed by the dark circles under the child's hazel eyes and her sickly complexion.
"This is Thallia!" Madalene released her hug and moved to help her playmate stand up. "She's my bestest friend."
"Hi Thallia," the warrior spoke quietly, trying not to frighten the frail little creature.
"Hello your Majesty." A happy voice came out of the child, who could hardly believe she was talking to the mighty Warrior Princess.
"Mommy?" Madalene asked, holding onto her friend's hand. "Can we walk Thallia home?"
"Sure." Xena smiled brightly at the request. She was curious to see who the youngster parents were and question how she was being treated.
The two girls walked ahead of the warrior, who couldn't believe her eyes when they stopped in front of the healer's hut.
"You live with Oxin?" Xena asked, just as the healer came out to greet them.
"Your Highness, is something wrong?" Oxin was alarmed to see the warrior bringing Thallia home.
"No, everything's fine." Xena moved over to the healer as the two little girls suddenly became very interested in their own conversation. "Madalene just wanted to walk your daughter home."
"She's not really my daughter." Oxin offered. "I took her into my care when her mother died." She continued without any further questioning, knowing Xena would be wondering about Thallia's appearance. "I was called up to assist a healer in a small tribe to the north. One of their warrior's had hemorrhaged to death during childbirth. The healer managed to save the baby, but the infant obviously had something wrong with her. This particular tribe is very superstitious and their priestess was afraid she was a omen of bad times. I feared for the poor thing's life, so I brought her home with me. She's been under my care ever since."
"What's wrong with her?" Xena asked the obvious question.
"That's the baffling part," Oxin sighed. "She has terrible pain's in her abdomen most of the time. Often she can't bare to eat at all. I really never expected her to live as long as she has." She smiled brightly as the little one caught her looking. "By the Gods Xena, I have never seen such an intelligent child in all my life. She was able to name every healing herb and it's properties by sight before she was three and just recently she taught herself to read and write. It's just so sad that's she's in pain all the time."
Xena nodded. Saddened to hear that Thallia had to suffer so much, but also thankful that her own daughter was healthy.
"Mommy," Madalene interrupted them. "We should go home now. Thallia needs to lie down and rest."
"Let's go then." Xena hoisted the little Princess up onto her shoulders and nodded to the healer.
"Bye Thallia." Madalene turned from her perch to wave to her friend as they walked away.
Danu was still curled up in Sorrow's arms when Gabrielle quietly entered the room.
"Danu... Danu," the Queen's soft whisper drew her out of a dreamless sleep.
"Is something wrong?" She asked quietly, hoping her voice wouldn't wake Sorrow. She was glad when the deep, fast breathing of the Princess didn't change.
"No, I just thought you might be hungry. The cooks were kind enough to deliver dinner here. I hoped you and I could eat together." Gabrielle stayed close to the doorway and watched Danu untangle herself from Sorrow's embrace.
"Thank you. I can't remember the last time I ate." Sitting down at the table in the main room she though about the turmoil of the last few days. How naïve had she been to hope that there would be no more problems, that she could possibly spend the rest of her life in happiness. Just loving Sorrow.
"You should've said something." Gabrielle took the covering off the bowl of hot stew and handed it to her. "Sorrow says she won't have to eat as long as the heat stays. I don't want to see you starving yourself just because she isn't eating."
Digging into the stew, Danu couldn't help but smile.
"What's that about?" the bard asked smiling back. She'd noticed the brief happiness as it crossed the archer's face and hoped that talking about it's origin might lighten the woman's mood.
"I was remembering how nice it is to have people worry about if you've eaten or gotten enough sleep." She let the memories of her mother and sister wash over her.
"You're part of our family now." Gabrielle stopped eating to look at Danu. "If you want to be?"
Danu nodded, taking a piece of bread from the tray in front of her.
"When Mother died I was eight and my sister Latty was twelve." Danu looked at Gabrielle for a moment, seeing the encouragement in the bard's eyes she continued. "One morning she woke us up and told us to pack an overnight kit. She was taking us on a trip." She took a sip from the cup in front of her. "We were only a half day's distance from the border when the bandits attacked us. She took down three of them before..." Danu focused in on the memory. "When the sword went into her, time slowed to a crawl for me. Another of the bandit's was carrying Latty off into the forest. She had tried to fight him with her staff but she was only a child." She took another sip. "There was a bow nearby, so I picked it up. I didn't think about what I was doing, I just did it. I put an arrow in the throat of the man who'd killed my Mother. Two into the cheast of another bandit who was running towards me and then three into the trees."
"Into the trees?" Gabrielle had asked the question in a heartbeat, desperate to know what had happened next.
"Yes, three into the trees." Danu nodded. "I couldn't see them with my eyes but my mind knew where he'd taken Latty. All three pierced his heart." The story was so unbelievable that she wasn't surprised by the look of shock on Gabrielle's face. She'd seen the same look every time she told the story. "Latty came running out of trees thinking Mother had saved her. All she found was me standing there with the bow in my hand." She'd never forget the expression on her sister's face. The sudden loss of innocence as Latty looked at their Mother and realized the fatal stab wound had already taken her. "Latty took charge. We did our best to build a stretcher. It took us two days to carry her home."
"Oh, Danu," she whispered, as she moved over to where the archer sat and crouched down.
"If only I had thought to pick up the bow sooner. I might have saved her." Danu felt the hot tears rising in her eyes.
"You were only a child." Gabrielle wiped a lone tear off the archer's cheek. Hardly able to believe that this beautiful creature had found the strength to kill so many, so young, regardless of the circumstances. She didn't condemn her for her actions. Only found herself wondering how different the archer's life would have been if she'd never been forced to pick up the bow that day.
"Hi, Mother! Hi, Danu!" Madalene raced through the front door and headed straight for Sorrow's room.
"Stop right there!" Gabrielle's voice brought her daughter to an immediate halt. "Your sister is sleeping. Come have something to eat and then you can go in and see her."
"All right." The little Princess moaned and walked slowly back to the table.
"Besides," Xena said, taking her place at the table and accepting the bowl of stew offered by the bard. "We have something to discuss. I had a little talk with Janyn when I went to pick you up."
"Is something wrong?" Gabrielle placed a bowl in front of Madalene and tucked her in to reach the table.
"Your daughter has been... what was the word the teacher used... attacking other children." The warrior knew the bard would appreciate the 'your daughter' part.
"There better be a reasonable explanation for this!" Gabrielle sat back down and looked sternly at Madalene.
"A very good explanation." Xena added in a low hiss. Knowing that if Madalene had inherited any of the warrior's aggressive nature, they would have to get it under control immediately.
"There is," Madalene answered, matter-of-factly as she began to eat. "They hurt Thallia!"
"Thallia?" Gabrielle glanced at Xena.
"She's my bestest friend!" Madalene answered, a bright smile on her face.
"Oh, she is?" The bard raised an inquisitive eyebrow. "Why are the other children hurting Thallia?"
"Because she's really smart." The short explanation was mumbled through a piece of bread.
"First, don't talk with your mouth full." Gabrielle pointed out. "Secondly, why doesn't Thallia stand up for herself?"
"I won't let her." Madalene gulped down the bread before answering. "If she was to get hurt then she might get sicker."
"Sicker?" The bard was concerned now. Although secretly proud that her daughter was sticking up for someone weaker than herself.
"Her tummy hurts really bad." Madalene dropped her spoon into the stew, a serious look on her face. "If I can protect her from getting hurt, then everything will work out like it's supposed to."
"What will work out?" Xena asked before the bard had a chance.
Furrowing her brow, Madalene looked up at the warrior. As the moments passed, the Princess' sight glazed over. Until she was no longer looking at Xena but through her.
"I'm going to marry Thallia." Blinking back into reality, Madalene began eating again. She was completely oblivious to the strangeness of her comment.
Gabrielle shot a confused look at Xena. Who, also at a loss, just shrugged her shoulders.
"We still have a little problem with you attacking your classmates." The Queen finally regained her train of thought.
"It'll be all right now. Everyone knows not to mess with Thallia."
"That's fine and good, young lady." Gabrielle leaned back in her chair. "But you can't go around beating people up. Regardless of what they've done."
"I tried to explain it to them, but no one would listen to me." Madalene shot a sly look at Xena. "Not until I started to crack some skulls!"
"There will be no more skull cracking!" the bard spoke authoritatively. "Under any circumstance. Do you understand me?"
"Yes, Mother." Madalene answered quietly.
"If you're finished eating, why don't you and Danu go see how Sorrow is doing?" Gabrielle glared at the warrior, who'd suddenly found something very interesting to look at in the bottom of her bowl. "I need to speak with your Mother about skull cracking."
"I have a few minutes before I go on patrol." The warrior absently picked at her fingernails. "I'm not really sure why I'm here."
"You don't have to be here for a reason," Syn offered, pouring two mugs of wine. "Drink?"
"Thanks." Tearnon nodded as she took the cup.
"I'm glad you did drop by. I have news about your archer." She took a long sip of wine, leaving ample time for the guard to ask her what the news was.
"What news?" Taking a sip of her own wine, the agitated red head shuffled nervously.
"The Queen of Aldernon has charged her with murder. She's going to go on trial." Syn shook her head sadly. "I can't believe the Queen is letting this happen." Seeing the guard lost in deep contemplation, she decided to lead her a little further. "At the very least you'd expect the demon Princess to protect her. Sorrow isn't even going with them to the trial."
"What?" Tearnon almost choked on her wine. "First it steals Danu from me and now it doesn't even have the decency to protect her!"
"I know! More wine?" Syn refilled the guard's empty cup.
"Thanks," Tearnon answered gruffly. "I really wish I had the opportunity to teach that demon a lesson."
"Funny you should mention that!" Syn moved closer. "There are many of us who'd like to see that happen and for you to get Danu back as well."
"Going against the Royal family is suicide! If Sorrow didn't kill you, Xena would tear you apart." Tearnon finished the last of her wine, refusing another refill.
"Let me worry about the Royal family. As a member of the Royal guard you'll be going with to Aldernon, right?"
"I can't see why I wouldn't be."
"Good. I don't want you anywhere near here when our plan goes into motion." Syn licked her lips.
"What plan?" Tearnon narrowed her eyes.
"The demon Princess is still very ill and I suspect very easy picking for the right kind of assassin!" Syn put it all on the line. Everything up to that point could've been explained away. Now she was definitely guilty of treason.
"You can't kill that beast. Can you?" The guard didn't care what laws were being broken now. She just wanted to know if Sorrow could really be taken out of the picture.
"In the words of the Goddess Artemis, 'An extraordinary effort to kill her'." Syn let out the small breath she had been holding. The hatred on Tearnon's face was obvious. "Ares' poison only did ninety-five percent of the job. I have someone who'll finish the other five percent."
"When is this supposed to happen?" Tearnon smiled at the idea of Sorrow getting what she deserved.
"While the Royal family are in Aldernon. There'll be no one to protect her and she's too weak to protect herself." Syn smiled back. "That's why I want you to be in Aldernon. You'd the primary suspect if you're in the village when it happens."
"True," Tearnon answered. "Why are you telling me all this? What's the catch?"
"Well, there is a small favor I might ask you to do later on. Nothing big though. Just offer a little help when I challenge Gabrielle's right to the Queen's mask."
"Have you forgot who the Queen's champion is?" Tearnon laughed. "You got a death wish or something?"
"Don't worry about the details Tearnon. That's my job. I just need to know that my help in getting Danu back for you won't go unnoticed." Syn placed a firm hand on the guard's shoulder.
"You get rid of that animal and I'll do anything you want!" The guard smiled back slyly.
"Gabrielle, how many times to I have to apologize?" Xena waved her hand in front of the bard's empty gaze. "I don't condone our three-year-old attacking anyone. Even if it is for a very good reason."
"Sorry! I wasn't ignoring you because of that. I was just thinking about what Madalene said at the table." Gabrielle rolled over to look at the warrior. "Did you notice how she looked when she said she was going to marry Thallia?"
"Oh course I did." Xena had gotten shivers from her daughter's visionless stare.
"It was like..." The bard didn't want to voice her concern. Fearing that to speak of it, would make it true.
"Like she was looking into the future." The warrior finished the abandoned thought.
"You saw it too then."
"How could I miss it? She looked right through me," Xena answered. "She doesn't seem upset about it though. Just driven to protect Thallia so that... how did she put it?"
"So that things would work out like they're supposed to." Gabrielle recited her daughter's strange words. Exchanging a concerned look, they silently agreed not to talk about it anymore. There would be no answers tonight. Snuggling together, they went to sleep.
Gabrielle was alone in the council chamber when Ephiny entered.
"I thought I'd drop in to tell you everything is ready for tomorrow." Ephiny took a seat at the long table. "Solari thinks the Royal guard will be sufficient protection, but I'd feel better if you took a couple of extra bodies along with you. Just in case!"
"No, the Royal guard will be fine." The Queen dropped her scroll onto the table. "If I wanted to bring enough warrior's to start a war, I'd just start the war and save everyone the worry of the trial."
"True," the Regent conceded.
"I can think of a thousand reasons why Queen Delany should stop this trial," the bard scanned the parchment again. "But I have a feeling she won't agree with any of them."
"If she's half as crazy as King Rike was..." Ephiny didn't finish, as she followed the bard's stare past her to see Delara standing in the doorway.
"Your Highness." Delara moved stiffly down to one knee.
"Are you all right?" Gabrielle could see the discomfort on the scout's face as she struggled to rise.
"Fine." The tall woman shuffled herself over to settle into the seat being offered.
Gabrielle braced herself for bad news. Delara's brown hair was unkept and the dark circles under her eyes said she probably hadn't slept since leaving the village. Usually the scout had an uncanny ability of looking untouched, regardless of how many days she'd been traveling or fighting. Offering the scout some water, the Queen waited patiently for her to start her report.
"I was unable to get past the valley, just a day's travel from here." Delara took a big swallow. "The Aldernon Army has it guarded from horizon to horizon. No one is getting in or out, without written permission from the Queen. I was unable to breech their camps at all." Delara remembered the sentry she'd encountered in the woods. Thankfully he had been off on his own. She'd have never made it back if he'd been able to sound an alarm.
"You're telling me that Queen Delany has posted her entire army along its southern border?" Gabrielle asked for clarification.
"Yes! The rumor is that she doesn't expect you to give Danu up for trial. She is preparing for war." Delara thought of the ugly drunken soldier who'd given her that little bit of information. His memory reminded her that she'd definitely need to take a long bath before she went to bed.
"I figured as much." Xena injected from the doorway. Sauntering over behind the Queen she looked Delara up and down. "Did you get away clean?"
"The only one who recognized me as Amazon won't be talking anytime soon." Delara met the warrior's stare. "Panther attack."
"Good." Xena was well aware of Delara's trademark. She laughed inside, knowing Delany's army would be wasting its time searching for the animal. Not one of them would suspect any different. Xena's unrelenting stare caused the scout to continue with her report.
"That sounds wonderful!" Ephiny shook her head when Delara was finished.
"It's not that bad, is it?" Gabrielle looked hopefully at Xena.
"Not that good either." The warrior answered her honestly. "I have a few ideas though."
"Which one you got there?" Sorrow leaned heavily against the doorway to her room, watching Danu read the scroll.
"What are you doing up?" Danu rose and crossed the main room quickly. "You should have called me to help."
"Danu, I'm fine. See!" Before the archer could reach her, Sorrow let go of the doorframe and took a tentative step.
"Humor me then." Danu put Sorrow's arm around her shoulder, attempting to take as much of the woman's weight off of her weak legs as possible.
"If you insist." Sorrow's raged breath came back in response. She'd used all of her will power to keep herself from tumbling to the ground and was thankful for the archer's strong arm around her waist for support.
"See, that was easy." She gave Danu a bright smile once she was sitting.
"Simple." Danu called back to her as she retrieved a blanket from the bedroom. Tucking it around Sorrow's legs, she sat down next to her.
"I'm sorry." Sorrow added softly. "I just thought is would be nice to sit here by the fire together for awhile. I didn't mean to cause so much worry."
Danu didn't answer. Looking at her weak Princess, she wanted to cry. She'd be leaving at dawn without her, leaving her here to fend for herself while she healed.
"Danu, I know you have to go. I don't like it. But I do understand." Sorrow read her thoughts. "Mother and Xena will take good care of you until I'm well enough to join you."
"I'm not worried about me. I'm worried about you." Danu looked up into her love's deep green eyes.
"Come here." She opened her arms and the archer melted into them. Relieved to feel the heat pouring off of the Protector's skin.
"Now be good for Aunt Ephiny." Gabrielle gave Madalene another hug.
"I will." The little Princess hugged her back. "But why can't I stay with Sorrow?"
"You know why!" The bard wasn't going to get into this argument again.
"I promise, we'll go see her anytime you want." Ephiny patted Madalene's black hair. "Now go inside. Solari's got something for you."
Giving her Mother one last hug, Madalene bounded inside the Regent's house.
"I could bring her over in the morning, if you and Solari want have tonight to yourselves." Gabrielle sighed as she watched her little girl leave.
"There's no reason to wake her at dawn. Besides, Solari says this way she'll be guaranteed to get some sleep." Ephiny winked at her.
Despite everyone's objection, the dawn inevitably came. Sorrow opened her eyes to see the soft beginning's of the day coming through the bedroom window and Danu sitting in the corner. As any good warrior would, she'd awaken early to double checking her bow.
"Why didn't you wake me?" Sorrow pulled herself to the edge of the bed.
"I was watching you sleep." The archer slung the bow over her head. Comforted by the familiar feel of the weapon over her shoulder.
"That must be fun," she laughed, running her hand through her tousled mane. "I almost forgot. " Sorrow moved to get off the bed, but the archer stopped her. "I have something for you."
"Save your strength. I'll bring it to you." Danu offered, following her gaze to small package in the corner of the room.
"I know it isn't much," Sorrow mumbled as her hands fumbled to undo the leather cord that held the bundle closed.
Danu knew the object by its familiar shape. Without looking, she released the small buckle on her old armguard and let it drop to the floor. Sorrow took the opportunity to take the archer's arm into her lap and slip the present onto her forearm. The Princess carefully did up the series of small buckles around the back of her arm, until the guard was firmly in place. Danu watched Sorrow's finger trace the markings on the soft, brown armguard. The leather that covered her palm was embossed with the Amazon symbol for the Protector.
"I know it's not much," Sorrow stammered as she looked up into Danu's eyes. "And that usually you give a bracelet or some other piece of jewelry."
Danu took it a sharp breath when she realized what Sorrow was alluding to.
"And I'd gladly get you any of those once I'm better." She ran her hand over the archer's leather covered palm. "I couldn't let you leave without giving you something to remind you that I love you and without asking if you..." Danu knew she should stay quite, let the poor woman ask her the question, but she couldn't.
"Hold that thought!" Danu darted out of Sorrow's startled grasp and moved to retrieve her quiver. "I have something for you too." She added when she noticed the crushed look on her love's face. Moving back to sit beside her on the bed, she removed the small object hidden between the arrows.
"Compared to this..." She kissed the leather marking in her palm. "Mine is nothing." She placed the necklace into Sorrow's hand. The choker was made of small sections of carved, polished ivory. Each section strung to the next by small twists of leather.
"Would you put it on for me?" Sorrow asked smiling at the beautiful object in her hand. The archer's nervously tied the choker around the Princess' pale throat.
"It look's beautiful on you." Danu ran her hand over the ivory for a moment.
"Where on earth did you get it?" Sorrow's moved her hand to capture the caressing fingers.
"It was my Mother's." Danu face turned a shade sadder, despite her wide smile. Looking into the green eyes she loved, she was again filled only with joy. "I want to give it to you as a symbol of my promise."
"Looks like we both had the same idea." Sorrow put her hand to Danu's cheek. "So as I was saying... will you join with me?"
"I'm yours forever and always." Danu moved closer to lean her forehead against Sorrow's.
"As I am yours." Sorrow whispered just before they kissed.
When Danu finally emerged into the main room, no one missed the blush in her cheeks and the lightness in her step.
"Good morning!" She exclaimed, taking the tea offered by Gabrielle. Noticed the startled look on everyone's faces, of how she could be so happy on today of all days, she almost laughed. Here she was leaving the security of the village to go on trial for murder in a hostile kingdom and she could care less. All that mattered to her was that Sorrow hadn't only agreed to join with her, but had planned to ask her as well.
"Sleep well?" The bard finally let her curiosity get the better of her.
"Very well." The archer's smiling face beamed back at her. Face to face with the Queen now, she couldn't keep up her end of the bargain. Turning she walked back into Sorrow's room.
Gabrielle and Xena looked at each other confused for a moment. Sorrow's voice calling them into her room broke their frozen forms.
"I know, I never really expected you to be able to keep it a secret." Sorrow laughed and placed a small kiss on the archer's nose.
"What's going on?" Gabrielle came into the room with Xena right behind her.
"Danu and I have something very important to tell you." Sorrow looked up at her mother.
Seeing the marking on the archer's new armguard and the ivory choker around Sorrow's neck, the warrior knew immediately.
"Congratulations!" She put her arm around the bard's shoulders.
"What?" Gabrielle looked up confused at her for a moment before looking back to the pair on the bed. "You mean?"
"Yes, that is if you'll both give us your blessing?" Danu held tightly onto Sorrow's hand. A very tiny part of her was afraid what their answer would be.
"I believe you already have mine." Xena's pride made her stand a little taller.
"Of course you have my blessing." The bard moved to hug them both.
Syn leaned against the thick tree, watching the large procession make its way through the Northern Gate. She nodded when she noticed Tearnon was staring at her. A bright smile crossed her face. Maybe Queen Delany would be gracious enough to slaughter the entire Royal family for her. That would leave just Ephiny and the precocious three-year-old for her to deal with. She wouldn't rest her plan on that happening, but she could hope.
'First, things first!' She thought as she walked towards the dining hall for breakfast.
Even within the depths of unconsciousness, Sorrow's mind stretched out to find the archer. Saddened as her mind registered each of the steps that took the woman farther and farther away. Her mind could feel her Mother smiling. Bubbling with the knowledge that when all of this was over, she'd be returning to an official announcement of their joining. The dark cloud that surrounded the warrior didn't disturb her sleep. She was comforted by the fact that Xena had her mind on the most important of tasks. Bringing the archer back to her.
Continued in Part Two...
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