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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 fourth in my series and takes place almost four years after Sorrows death. I strongly recommend reading the other three stories to understand what is going on in this one. You might find yourself a bit confused if you dont.
TISSUE ALERT: Ive been warned to include this after not warning people of the sad nature of the last story. Although this story has a much happier ending then the last, there are some sad scenes. So 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 and the wonderful encouragement. Thanks to Lizzy for beta reading despite my obvious grammatical impairments and for her suggestions and encouragement. To Gin, everyone should be thanking you for the happy ending, but I'm just gonna thank you for being my sounding board whenever the story got a little overwhelming.
by: Kathleen Wolf
Continues from here.
Sorrow had been more than happy to help when Eponin asked her to take first watch at the Southern Gate. She had watched everyone running around to prepare for their trip, and only felt right to offer some assistance. Besides, she was the Protector.
"You can go now, I'm here to relieve you." Danu had almost ran back home when she saw Sorrow leaned against the gate. She silently cursed Eponin for not warning her whom she would be relieving. Remembering her place she knelled in front of the Princess. A sharp look made her rise to her feet quickly.
"Relieve me?" Sorrow had not missed the tightness in the archer's voice.
A stiff silence came out of no where and engulfed them. Each looked the other over. Danu had the benefit of already seeing Sorrow once, but it didn't compare to seeing her up close. Staring into those green eyes almost made her want to cry. How long had she wished to be able to look into them again, to be lost in their deepness?
'Her hair has gotten so long.' Sorrow couldn't help thinking of the softness of the blond locks.
"Yes, Eponin asked me to take first watch." Danu found her voice, only after moving her eyes to stare off into the trees.
"Here? Cause Eponin asked me to do the same thing." As soon as she spoke, she knew she'd been set up. Sorrow also had an inkling that a certain Warrior Princess was in on this.
"Oh." Danu caught on almost as quick. "Let me guess, you're still going to Aldernon tomorrow aren't you?"
"Yes. Why wouldn't I be?" Sorrow asked confused.
"I agreed to take someone's place, but I was told you weren't going." Danu intended for the words to hurt, and she was satisfied to see the pain on Sorrow's face.
"I'll speak to Eponin. I'm sure there is someone else, more suitable." Sorrow shot back.
"Fine, you are the Princess." Danu placed her hands on her hips. "Since I won't be going tomorrow, may I suggest you go home and get some rest then. I'll take this watch."
Sorrow didn't answer. She just walked away. Trying to understand how things had gone so wrong between them.
'You died and you took an eternity to return. What did you expect?' She chastised her own stupidity.
"Danu, I'm sorry." She stopped and looked back over her shoulder. "I hope you and Tearnon are very happy."
"How did you know about Tearnon?" Danu caused her to stop her retreat.
"Mother told me the morning I arrived." Sorrow turned to face her now, amazed at how the wind carried the archers soft scent.
"So you were here before the celebration!" The hate within Danu burned a little brighter.
"Yes. I asked Mother how you were doing and she told me all about your engagement." Sorrow hid the majority of her discomfort behind a face of stone.
"Why didn't you tell me yourself?" Danu asked the most important question, her eyes burning with hate.
"I didn't want to cause you anymore pain." Sorrow finally let her heart speak.
"Oh!" Danu couldn't hide her surprise. "It's late, maybe you shouldn't bother Eponin, I'll go tomorrow. I can get Tearnon to take the watch."
"If that's what you want." Sorrow turned away and finally allowed herself to silently cry.
The mention of Tearnon's name had burst any hope she held that Danu still loved her.
She questioned now if the archer even liked her. Having never before seen such hate in her eyes.
* * * *
"Gabrielle, what are you thinking about?" Xena crawled into the bed and laid her head on the bard's taunt stomach.
"About Madalene's nightmare's. What if Prince Rike or somebody else does have a plan to poison you?" She ran her fingers through the raven hair.
"No one's going to do anything to me." Xena shifted up to sit on the bed and stare down her. "I haven't let anyone poison me yet and I'm willing to bet that even if I miss something, Sorrow won't."
Gabrielle liked to hear Xena relying of her daughter, even as a back up. It took a lot for the warrior to trust anyone and with all that had happened it would be easy to still doubt Sorrow.
"I know." She laid her head in Xena's lap. "I just worry, you know me."
They were in the midst of a gentle kiss when they heard a knock at the door.
"Come in," Xena called, having heard Sorrow return home. Like herself, Sorrow only let her movements be heard when it suited her. When the door opened, Xena knew her plan hadn't worked out well.
"Please, do not do that again." Sorrow's rough voice came from between her clenched teeth.
"I'm sorry, I just thought..." She tried to apologize but was cut off.
"I know what you thought, thank you for the effort. But please, never again." Sorrow closed the door. "Good Night!"
"What did you do?" Gabrielle shot up out of her lap.
"I made a little error in judgment." Xena held her hands a few feet apart. Gabrielle just stared at her, knowing the look would replace the question. "I kinda arranged for her and Danu to end up on the same watch together." Xena bit her lower lip.
'I am so dead.' She thought as she watched the colour rise on the bard's face.
"You did what?" Gabrielle poked her in the shoulder. "Have you lost your mind?"
"That's not all." Xena moved backwards off the bed. "I kinda arranged for Danu to come with us. We needed a good archer, you said so yourself."
All Gabrielle could do was shake her head.
"I'm going to go talk with her." Gabrielle was already at the door.
"Mother, go to bed. I'm fine." Sorrow's hurt voice echoed through the wall at them.
* * * *
The group left at first light. Madalene was already at Ephiny's, and the whole family missed her already.
They made quite a sight. Xena and Gabrielle riding Argo. Sorrow on top of Siko, a horse Xena had been training in her spare time. Behind them rode seven members of the Royal guard and another seven Amazon warriors bringing up the rear. True to her word, Danu was still in the party. But she kept a good distance away from the Princess at all times.
They made good time the first day. Xena decided to set up camp early. Helping Gabrielle off Argo, she was glad to hear Eponin already barking out orders to the others.
"This reminds me of when we used to travel around," Gabrielle whispered into her ear.
"I don't remember this many Amazons, do you?" She whispered back and was answered my a small bite on her neck.
"Do you remember what a pain setting up camp was? I do." The bard pulled away and went to help.
Seeing Sorrow move away from the main group. Xena thought it was time to approach her.
"Sorrow, I really am sorry about last night." Against her grain, she spoke first.
"I know, Xena. Really it's all right, you meant well." Sorrow sighed. She really wasn't mad at her. At least Xena's stupid idea had allowed her to learn the truth.
"So things are okay between us then?"
"Yes, as long as you don't do that again."
Her glare made Xena throw up her arms in defeat.
"I promise, I don't know what came over me in the first place. This is more your mother's arena."
"Xena," It was Sorrow's turn to feel uncomfortable now. "You accepted me before anyone and I know you'd do anything for me...you're like a mother to me. I know you were only trying to help."
"Thank you, daughter." Xena couldn't help but hug her.
"Are you two going to help or just stand there?" Gabrielle's happy voice called them back to reality. From a distance, she had watched the exchange between them. Seeing it end in such a loving hug, she'd wanted to run over and join them. But she knew this was their moment. She had only called out to give Xena an easy escape.
"Nah, we're going hunting." Slapping Xena on the arm, Sorrow ran off into the trees. The warrior blew a kiss to her Queen and ran off after her.
* * * *
"So what was that all about today?" Gabrielle crawled into the small tent beside Xena.
All the warrior could do was grin. "Are you going to make me torture it out of you?" She began to tickle her.
"Stop, I'll tell you." She took a moment to catch her breath. "She forgives me for last nights fiasco."
"And?" Gabrielle could tell there was another reason for the grin.
"She told me I was like a mother to her." Xena face beamed with joy. "After what I did to her, she..." The warrior couldn't finish. She was wrapped up in the bard's small arms.
"You're amazing." Gabrielle kissed her.
* * * *
Gabrielle stopped the party just outside Aldernon. Xena raised an inquisitive eyebrow.
"We're not going to arrive into town looking like this."
Xena had to admit they looked a little rough.
"You heard the Queen, everybody into the river!"
If anyone had managed to see the group, an event unlikely to occur with the Amazon guards stationed in the trees, it would have made quite a story.
After a very long time in the forest, Xena and Gabrielle finally emerged, having left to change into their formal regalia. None of the guards could miss the glow on both of their faces.
"I think you have something to give to Sorrow." Xena unlatched the box from Siko and handed it to the Queen. "I still find it funny that she's had it with her the whole time and not know it."
"Well some people don't snoop in boxes they've been told not to look in!" Gabrielle made reference to all of the Solstice presents Xena had uncovered early. "Anyway, since you're her mother as well..." She could see the happiness on the warrior's face. "I want both of us to give it to her."
* * * *
Danu had taken a post high in the trees, the best place for an archer. An even better place if you were trying to avoid someone. She watched Xena and Gabrielle walk over to Sorrow.
'She's even more beautiful now. Formals suit her.' Danu couldn't stop the thought, as she watched the Princess accept the box. Even from far above, the deepness of her eyes was enchanting.
* * * *
"What is this about?" Sorrow took the box.
"Just open it, you'll know." Gabrielle hands were trembling, so she latched onto Xena's arm.
"I can't, this isn't right." Sorrow couldn't imagine how she could except the mask as she pulled it from the box.
"Yes, you can. Artemis had already given it her approval." Xena had regretted having to grovel at the temple with Gabrielle, but now it all seemed worth it.
"This mask is just for you. These designate you as Princess." Gabrielle reached out to trace the markings with her finger. "And these designate you as the Protector." She traced over the horns and fangs that gave the mask it's traditional animalistic quality. Sorrow starred at the white feathers that adorned the mask.
"So that's why you needed them?" Sorrow couldn't believe how stupid she'd been. Why else would her mother have asked for some feathers from her wings? "It's absolutely beautiful."
"We have to have an official ceremony later, but... may I put it on you?"
Handing her mother the mask, Sorrow knelt down.
"As always, you are the Protector." Gabrielle slid the mask down over her face.
* * * *
The Royal procession moved slowly through the town towards the castle. As they approached the large wooden gate was opened for them.
"Your Highness." Lord Dunlop had been notified of the Amazons arrival and waited inside the gate. "The Prince is anxiously awaiting your arrival."
"Thank you." The Queen's face was hidden behind her mask. Xena helped her down off Argo. The rest of the party dismounted as well.
"With your permission, I have men ready in the stables to tend to your horses."
"That won't be necessary." The Queen waived her hands, and four of the Amazons led the horses toward the stables. "We are a little protective of our animals."
"Of course." Dunlop motioned towards a doorway nearby. "Please follow me." The nervous man led them down the long main hallway, lavishly decorated with tapestries and paintings. As Queen, Gabrielle was at the head of the procession. Xena was only a step behind to her right, and Sorrow to her left. The Royal Guard proceeded behind them. Having never seen an Amazon before, Prince Rike almost fell off his throne when they entered. Trying to regain his composure he brushed his hand through his short black hair. Dressed in formal leathers and ceremonial masks, the ugliest of them would still have been considered breathtaking.
"Queen Gabrielle, I am honoured by your presence." Rising from the throne, he walked slowly towards her and bowed.
"Prince Rike, the honour is mine." Gabrielle allowed her shoulders to dip slightly.
"You must be Xena." Despite being much shorter than the warrior, he strode confidently up to her and offered his hand. She shook it stiffly.
"Princess Sorrow, Lord Dunlop's description did not do you justice." Rike floated over to her and bowed. Sorrow didn't speak. She extended her arm out, allowing the Prince to take her arm. To everyone surprise, Prince Rike bent down and kissed the back of her hand. Gabrielle was glad to still be wearing her mask, because her discomfort at the Prince's boldness would've easily been seen.
"You have had a very long journey and I'm sure you're tired." The Prince finally released Sorrow's hand and turned to the Queen. "My subjects are at your disposal, may I lead you to your rooms?"
"Yes, that would be fine."
Xena could tell from the bard's voice that she wasn't happy.
"I hope you will be well rested, there is a banquet tonight in your honour." Offering his arm to Sorrow, he led them out of the throne room.
* * * *
Closing the door behind them, Xena watched the Queen tear off her mask and toss it onto a chair.
"If they think I'm going to stand around and watch them disrespect my daughter!" She turned and barked at the warrior.
"Whoa! I'm on your side remember." Xena held up her hands in surrender.
"And what in Tatarus is Sorrow doing? Was it just me, or she encouraging this?"
"Let her have some fun." She regretted the words as soon as they left her lips.
"Fun?" The bard glared back at her.
"I mean she trying to lull him into thinking she's just a fragile little Princess, remember?" Xena moved closer.
"I know." Gabrielle hated to admit it.
"So you're all right then, cause I was going to go look in on Argo." Xena massaged her shoulders.
"Oh yeah, once again I'm being dumped for that horse." She turned to see a hurt look. "Go on, I'm only kidding."
* * * *
The banquet was lavish enough to rival any that Xena had ever attended before.
Prince Rike sat in the centre of the long main table, with Gabrielle and herself to his right and Sorrow to his left. She had actually had to pinch the bard, to stop her from commenting on the arrangement. The Amazon guards had maneuvered themselves into various positions around the room. If anything went wrong, they would easily be able to protect the Royal family. The rest of the Prince's council buzzed with conversation about the Amazons and the presence of the Warrior Princess. Dunlop hovered around the head table. He never missed an opportunity to stare at Sorrow.
"Princess," Rike leaned close to Sorrow after the meal was finished. "I have to apologize for lying earlier."
"Lying? About what would you lie?" Sorrow leaned in closer to him, amazed at the effect she had on the man.
"When I said that Lord Dunlop had not done justice to your beauty with his description." He took her hand and kissed it again. "Now that I have seen your face, I know that a thousand poets writing for a thousand years could not hope to do justice to your beauty."
"You are too kind." Sorrow pulled her hand away and laughed.
'You don't know me at all.' Her rationale mind broke the spell being wove by the handsome man's flattering words.
"At least Dunlop isn't looking at her anymore?" Xena whispered to distract Gabrielle.
"This is such an improvement!" The Queen took a large sip of her wine. "Have you noticed that every time he talks to her, he has to touch her?"
"Well, she does have her mother's looks. Can you blame him?" She slipped her hand onto the bard's thigh.
"Behave! I need to pay attention to this. I can't have you distracting me." She put her own hand over the warrior's. "But this can stay where it is."
"Would you honour me with a dance?" Prince Rike stood up and motioned to the band.
A slow waltz filled the room. Sorrow took the hand offered and allowed herself to be lead to a small area, in front of the head table. As if someone had choreographed their movements, the entire room was impressed by the fluidity of their steps.
"Danu, if he drops dead, I'm telling the Queen it's you who killed him." Eponin moved over to stand next to the archer.
"What?" Danu broke her eyes away from Sorrow and looked innocently at Eponin.
"You're great with an arrow girl, but if looks could kill..." She laughed as she walked away.
'Damn.' Danu couldn't believe she was being so obvious. But watching Sorrow let the Prince paw her, was too much to bare. Bad enough that stupid Lord Dunlop kept starring at her and thinking Aphrodite only knew what.
"When did she learn that?" Gabrielle leaned into Xena.
"Natural talent." Xena watched as Sorrow was twirled around and dipped by the Prince.
When the song ended, they returned to their seats amid a fanfare of applause.
"Thank you everyone," Prince Rike stood and held his goblet up. "I would like to toast to the health and prosperity of the Amazon Nation!"
Everyone took a large swig of wine.
"To Queen Gabrielle and Xena!"
The crowd drank again.
"To Princess Sorrow, the most beautiful woman here!"
"That's it!" Gabrielle was almost up, before the warrior forced her back down.
"Gabrielle calm down." Her voice was soft but stern. "If he does anything out of line, I promise I'll kill him myself."
* * * *
It was much later before the Prince made his first wrong move.
"Princess, would you be so gracious as to come for a walk with me in the garden. We've been in this stuffy room for so long, I though you might enjoy a little fresh air." Having consumed a large amount of wine, he accidentally spoke loud enough for Xena to here.
"I'm sure the Princess would enjoy that." She motioned to Eponin, who came over immediately. "The Princess is going for a walk, arrange an escort." Xena stared into Rike as she spoke. He almost made a second mistake by objecting, but from the warrior's stare he found himself unable to form words.
"Of course." Eponin signaled for four warriors to join them.
* * * *
"Do your mother's think me so strong that it would take four Amazons to subdue me?" Rike joked as they walked, arm in arm through the flowers.
"No, their afraid that I may hurt you." Sorrow knew the double meaning of her words was lost on him.
"The only thing I fear you could do to me Princess, is break my lovesick heart." He put his free hand over his cheast.
"You flatter me so." Sorrow found herself growing tired at his overzealous attempts to flirt with her. "I must beg your forgiveness, for our journey was long and I am growing quite tired."
"Oh, I must beg your forgiveness. I have traipsed you around the entire garden, twice." He smiled. They walked in silence back to her room.
"I fear I will have to say goodbye to you here." Sorrow stopped outside the door to her room. Leaning in she whispered. "I wouldn't want the guards to report you were anything less than a gentleman to the Queen."
Prince Rike counted half a dozen warriors posted in the small hallway. He couldn't believe how overprotective the Amazon Queen was being.
"I think after tomorrow's meeting on our treaty, your mother will not be as fearful of my intention's toward your Nation."
"And what are your intentions?" Sorrow was glad to finally get into a topic that interested her. His constant rambling about flowers and tapestries was driving her mad.
"I believe my father did not treat the Amazons fairly in the previous treaty. He assumed he gave much more protection to your Nation. When really it is you that protected us." Rike tentatively took her hand. He was relieved that none of the guards attacked him. "My intentions toward you, are a little less honourable." He backed away from her quickly and bowed.
"Goodnight Prince Rike." Sorrow smiled at his honesty.
"Goodnight sweet Princess." He strode happily past the guards.
Sorrow pretended to go into her own room. Seeing the guard's hand signal she crossed the hall and knocked on her mother's door.
"Come in!" Xena called out, recognizing the knock.
"Are you still up?" Sorrow entered tentatively, knowing how late it was. The pair were snuggled up in bed, waiting for her to come and report. Sorrow went and sat on the end of the bed. "I'm assuming the guards have already told you that he was a perfect gentleman." Sorrow had watched her mother fume all evening.
"Yes, but I'd really like to hear about it from you." Gabrielle sat up.
"Considering the poor boy was walking around with four Amazon warriors and the Protector, I'd say he was the one in danger. Not me." She laughed at her mother's discomfort.
"That doesn't mean anything, I will not let him compromise your virtue." The mother inside her spoke, seeing only her daughter and not the Protector.
"My virtue?" Sorrow raised an eyebrow.
"Humor your mother." Xena couldn't believe how overprotective Gabrielle was being.
"Mother, you don't have to worry about my virtue. It's still intact and will remain that way until the day I die. My chance at love has long since passed." Sorrow sighed, but continued before either of them could response. "I did learn something very interesting though. Prince Rike wants to re-negotiate the treaty because he thinks it's unfair to us."
"Really?" Gabrielle was surprised. She had been preparing herself for the opposite.
"He believes the Nation provides much more protection than we are being given compensation for."
"Well, maybe we can get back home sooner than we anticipated." Xena thought of Madalene, she missed the little Princess.
"That would be nice." Sorrow remembered the Prince's last words. "Oh by the way." She stood up and moved toward the door. "I think he's going to ask you for my hand."
She didn't turn around. She could imagine the stunned looks on their faces. "I'm assuming he'll approach you first." She was surprised that no one spoke. "Does the silence mean I should start preparing for my wedding day?" She turned just as the pillow struck her in the face. "I'll take that as a no. Goodnight." She tossed the pillow back and left.
* * * *
When she exited the room, Sorrow signaled for the guards to go to bed. Once inside her own room, she collapsed on the bed exhausted.
'Why did you have to come?' She thought of Danu. Although the Prince had distracted her for most of the evening, she'd still stolen small glances at the archer. 'Why couldn't it be you saying such wonderful things?' She let her mind remember the dance. Although the Prince was definitely not Danu, she had pretended that he was. No one had noticed that her eyes were closed for most of the song. When the music had stopped, she'd been so disappointed to see Rike again. 'This has to stop! She has somebody else now.' She turned into her pillow and started to cry.
* * * *
Negotiations began early the next morning. Xena had slipped away to tend to Argo, while Gabrielle and Sorrow did their duty.
"So it's agreed then." Prince Rike looked over the scroll, a bright smile on his face.
"Yes," Gabrielle motioned for Eponin to bring her the royal seal. Dropping hot wax on the parchment, she turned the treaty into law. "I hope this will stand for a continued commitment between our two nations."
"I as well." Prince Rike added his own seal to the treaty. "I know you are most eager to get back to your territory..." He had read her thoughts somehow. "But tonight is my Coronation, and I would be honoured if you would attend."
"Of course!" Gabrielle was barely able to say the words. After the graciousness the Prince had expressed during negotiations, she couldn't refuse.
* * * *
"This seems a little strange," Sorrow had gone straight to the stable to find Xena after the meeting. "How come he didn't mention his Coronation before?"
The warrior just shook her head. This did raise a suspicion or two for her as well.
"I think we better be extra attentive tonight. I don't want anything happening." She silently remembered her sister's nightmare. Xena just nodded, and continued to brush Argo.
* * * *
True to his previous actions, Prince Rike delivered a lovely silk dress to Sorrow's room. Danu watched as the Princess accepted the gift, and promised to wear it to the Coronation. Waiting until the Prince left. Danu stalked up to the door and knocked.
"Something else?" Sorrow opened the door expecting to see the Prince again. She was very surprised to see the archer. "Danu!"
"We need to talk!" She spoke firmly, not carrying what punishment her disrespect could bring.
"Fine, come in." Sorrow wasn't accustomed to seeing this sort of distress on Danu's face. The wild rage that seemed barely hidden behind her brown eyes. The archer pressed passed her and marched to the centre of the room. Sorrow closed the door.
"What in Tatarus do you think you're doing with Prince Rike?" Danu's finally let her anger burst open.
Sorrow didn't answer. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. Danu looked as she was ready to explode, her hands on her hips and her foot tapping as she waited for an answer.
"Well? Have you lost your mind or are you really being sucked in by his flattery? You're acting like the village whore."
"What did you call me?" Sorrow voice was weak.
"I couldn't believe that you danced with him...like that. I guess I should have known, since you let him paw you under the table through dinner!" Danu didn't respond to Sorrow's question. She had much more she wanted to say first. "Is there anyplace he hasn't put his filthy hands? Or is that going to be his coronation present?" She took a quick breath before her tirade continued. "Do you realize how disgusted everyone was? How revolting we all found your little display? Amazons do not act like that, especially Amazon Princesses!" Danu's accusations forced her to answer.
"How dare you say that! What do you care? Maybe it's nice to have somebody pay attention to me. Who do you think you are anyway? I believe you're engaged to Tearnon!" Sorrow drove the words like knives, finally pushed over the edge. "What I am supposed to do? Hope one day you might throw me a bone and talk to me again. Stand in the shadows and hope that one day I'll be the one you want. A little selfish don't you think?" It was Danu's turn to be silent, as Sorrow continued. "I know you're mad at me for dying and then taking so long to come back. I know it's selfish to expect you to forgive me, let alone still feel the same as I think you did. Do you understand the pain I went through to come back to you, do you even know what I went through that day?" Sorrow's voice took a softer tone. "I will always love you, with all of my heart. No one will ever replace you. But I won't let you torture me this way as a punishment for what happened. It's not fair!" Not even wanting an answer, she turned and opened the door. "Get out!"
Danu stood there stunned.
'She loves me!' Her mind raced. 'She came back for me!'
"I said, Get out!" Sorrow's voice was thunderous. Since the archer wasn't budging, Sorrow took matters into her own hands. The force of her slamming the door behind her, tore one of the hinges out the wall.
"What have I done?" The stupidity of her actions struck Danu like a rock. "I've ruined everything."
* * * *
Xena didn't know whether to be comforted by the sparse number of guests at the Coronation, or suspicious. Knowing these affairs usually involved great productions and even bigger guest lists, she easily chose suspicious. Gabrielle had been distracted since seeing Sorrow arrive in the slender white silk dress. The Queen was not happy with the gift, or how it clung to her daughter curves. Only Eponin and two of the Royal guards were inside the large throne room. The rest of the warrior's were positioned outside in the hall. The ceremony was long and boring. Lord Dunlop read a myriad of oaths, that Prince Rike repeated slowly. After some production, the new King was crowned. Clapping his hands, Rike called for a round of drinks. Everyone took the ornate goblets presented to them.
"It is tradition in my kingdom, that upon receiving his crown, the King makes one request of those who have borne witness to the event. A request that by tradition, no one can refuse."
'Oh I'll refuse you!' Gabrielle stared at him, thinking she knew what his request would be.
"My request is simple," He lifted his own goblet high. "I ask only that everyone swallow down this small drink. As a sign of the decadence and prosperity I hope to bring with my rule."
'Simple enough.' The Queen choked the glass of wine down. Relieved she wouldn't have to cause a scene. Turning she watched Xena toss the wine down her throat. The sound of Sorrow's empty goblet striking the stone floor caused her blood to run cold. Crying out to alert the guards, she tried to catch her daughter. As she fell, Sorrow tried in vain to speak. Sitting on the ground, Gabrielle cradled her fallen child in her arms. Hearing their Queen's cry, the Amazon warrior's burst into the room. Xena was already advancing on the King. As the feeling left her legs, she realized why none of his soldiers made any attempt to stop her. She fell as well, only a short distance from the throne. Entering the room and seeing Sorrow in her mother's arms, Danu shot an arrow into a soldier descending on them. Drawing her sword, Eponin struck down two other soldiers. The Kings voice caused them all to stop fighting.
"Attention everyone!" They looked to see him holding a dagger to Xena's throat. "Unless you want me to do this the quick way, I suggest you put down your weapons."
Looking to the Queen, the Amazons followed her command to surrender.
"Why are you doing this?" She asked him helpless, as she stroked Sorrow's face.
The sword pointed at her cheast kept her from going to Xena.
"I need her!" Rike pointed at the Princess. He motioned for his guards to take her. Restrained by one of the soldiers, Gabrielle watched helplessly as Sorrow's lifeless body was dragged passed the King and out a large door behind the throne. "Once I have the power of a virgin Amazon Princess, I will be unstoppable!" His insanity was obvious. He kicked the unconscious warrior as he walked toward the Queen. "Too bad you let yourself be tainted. It would have been fun to take you." He slapped her sharply with the back of his hand. "I'm sure your precious daughter will be even more fun. Put them all in the dungeon!"
* * * *
Gabrielle rushed to Xena's side, when she was unceremoniously dumped into the cell with the rest of the Amazons.
"Xena...Xena!" The bard slapped her face lightly, hoping for some sort of response.
"Your Highness, may I make a suggestion." Danu knelt down beside her. Gabrielle just looked at her, willing to take any help. "I spent a short time under Oxin when I was younger, we have to get the poison out of her." Gabrielle stared at her blankly. "We have to make her throw it up."
"How? She's unconscious!"
Danu took two fingers and stuck them down her throat. The demonstration made her gag.
"Oh." Gabrielle knew the warrior would hate this, but if it meant saving her life...she would do anything.
"It would be best if we have her on her side, that way she's less likely to choke." Danu helped the Queen position Xena.
Eponin and Danu held the warrior in place, as Gabrielle performed the uncomfortable task of sticking her fingers down Xena's throat. Everyone was very relieved, when the majority of the wine was vomited up. Using a rag to clean Xena's face, she cradled the warrior in her arms. None of them knew if the poison she'd already ingested would be enough to kill her.
* * * *
"What's going on?" Xena knew the feeling of the small arms around her. Gabrielle just hugged her closer. Overjoyed to see the warrior open her eyes. "Let me up!" Pure rage filled her instantly and her past weakness died away. She looked around quickly. "Where's Sorrow?"
"He took her." Danu helped the Queen to her feet as she answered.
"Xena, he says he needs to sacrifice a virgin Amazon Princess. He thinks he'll get some sort of power from her." Gabrielle held onto the small hope that the contents of the goblet hadn't already killed her daughter. Xena didn't answer. Taking a small piece of metal from her armor, she went to work picking the lock on the cell door. Moments later it creaked open.
"Eponin," she barked. "Get Gabrielle out of here! Get back to the village and warn them!"
"Xena, I'm not going anywhere!" The bard voice was stern. The warrior was unaffected by her plea.
"Madalene is there! Get home and protect her." Xena stood at her full height. Her shoulder's square in defiance of whatever Gabrielle could say. "I'm going to get Sorrow."
"I'm with you!" Danu moved to stand with the warrior.
Gabrielle wanted to object, wanted to stop this insanity. The mention of Madalene's name made her realize Xena was right. The village could be under attack and there would be no Protector to answer Madalene's calls for help.
"Fine." She approached her partner and took her hand. "I expect you to be right behind us."
"You have my word!" Xena sealed the vow with a lingering kiss.
* * * *
Within the ante chamber, Rike paced beside the stone altar. Sorrow, having not stirred since she first fell, was draped over the altar.
"She dropped like a stone, didn't she?" Ares appeared next to the King.
"Just as you said she would. What was in that drink anyway?" Rike's madness blinded him from even fearing the God of War.
"Secret recipe." Ares licked his lips and laughed. He couldn't believe how stupid this man was. He had secretly watched Rike's attempt to flatter Sorrow the previous night. Fighting the urge to let the Prince in on her little secret. The madman didn't even know she was the Protector. At this point he didn't care how many idiot's he had to work with. He needed to free Dahak's soul from its prison and for that he needed Sorrow dead. After seeing her battle Dahak, he'd known it'd be foolish to take her on himself. Even if her new power didn't give her the strength to kill him, he was sure it gave her the ability to do unthinkable damage. He didn't relish the idea of spending the rest of eternity as a cripple. He applauded himself for coming up with such a brilliant plan.
* * * *
The lock on the dungeon door proved a bit more challenging. It took Xena several attempts before the mechanism gave way and she was able to swing the heavy door open.
Everyone was surprised by the lack of guards outside the dungeon.
"Apparently they don't put much stock in the rest of us!" One of the Royal guards muttered under her breath.
"Xena, our weapons are in here." Eponin had broken away from the main group to inspect a small room off to the left. As everyone collected their weapons, Xena pulled Eponin aside.
"You shouldn't have any trouble getting to the stables. The guards seem pretty thin," Xena whispered, trying to comfort herself more than the Amazon. She desperately wanted to escort Gabrielle out of the castle but she knew every moment counted when it came to saving Sorrow.
"Xena, we'll get her home safely. I promise you." Eponin understood the warrior's concern. "Are you sure you don't want more of us to stay and help?"
"No! You must protect her and Madalene." Xena stopped abruptly. The heavy footsteps in the corridor faded away and she relaxed again. "Have Gabrielle ride Argo, she'll take good care of her."
Eponin wanted to object. She hated the idea of leaving Xena behind without her horse. It was if they were abandoning her. They group moved silently from the room and out into corridor. The route to the main hall was deserted. Once outside the throne room the group split apart. Xena and Gabrielle exchanged one last loving look, before the Queen was ushered away.
* * * *
'He is definitely mad.' Xena thought to herself, as they entered the empty throne room.
"I want you to remain here," She motioned for Danu to stop just inside the doors. "If anyone comes out of there, except the Princess or myself, kill them!"
Danu nodded. She would have no problem performing her duty.
* * * *
"Ares!" Xena couldn't believe what she was seeing when she entered the ante chamber. If the God of War was involved, the danger to Sorrow was even greater than she had originally thought.
"You idiot, I though you were going to take care of her as well!" He scowled at the King.
"I did! There was enough poison in her drink to kill ten men."
"She's the Warrior Princess, you moron!" Ares chastised.
Xena stared at Sorrow. Hoping to see some sign of life in her. She was relieved to see the Princess' cheast rising and falling slightly.
"You're so lucky she's not dead!" Xena advanced on the King. Knowing the madman would be no match for the Warrior Princess. Ares moved to meet her attack. The rage inside her gave fuel to her strength and even the God of War was surprised by the viciousness of her blows. Seeing his opportunity, Rike raised his dagger above his head.
"I will take your power for my own!"
A powerful kick sent Xena's backwards into a corner. She slammed mercilessly into the stone wall. She'd never get to Sorrow in time to stop the blade now. She heard the whistle of the arrow before she realized Danu was in the doorway. Xena was thankful that the archer had disobeyed her orders. The look of surprise on the King's face when Danu's arrow entered his heart was unprecedented. The voices in his head had long told him that he was immortal.
'This can't be!' This last thought crossed his mind as he crumbled to the ground. Seeing the now dead King, Ares knew that his plans were spoiled.
"Look Xena, she ruined everything...can you blame me for wanting a little revenge? You used to love getting revenge." Ares offered a reason for his actions. Hoping to conceal the real reason for the attempt on Sorrow's life. His reference to Xena's past lifestyle made her even more angry. Seeing the Warrior Princess was about to attack again. He flashed his trademark smile and disappeared. Both of the women rushed to Sorrow.
"She's still breathing." Danu leaned over the prone figure. She was relieved to feel the faint breath on her face.
"But for how long?" Xena's hand brushed across an icy arm.
"What should we do?" The archer looked to the warrior for answers.
"First we get out of here. We aren't going to be very welcome when they discover the King is dead." Xena brushed the hair from Sorrow's cold face. "Get me that tapestry and those spears." With the sparse supplies available, Xena constructed a stretcher for the Princess. "Take one end, if we meet trouble...remember to put her down gently. Then we kill whoever bothers us!" Xena didn't care that her words were cold and brutal. Each time she looked down at Sorrow, her breath caught in her throat.
'How could I have missed this?' She glanced one last time at the King's body as they left the ante chamber.
Lord Dunlop met them in the throne room.
"What's going on?" He was alarmed to see them carrying the Princess. "Where is the King?"
"Your so called King is dead. I sent him to Tartarus, where he belongs." Danu spoke before the warrior. Consolidating the kill in her mind. Expecting trouble, they gently laid the stretcher down.
"Thank the Gods!" Dunlop looked relieved.
"What?" Xena questioned. This man was supposed to be the King's close aid.
"He's a madman." Dunlop corrected himself. "He was a madman. He made a pact with the God of War to kill you and the Princess. Everyone in the kingdom has been petrified to move. You should have seen what he did to the first few who opposed his plan." Dunlop thought of the piles of dead behind the castle.
"Do you know what was in her drink?"
"No, that was something Ares gave him. But I do know what he gave you... How are you alive?" Dunlop was astonished.
"Most of the poison didn't get a chance to work." Xena still had the taste of vomit in the back of her throat.
"They may not make a difference. You have to be given an antidote!" Dunlop hoped the woman would trust him. Although he knew she had no real reason to do so.
"What was the poison?"
"It was from the rare Pentasa flower."
Although she had never seen the effect of the flower firsthand, she had heard rumors of its ability. When its petals were soaked in wine overnight, the poison would seep out and infect the drink. The initial reaction was just what she'd felt, an immediate loss of muscle control and unconsciousness. Some time later the person would experience slow, lethal side effects. She was amazed she was still standing.
"Please there is little time! There are those who will want to avenge his death." Dunlop heard the soldiers approaching. "I have chambers that I can hide you in. Please!"
"Xena, we have no choice." Danu pleaded with her. It was bad enough that Sorrow was almost dead, but if the warrior died now...she didn't know what she would do.
Xena nodded her consent and they followed Dunlop through a labyrinth of passages to his chambers.
* * * *
"Here drink this. It will make you sleep for awhile though." Once inside his room, Dunlop retrieved a small bottle from his desk. Hating that she had to trust the man, Xena sniffed at the clear liquid. The smell gave her no indication of its properties. Having no other choice, she gulped the antidote down. She was already feeling weak again and her breathing was difficult.
"This is the only door and it is easily barred from the inside." Dunlop tried to offer some shred of security to them. "I'll go and find out what's going on and I'll do my best to keep the soldiers away."
"I promise you if this is a trick I'll..." Xena didn't have to finish, he knew her intentions all too well.
* * * *
Despite her efforts, Xena couldn't fight the drowsiness. She'd struggled long enough to barricade the door behind Dunlop. Finally giving in, she sat down in a chair next to bed.
"Danu, don't worry about me," Her words were slurred. "Protect the Princess!"
The archer watched helplessly as Xena dragged down into unconsciousness. Holding Sorrow's head in her lap, she waited silently for the time to pass.
* * * *
When consciousness returned, Xena jumped out of the chair startled. She was thankful to see the door was still barred shut. Looking at bed, she almost couldn't speak. Sorrow was still in the same position with Danu was leaning down to cradle her.
"How is she?" The warrior finally spoke. Hearing that the long silence had finally been broken. The archer slowly raised her head to look the warrior in the eye.
"She stopped breathing shortly after you went out," Danu whispered, caressing the Princess' face over and over. "She's gone."
Bring her hands up to her head. Xena dropped to her knees in despair. The broken woman crawled over to the bed and clasped Sorrow's ice cold hand. Her first thought's were of Gabrielle. How would she tell her? How would she tell Madalene? Her only wish was that the little Princess' gift, hadn't given her a window into Sorrow's last moments of life.
* * * *
Pushing themselves and the horses to the brink of exhaustion, the Queen and her guards arrived back to the Amazon village in less than a day.
"Gabrielle," Ephiny helped the exhausted bard off Argo. "What's going on? Where are Xena and Sorrow?"
"I dont know," Gabrielle tired voice answered. "How is Madalene?"
"Fine, she's in daycare." Ephiny offered her arm for support.
"She hasn't said anything?" Gabrielle couldn't decide if she wanted for her daughter to be oblivious to what had happened or if she hoped the strange gift would be able to supply some desperately needed answers.
"No. Gabrielle what's going on?"
"Have any of the border scouts reported anything unusual?" Knowing now that her daughter was safe, the Queen became concerned for the Nation.
"Nothing except your arrival. Gabrielle, where are Xena and Sorrow?" Ephiny guided the bard away from the group.
"Rike poisoned them at his coronation." Her words held none of their usual flair or descriptiveness. "I managed to revive Xena and she stayed behind to rescue Sorrow. He said he needed to sacrifice a virgin Amazon Princess." The Regent's eyes grew wider with each word. Looking back at the group, she could see Solari was receiving the same report from Eponin.
"Xena will save her. Don't worry!" Ephiny motioned for Solari to join them.
"I've already sent someone to assemble the warriors." Solari answered her partner's unspoken order. "Gabrielle, we'll get them back!"
* * * *
True to his word, Lord Dunlop turned out to be an ally. He kept them safe within his chambers until the following night. Not carrying for his own safety he helped them escape the castle.
"Is there anything else you might need?" He asked nervously, hoping no one had followed them to the edge of town.
"No, you have been very kind." Danu answered for the silent warrior. Xena had spoken nothing but single syllable words since awakening.
Xena went over the straps on the litter one last time. Looking at the shrouded body of her daughter, she almost couldn't go on. One thing gave her the strength to face the journey.
She would return the Princess to the Nation and family that she loved. Jumping on top of the horse, she started out. Danu followed close behind.
* * * *
At the head of the group, Solari's horse was the first to crest the hill.
"There!" Scanning the horizon, she spotted the outlines against the horizon. "That could be them."
Eponin signaled back to the rest of the riders to increase their already breakneck pace. Despite her own exhaustion, she had insisted on returning with the group. She still couldn't shake the feeling that she'd abandoned the Warrior Princess.
* * * *
Just before the dawn, the two groups reached each other. As she approached, Solari was disturbed by the slow pace at which the pair was traveling. She signaled for everyone else to stop and approached Xena alone.
"Xena, where's the Princess?" Solari saw the litter behind Xena's horse a heartbeat too late to stop her words. Xena just shook her head, as she brought her own horse to a stop and dismounted. Solari didn't respond as she dismounted and walked over to the litter. Glancing back at the rest of the Amazons, she knew the news was spreading quickly back through the ranks. The Princess was dead. They were too late to save her.
"Are you being followed?" Solari finally found her voice.
"No. How are Gabrielle and Madalene?" Xena's numbness masked her concern.
"Fine." Solari could read nothing from the warrior. "Gabrielle was exhausted from the journey, but otherwise unharmed. Madalene has no idea what's going on."
"Rike's kingdom is still disorganized." The warrior within her assessed the situation. "Even if they mount an attack in retaliation, it should be a few days before they arrive."
"You're expecting a retaliation?" Solari asked, knowing there was more to the story.
"Danu killed the King." Xena motioned to the archer, who hovered a few feet away.
"Why wait for them to attack?" Eponin's defiant voice announced her arrival near the pair. "We're already here, why not attack them first?"
"No!" Xena spun around to look at her. "Our first priority is to bring Sorrow home. Bring her back to her mother." The icy blue eyes starring through her told Eponin not to object. More of the warrior's had dismounted and gathered around the litter. Seeing Danu, Tearnon approached her.
"Thank Artemis you're all right!" The guard embraced the archer, startled when she wasn't hugged back. "Are you hurt?"
"No." Danu's glazed eyes looked past Tearnon to Sorrow's body.
"I was so worried when I heard you'd stayed behind to help Xena." Tearnon tentatively released her grip.
"You had no reason to worry." Danu relaxed once she was free from the guard's touch.
"No reason? I'll admit you're the best with a bow my love but you're not very good at hand to hand combat."
"My skills were more than adequate." Danu loathed the condescending nature of the comment. "My arrow killed him just as much as you're sword would've."
"Killed who?" Tearnon questioned.
"The King." Reaching out she stopped the guard from hugging her again. Unable to understand the archers unresponsive body language. Tearnon tried to move her away from the body.
"It's over. Please leave me alone!" Danu shoved her away. Confused and hurt, Tearnon backed away.
'She just needs some time.' Tearnon thought as she returned to her horse.
* * * *
They entered Amazon territory two days later. Just inside the border, Xena stopped the procession .
"From now on, she'll be carried!" She hated how Sorrow's body was being jostled around behind the horse. Xena altered the structure of the litter so that it could be carried by four people. Xena took her place in front, and motioned for Danu to take the place across from her. Solari and Eponin filled in the remaining spaces. The forest was silent, as they lifted the litter onto their shoulders and began the last leg of the journey home.
* * * *
"Gabrielle, you're needed at the Northern gate." Ephiny broke the Queen out of her thoughts. All she could do was nod. Ephiny was surprised when she didn't press for a reason.
* * * *
Seeing the Queen and Regent walking towards the Northern Gate, many other Amazons filed in a short distance behind them. Gabrielle stopped a fair distance from the closed gate.
"Open it!" She commanded the guards, who stood with their heads down.
* * * *
Legend says the sight was so saddening... that the sky itself was moved to cry.
* * * *
Gabrielle didn't even notice the rain when it started. All she saw was the shrouded body on top of the litter. Still being carried by the same four who had first lifted it. The bearers bowed their head's as they carried the Princess through the gate. When they reached where the Queen was standing, they stopped momentarily. On wobbly legs, Gabrielle turned and led the procession through the village. All around them, Amazons dropped to their knees weeping in the rain.
* * * *
Once inside the hall, Gabrielle allowed herself to approach the litter.
"Put her down."
The litter was lowered softly to rest on the floor. Everyone missed the weigh on their shoulders. The suffering it caused, had been a silent symbol of each person's internal pain.
"Please... I want to see her face." The bard pleaded for someone to help her, finding herself unable to touch her daughter's shroud. Xena unwrapped the heavy cover to revealing the Princess still dressed in the white silk dress. Gabrielle lowered herself to knee beside Sorrow head. Leaning down, she brushed the hair from her daughters face and kissed her forehead. Xena remained nearby. Her fists clamped at her sides in a vain attempt to cope.
"I want that off her immediately!" Seeing Rike's gift, she struggled to keep from tearing the garment off.
"Gabrielle, well take care of her." Ephiny moved to approach the body but was stopped by Xena's arm.
"No. I'll do it," Xena spoke for the first time.
"No. They'll take care of her." Gabrielle overruled her. "We're going home, until she's ready..." She couldn't finish the thought. Standing, she grasped the warrior's hand and led her out of the hall.
* * * *
Inside their bedroom, Xena collapsed to her knees in front of the bard.
"I'm sorry, it's all my fault. I couldn't save her. It was Ares seeking revenge. It was his poison that killed her," she pleaded. "I let her die... I let your daughter die...I let my daughter die."
Gabrielle dropped to her knees and raised her hand to Xena's lips to stop the words.
"We both know you didn't kill her. Just tell me what happened." The bard's words were soft and understanding. Gabrielle hated herself at this moment. She'd almost been expecting this since she'd left the castle. Having been reunited with her daughter for such a short time. Itd been easy for her to fall back into the role of grieving mother. She listened carefully as Xena explained what had happened after they parted. When the warrior finally finished, they were both crying.
"Where's Madalene?" Xena asked, her tears having stopped finally.
"She's at daycare. We should go and get her." Gabrielle was on her feet quickly. She felt guilty for not going to get the little Princess right away.
* * * *
From what they could tell, Madalene's gift hadn't given her any knowledge about her sister's death. Xena held the little Princess as she cried. Madalene was torn between being happy to once again be in her Mommy's arms and being devastated that Sorrow was gone.
"I guess that was Sorrow's last selfless act," Xena held onto the bard's hand tightly. "She protected her until the end." Still carrying Madalene, Xena and Gabrielle went back to the hall. Ephiny waited at the entrance to tell them that the Princess was ready.
They entered to see Sorrow still on top of the litter. Her body now shrouded in Amazon linen and surrounded by a multitude of flowers.
"The youngsters she used to take hunting collected the wild flowers for her." Ephiny explained before leaving the hall.
Knowing the Royal family would still need to time to say goodbye, Sorrow's face remained uncovered. Madalene struggled to be released from Xena's arms. Despite their objections, she'd insisted on seeing Sorrow.
"I miss you," She placed little kisses on her sister's forehead and cheeks. "I love you." Turning away from the body, she ran and buried her head into Gabrielle's leg.
Xena approached next. Down on one knee she tried to make peace with her dead daughter. Her cheast heaved with the sobs and she silently wished it was she who had fallen.
"I will always love you," She placed one gentle kiss on Sorrow's lips. "My daughter."
Having read the bard's thoughts. Xena collected Madalene and silently went outside.
Gabrielle paced around the litter. Her hand at her mouth in an attempt to catch the gasps of anguish that escaped her lips. She didn't know what to say, didn't know what words could make this any easy. The first time she'd loss Sorrow, it had been to save Madalene. That at least made some sense, offered some comfort. This time, it was just about revenge.
"I hope you find peace and happiness." She finally sat on the ground by Sorrow's head. "I'm sorry for bringing you into all of this." Placing her hand on Sorrow's cheek, she tried to memorize her face. Commit every contour and feature to memory. "I never got to tell you, even as the Protector you don't look like your father." The fact that she would never see Sorrow again finally solidified for her. There would be no hope this time. No stranger would arrive in the future to reveal herself as Sorrow. This would be the end. She would bear witness to the funeral pyre. There'd be no miracle to stop this. Sorrow was really dead. Her incredible power unable to stop the simple goblet of poison.
Outside the drums started and with them the dance. Everywhere Amazons openly wailed and cried out. There hadn't been a funeral the first time she'd died. There had been no body to cremate. No soul to send up into the heavens. Knowing that they'd soon bear witness to her pyre, many Amazons finally recognized the sacrifices she'd made for them. Others remembered her for her kindness. Still others for her unlimited willingness to help, with even the simplest tasks. Hearing the cries of her nation, Gabrielle knew she couldn't stop this from happening. Kissing Sorrow one last time, she placed the wrapping around her daughter's head.
* * * *
Danu stood in the background. No one approached her. Her role in this tragedy was already spreading around the Nation. Everyone respected her for staying with Xena and killing the King. Watching the others dance. She wanted to make them stop.
'You didn't love her!' The selfish thought rang through her mind. 'She didn't love you, she loved me... only me.'
* * * *
Four members of the Royal guard carried the litter from the hall to the funeral pyre.
They waited a long time, before Ephiny finally gave them the signal and the litter was placed on top of the wood.
"My Queen, it is your choice who lights the pyre," Ephiny spoke softly from her place to the left of the bard.
"Xena?" Gabrielle looked to the warrior, hoping she would have the strength to perform the awful deed.
"I can't!" She spoke honestly. "But I think I know who should." She leaned down and whispered to the bard. Gabrielle looked around the gathered Amazons until she found her choice.
"Danu, please come here!" Her voice wasn't loud, but the archer heard her easily.
"Yes, my Queen." Danu knelled before her monarch, not knowing why she'd been called.
"Why did you stay behind to rescue her?" Gabrielle asked the question as a test.
"I could say it was my duty...but that would be a lie." Danu's eyes starred into the ground. "I did it solely for the chance to apologize to her."
"Apologize for what?" The Queen saw the openness of her answer and knew that the poor archer needed to get something off her cheast.
"Apologize for doubting that she still loved me."
"Do you still love her?"
"I never stopped..." Danu stared Gabrielle right in the eye. Letting her heart speak. "My love for her has no end, even in death."
"Would you please be the one to light the pyre?" Gabrielle easily gave the honour to her now.
"But..." Danu started to object, until she felt the Queen's hand on her shoulder. Dredging up all the strength she could find, she took the torch from Solari and walked toward the pyre. Her brief hesitation gave Madalene just enough time to object.
"No, she doesn't have her mask!" The youngster pleaded with her mother. "Everyone has to see you present her mask. She can't go without it or no one will know who she is."
"Madalene, the mask was lost." Gabrielle crouched down to look her daughter in the eye.
"No, it wasn't." Xena remembered suddenly. "Danu, wait!"
The archer stopped and turned, wondering what was going on. Xena ran to the stables and collected her saddlebags. Running back, she opened one pouch to pull out the Queen's mask and from the other she pulled the Protector's mask.
"I couldn't let them be destroyed, could I?"
"You are amazing sometimes." Gabrielle couldn't believe what the warrior had done. She gave her a brief kiss, desperately needing the contact to give her strength.
"Take her down!" Xena commanded. The litter was lifted back off the pyre and rested on the ground.
Gabrielle took Madalene by the hand and approached the litter. She placed the Queen's mask over her face and handed Sorrow's mask to her sister.
"I think you should be the one to perform her coronation." Gabrielle reached down and removed the shroud from Sorrow's face. Madalene moved to put the mask on, but her mother's voice stopped her.
"Tell everyone here what you're doing." She guided the little Princess. "Say anything you want."
"This mask will tell everyone that you are the Protector, a Princess and my sister!" Everyone's heart broke at the little one's words. She placed the mask over Sorrow's face.
"Mother, why is she hot?" Madalene asked the question with a child's innocence.
"What do you mean?" Gabrielle bent down and placed her hand under the mask. Seeing the bard begin to shake, Xena rushed to her side.
"What is it?" Not able to see the shocked look on the bard's face under the mask, she didn't know what to think. Madalene grabbed the warrior's hand and forced her to bend and touch Sorrow's face as well.
"See Mommy! Why is she hot?" Madalene asked again, really wanting an answer.
Xena moved her hand to Sorrow's neck, and marveled at the very faint pulse, that now resided there.
"She's alive.!" The warrior whispered. Gabrielle tore the mask off and put her cheek by Sorrow's mouth.
"She's breathing... how?" Her mind couldn't comprehend what was happening.
"Help me get her inside!" Xena ordered the stunned Amazons gathered around the litter to move.
* * * *
Back inside the hall, Gabrielle watched impatiently as the burial shroud was removed.
"Why doesn't she wake up?" She asked the obvious question, knowing no one knew the answer. In the frenzy, no one noticed Madalene sneak up beside her sister. Placing her small hands over Sorrow's eyes she concentrated.
'Don't worry little one. I'm fine. I'll wake up in a few moments.' Sorrows thought's flowed into Madalene.
"Madalene, what is it?" Xena bent down to ask the question softly, having noticed what she was doing.
"She say's she's fine now and she'll wake up soon." Madalene whispered back, afraid she'd be in trouble for using the gift in front of so many people.
"Are you sure?"
Madalene nodded, happy to see she wasn't going to be punished. A heartbeat later, Sorrow's eyes struggled open.
"Sorrow!" Gabrielle hugged her tightly, starring into her daughter's pale green eyes less they close again.
"Mother, is Xena all right?" She didn't see the warrior standing behind her mother.
"I'm right here." Xena took her hand.
"I'm going to kill..." Sorrow tried to raise herself up, but was still too weak.
"He's already dead. Danu killed him." Gabrielle filled in the blanks for her. "You're not in the castle anymore, you're home."
"Home?" She looked now at her familiar surroundings. "But I've only been out a few moments."
"Days, you've been dead for days." Her mother hugged her again. "We almost...If Madalene hadn't felt your face..." She thought of the drastic mistake they'd almost made.
"It's all right." Looking down, Sorrow understood now what was going on. "You couldn't have known."
'Thank you, little one. I owe you.' Madalene giggled when the words came into her head. She really did love this game.
Danu stood in the crowded doorway, struggling to see what was going on. Unable to control herself, she pushed past the others into the hall. Stopping at the foot of the litter. Xena was the first to notice her.
"I think someone else would like to see you." Xena said, motioning for Danu to come forward and guiding the Queen to stand. Seeing the Princess struggling to sit up, Danu raced to help her. She couldn't believe the heat coming from Sorrow's skin as she wrapped her arms around the Princess.
"I'm so sorry! I should never have said those things. It's only because I'm still in love with you. I couldn't bare to see you with anyone else." Danu words spilled out quickly. She wouldn't waste this second chance.
"Danu, that day in the field you asked me a question." Sorrow raised a weak finger to stop the archer from speaking. "Would you please ask me again?"
Taking a deep breath Danu whispered.
"May I kiss you, my Princess?"
"I love you." Sorrow's soft answer came just before their lips met. She pulled the archer closer as the kiss deepened.
"I have waited so long for your answer." Danu whispered. Her lips so close to Sorrow's that each of the words caused the Princess to shudder. "I love you."
Finding new strength from the kiss, Sorrow closed the small gap between them. Everything she had wished for: the feel of her flesh, the scent of her hair, the taste of her mouth bombarded Sorrow senses.
"What about Tearnon?" She pulled back suddenly.
"Tearnon who?" Danu captured her mouth again, not wanting the precious contact to be broken. Submitting to the delicious kiss, Sorrow forgot what her question had been in the first place.
The end for now...
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