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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 Sorrow’s 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 don’t.

TISSUE ALERT: I’ve 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

Gabrielle sat listening to the rest of the council argue. Three full days of discussion had gotten them no closer to a decision.

"Listen," she spoke, bringing the other five members of the council to a quick silence. "My only choice is to go to Aldernon and meet with Prince Rike." She looked around the circular table.

"But to give into his demand for a meeting only means that you agree he has a legitament claim to a new treaty. Just because his father has died?" One of them challenged.

"No, I’ll send word that I have only agreed to meet with him to find out why he is unhappy with the existing treaty. Maybe all of this can be solved with a little face to face discussion." Right now she didn’t care if she had to walk to Athens and back, she just wanted out of this boring meeting. Xena and Madalene had gone fishing for the day and she had hoped to surprise them. "Any other objections?" All of the Amazons could see the Queen had made up her mind. None of them bothered to argue.

*   *   *   *

The hooded figure approached the Southern gate at a slow pace. The whistles of the forest patrol had notified the guards of the impending arrival. They stood at the ready.

Under the heavy cloak the stranger’s features were indistinguishable.

"Halt! Declare yourself." Jumping down from the trees, Syn used her staff to block the visitor's path.

"I am a friend of the Nation and a close friend of Queen Gabrielle." A soft woman’s voice floated out of the darkness of the hood.

"What do you want?" Syn didn’t like the look of this self proclaimed friend.

"I ask only that you deliver this to your Queen immediately." A pale white hand emerged from under the cloth and handed Syn a scroll.

Syn’s fingers moved to crack the scroll’s wax seal, the stranger’s soft voice made her stop.

"I don’t believe your Queen like’s to have her personal correspondences read by anyone other than herself." The tone remained unthreatening, but the point was not lost. "I will wait here, under your guard, for her response." Making a simple movement into a grand show, she dropped to sit on the ground below her feet. Her quick descent caused the cape to billow up, revealing that she was dressed only in a simple white top and black leather skirt. The other guards were startled by the motion and drew their swords. Seeing that she was unarmed and sitting cross legged on the ground, they felt foolish for being so jumpy.

"Deliver this to the Queen." Syn handed the scroll to another Amazon. Leaning in close she whispered to the woman. "Alert Eponin first. Tell her I don’t like the look of this visitor."

*   *   *   *

Eponin entered the council chambers and went straight to the Queen.

"I’m sorry to interrupt." She bent down so that only Gabrielle could hear. "A mysterious woman has arrived at the Southern gate and has asked for this to be delivered to you." She held up the scroll and continued. "She claims to be a friend of the Nation’s and a close friend of yours."

Gabrielle raised an eyebrow as she took the parchment. Examining the seal, she hoped it would give her a clue. The single thumbprint, held within the wax, told her nothing. A shiver went up her back as she broke the wax and unrolled the scroll.

"Have her brought directly to me." She rolled up the parchment and held it absently in her lap. "Eponin, please escort her yourself."

Eponin waited for an explanation, but none came. The Queen just sat there starring off into space.

*   *   *   *

Syn was surprised when Eponin arrived at the gate. She was still standing close to the seated woman, ready for anything.

"That will be all Syn." The command was stern. Eponin turned to address the stranger. "I will take you to the Queen."

"Thank you." Standing, she extended her arm to Eponin.

Looking down, Eponin’s gaze fell onto her leather wrist band just as the stranger had intended. Syn recognized the band to be Amazon in nature, but she had never seen such marking’s before. Eponin was one of the few who knew the significance of the symbols.

‘But this can’t be!’ Her mind struggled with the idea. ‘She’s been dead for almost four seasons.’ She tried to see the face hidden within the cloak, as she grasped the stranger's arm.

"Please follow me." Eponin turned and led the silent stranger away.

*   *   *   *

Gabrielle had adjourned the meeting quickly and paced nervously around the table.

‘Sit down.’ Her thoughts tried to cope with what was happening. ‘If this is true, you definitely need to sit down.’

Eponin entered with the cloaked woman a few paces behind.

"Thank you." Gabrielle released the breath she’d been holding. "Would you please remain at the door. Make sure no one disturbs us."

Eponin bowed to the Queen, and gave a slow nod to the stranger as she left.

Taking a few steps closer to the table, the stranger reached up and slowly pulled the thick hood back off her head. The Queen’s mouth dropped open in amazement.

"Sorrow, is it really you?"

"Yes, Mother." She released the clasp at her neck and swirled the cape off her shoulders to let it drop on the table.

Gabrielle starred at her daughter. Comparing the woman in front of her with the memory she kept in her heart. Although mostly the same, some very shocking differences remained. Sorrow’s skin was so pale, it appeared to glow. A thick streak of pure white hair began at her left temple and continued back through her long brown mane. Locking eyes, Gabrielle couldn’t believe the deepness that stared back at her. The spell broke suddenly and she rushed to embrace her lost child.

"How?" She pulled back and held the pale face in her hands.

"I’m not really sure. I should be dead." Sorrow wiped a tear from her Mother’s cheek.

Gabrielle grabbed the hand and ran her fingers over the thick red scar that covered its palm.

"Are you all right? You must be hurt?" The memories flooded back to her.

"No, I’ve spent a very long time healing." Ashamed of the mark, Sorrow pulled her hand away and hugged the small woman close. "That’s why I’ve been gone so long. I’m sorry. I came back as soon as I could."

"Of course you did." Gabrielle tightened the embrace. "I’m just glad you're alive."

*   *   *   *

Xena ran to catch Madalene. Fishing hadn’t gone as well as she’d planned. They had returned to the village early, hoping that Gabrielle would be free go on a picnic. The three year old Princess had grown to be quite a handful. Having inherited Xena’s speed and stealth, she maneuvered out of the warrior's grasp and off towards the council chamber.

Eponin caught the running Princess and waited for Xena to catch up to her.

"Look’s like you’ve finally met your match!" She ribbed the warrior, as she handed the squirming Princess back to her.

"Aunt Eponin won’t let me in to see Mother!" Madalene looked to Xena to fix the problem. Xena looked at Eponin.

"A visitor arrived and is having a private meeting with her." She tried to answer the warrior’s unasked question. "I’m not supposed to let anyone disturb them, but I have a feeling she’d want you in there." Eponin thought of the wrist band, and hoped her assumption was right.

"Why don’t you stay with your Aunt, while I go check this out." She placed Madalene back on her feet.

"You can guard the door with me. It’s a very important job you know." Eponin hoped she would be able to keep the youngster out of trouble. The Princess was legendary for disappearing when you looked the other way. Liking the idea of doing something important, Madalene stood next to Eponin and tried to act intimidating. Xena went inside.

*   *   *   *

"Xena, the most wonderful thing has happened." Gabrielle ran to hug her when she entered.

Sorrow turned to face the warrior, who looking up from the bard’s embrace couldn’t believe her eyes.

"Is this some sort of trick?" She questioned instinctually, having believed for so long that Gabrielle’s child was dead.

"No Xena, it’s really me." Sorrow admired the warrior’s honesty. She had expected her to doubt that she was whom she claimed. "You can embed your chakram in my side again if you don’t believe me." She smiled as she spoke, not evoking the memory out of malice but in the hopes of convincing Xena of who she was.

"Sorrow!" Xena moved quickly to hug her.

Gabrielle was a little surprised by the warrior’s emotional display. Knowing Xena's actions were driven by the heavy guilt she felt over Sorrow’s death, she decided not to comment.

"It’s so good to see you." Sorrow returned the embrace.

"Where have been all this time, we thought you were dead?" Xena pulled away and tried to retain some shred of composure.

"It’s a long story," Sorrow sighed.

*   *   *   *

Outside, Eponin could not believe how long the Princess had managed to stand silently at attention.

"You're a very good guard," She praised the child, in an attempt to reinforce the behaviour. "I bet the Queen doesn’t have to worry about an enemy attack when you're around."

"She doesn’t have to worry about that anymore silly." Madalene scrunched her nose up at Eponin’s ignorance.

The 'anymore' sent up a red flag in the Amazon’s mind.

"Why not?"

"Cause she’s back!" The answer seemed so simple to the child.

"Who’s back?"

"The Protector," Madalene looked blankly at Eponin, as if her word’s weren't out of the ordinary. "You know... Sorrow."

‘Only I saw the arm band, how in Tartarus does she know?’ Eponin’s mind couldn’t understand what was going on. Seeing that her baby-sitter was momentarily distracted, Madalene slipped inside.

*   *   *   *

"Hello little sister!" Sorrow turned around in her chair when she heard the small footsteps behind her.

"Sorrow!" Madalene ran full force into her open arms and latched herself around Sorrow’s neck.

"I’ve missed you so much," Sorrow’s voice wavered, the joy of seeing Madalene again overwhelmed her. "You’ve gotten so big."

Seeing her daughters together brought a peace to the Queen that she had feared would never exist again.

‘Everything is how it should be now.’ Her heart exclaimed.

Under the table, Xena laced her fingers into the bard’s.

"Your hair changed colour." Madalene pulled her small fingers through the white streak.

Looking to her mother, Sorrow raised an inquisitive eyebrow. The stunned face looking back at her, gave her no reassurance.

"And I’m glad you don’t hurt anymore." The little Princess buried her head into Sorrow’s shoulder.

"Don’t worry, I’m better than ever." Sorrow stroked her hair, amazed at how it was exactly like Xena’s.

Eponin burst through the door. She had finally come to her senses, and realized the Princess was gone.

"Your Highness, the Princess..."

"Is right here, Eponin." Sorrow turned to show her the youngster was safe.

"Thank Artemis." She let herself relax. "It’s good to see you again Princess." She bowed to Sorrow.

"And you as well." Sorrow smiled at the display. "I’m sorry about the secrecy before. I just wanted to see the family in private first."

"No apologies necessary. I was just glad to see your wrist band. I had a half dozen warriors ready to descend on you, just in case."

"Only half a dozen?"

They both laughed.

"You still need time for grown up talk, right?" Madalene's question caused her laughter to cease.

"Yes." Sorrow hated to let her go.

"I’ll go back outside and guard the door." She squirmed out of Sorrow’s arms, but stayed close to her. "You’ll come get me when you're done?"

"The minute we’re finished, I promise." Sorrow put her hand on her heart and bent down to kiss her forehead. She watched the little Princess drag Eponin back outside.

"How did you know about the pain?" Sorrow ran her hand through her hair absently.

"We didn’t," Xena answered the question for her silent partner.

"Then how did she know about it?" Sorrow’s confusion did nothing to reassure them.

"You haven’t been using your thought's to talk with her?" Gabrielle asked the obvious question.

"No," Sorrow sat down again. "When I regained consciousness I tried for some time to call out, but I was to weak. I haven’t used that power since." Seeing the shattered look on their faces, Sorrow felt horrible about her admission. "Please don’t feel bad about that." She rested her elbows on the table. "I think the best thing would be for me to tell you everything that has happened. Some of it may be painful to hear..."

‘And painful to tell.’ She added in her head.

"There was nothing you could've done, I was trapped under the cave in. It would have taken this long to dig me out." Sorrow knew that each new word opened a fresh wound in their hearts.

"Just start at the beginning... I need to know." Gabrielle pushed past the pain. Reaching out she took Sorrow’s hand.

"All right." She took a deep breath. "When I told you to run, it was because I knew I had to destroy the entire room. Ares had given it to father as a gift, it was part of his domain."

She stopped suddenly. "No, I have to begin even further back then that." She gave her mother’s hand a small squeeze. "When I sent you both to get Madalene. That’s when he told me about the room being part of his world. I knew then that the rules had changed. I couldn't defeat him as I was."

"You allowed him to do that too?" Xena interrupted shocked. The vision of Sorrow hanging from the wall still haunted her.

"Yes." She gathered her thoughts. "When I had been banished, I lost all claim to my rights as his daughter. By making him engage me in combat, I forced myself to be recognized again." She turned to her mother. "When he told you that he had to punish me because I was his daughter, my banishment ended. His new punishment made me free to reclaim my true power."

"Did it hurt when we..." Gabrielle couldn’t bring herself to say the words.

"Yes, but not as much as one would think." Sorrow decided it was best to hide nothing from them. "Being in his realm. My realm," she spoke the words disgusted. "I was able to claim my birthright."

"That was what you were doing in that strange language?" Xena hoped her constant questions wouldn't annoy Sorrow.

"Yes, the language has no name that I can give. It is the only form spoken in my world." She tried to clarify. "That’s why I began in Greek, I wanted you to know that what I was doing was to save Madalene."

"Sorrow we never doubted that." Xena felt guilty again.

"I know, it was also to scare Ares." Sorrow winked at Xena, who couldn’t help but smile.

"Father never realized how much he had taught me and how much more than that my human soul allowed me to learn. Once I had claimed that power, I knew I had a chance not just to defeat him, but to kill him."

"So he really is dead?" Gabrielle asked, scared that Dahak might still exist.

"Yes. When I told you to run, it was because I was going to kill him. I knew I had very little strength left, and even less time to destroy his realm."

"You mean you destroyed his entire kingdom?" Xena could barely believe her.

Sorrow nodded.

"Once I had killed him, I claimed his monstrous power for my own. It was this power that I used to order the destruction. I caused the cave in. I wiped every single bit of my father off the face of this earth." Sorrow felt some satisfaction in her accomplishment, but she knew it had come with a staggering price. "I had no other choice. I was already close to death and I figured the explosion would kill me."

"But you're alive!" Her mother spoke the soft words, hoping this day was not a dream.

"Yes, but I was trapped within the molten rock. As the days passed it hardened around me." Sorrow remembered the feeling of on her skin. "I have no idea how long it was before I regained consciousness. That’s when I tried to use my mind to call out, but I was too weak."

"We should have stayed and looked for you, I’m so sorry." The Queen started to cry.

"Mother, this isn’t your fault. Please don’t think there was anything you could have done." Sorrow moved her closer to her. "I’m back now, you don’t need to hear any of this."

"No, please continue. I need to know what you’ve been through." She wiped the tears from her cheeks. "I want to know exactly what happened. No matter how dreadful."

"When I awoke the pain was excruciating," Sorrow starred deep into her mother’s eyes, looking for any sign that would tell her to stop. "The damage was not just from the fight with father, or losing my wings." She tried to offer a shred of comfort. "I hadn’t realized how much power I was taking into myself. Or how stupid it was to order the destruction of a realm one was still in." She pointed out her own ignorance. "I remained within the rock until a moon ago. It gave me time to heal and to assimilate my new powers." This was the admission she had dreaded making. "Mother, I am not the same person that I was before." Again she ran her hand through the white streak. "I am more my father’s daughter now then ever."

"I don’t believe that." Xena broke her self imposed silence. "No matter how much power you have gained, no matter what that power still are Gabrielle's daughter. Not his!"

"I’m afraid that it is my human soul alone, that keeps my power contained. Allows me to channel it away from the destruction it wishes to bring to this world." She appreciated Xena's conviction about her intrinsic goodness, but the new power scared her. "There is a constant struggle inside of me. I feel sometimes like I’m losing my mind."

Xena knew the young woman’s struggle all too well. Each day she battled her own demons. Thwarted the blood lusting killer that lurked inside.

"I know it’s hard to fight it." Xena stood and turned away from them. Shocked by her own ability to talk about this. "The fact that you are, means you're the same Sorrow you have always been."

Despite the cryptic message, Sorrow understood what the warrior was trying to tell her. She knew of Xena’s depraved past actions and was well aware that these memories haunted her every day. Xena had once been the evil, she was afraid she could become.

Gabrielle had stood aside, allowing this exchange to go on between them, uninterrupted. She hated to see her daughter struggling with the same evil that had once consumed the warrior. The lust for control and destruction that ultimate power brought. Realizing they had finished speaking, she asked a question of her own.

"You freed yourself from the rock a moon ago?"

"Yes." Startled out of thought, Sorrow stood up as well. "I had finally gathered enough strength to break through the stone around me, I headed back to you immediately."

Another question burned in Gabrielle’s mind. Maneuvering herself behind Sorrow, she couldn’t bring herself to ask. Unlike before, the shirt that her daughter wore was not open in the back.

‘I took her wings, forever.’ The horrible thought drilled though her mind.

"That’s why I wanted to see you in private first," Sorrow spoke again. "I wanted to be sure that being what I am now, you would still want me here."

"My daughter," Gabrielle moved to hold her. "I never want you to leave my side again."

"You are an important part of our family," Xena placed a strong hand on her shoulder.

"This deserves a celebration!" Gabrielle added when the embrace ended. "The entire Nation has mourned your loss." She turned to Xena, making plans in her head. "There won’t be time to notify all of the tribes, but I’m sure we can still make this quite a party."

"All of the tribes?" Sorrow asked confused.

"Your Mother has made some big changes since you’ve been gone." Xena attempted to clarify. "She has single handedly united all of the scattered Amazon Nations and is now the undisputed Queen."

"The Queen’s champion had a little to do with that." Gabrielle refused to take all the credit. She had been the one to negotiate all of the peaceful alliances, but it had been Xena’s sword that had dispatched any outside challenge to her throne.

"I don’t know," Sorrow thought of how draining it would be to explain this to everyone. "Some of the Amazons weren’t very fond of me before. I don’t think they’ll be excited to see me back."

"I don’t care!" Her mother hugged her again. "I want to announce to everyone that you're alive and you're home to stay."

"Go ahead then," she answered, returning the embrace. "Whatever you want... I want."

Despite herself, Xena began to look forward to the celebration.

"I have one last question." Sorrow sat down again.

Sensing the sadness that had come over her child, Gabrielle sat down as well.

"Is Danu still in the village?" Sorrow conjured up her last memory of the beautiful blond archer.

"Yes." Her mother shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Sorrow knew her fears was about to be realized.

"Mother, I understand. I have no right to make any claim to her or expect anything that once existed between us to still be. I only want her to be happy." Sorrow tried to hide her pain.

"She mourned your lost for so long, Sorrow." Gabrielle gathered up her daughter's hands in her own. "Many thought she would die from the grief. It was only a short time ago that she allowed herself to love again. She's engaged to Tearnon, a member of my Royal guard."

"Good!" Sorrow lied through her teeth. "A member of the Royal guard, this Tearnon must be quite a woman." She sucked in a deep breath. "I’m sorry to here she wasted so much time on me. She should have just gotten on with her life."

Xena placed her hand on the bard’s shoulder, in an attempt signal an end to the conversation. She could see the agony on Sorrow’s face. More details would only add to her suffering.

"Let’s start that celebration!" Sorrow stood abruptly and walked out collect her sister.

*   *   *   *

By dusk, the entire village had gathered in the courtyard. The stage held the Queen’s throne in the centre, her champion’s chair to the right and a small chair for the little Princess on her left. A buzz rumbled through the crowd questioning the presence of another chair, beside the smaller one. No one except Eponin, outside of the Royal family, knew that Sorrow had returned. Gabrielle had decided even to keep Ephiny in the dark, just to see how surprised the Regent would look. The crowd parted and in full formal regalia the royal family walked up to take their seats. The extra chair remained empty.

"Amazons!" Gabrielle raised her voice to address her people. "We have great cause for celebration!" She shot a sly smile at Ephiny, who stood off to the side of the stage confused. "One we thought lost has been found. She has fought death itself to return and fulfill her duty to our Nation. I am overjoyed to announce my daughter... Princess Sorrow... is alive."

Gabrielle looked to the back of the gathering, waiting for Sorrow to make her official entrance. Her daughter was no where to be found.

"Xena, where is she?" She leaned over, so that only the warrior could hear.

"She’s making a special entrance for you," Madalene piped up from her seat, a big smile on her face. "I told her to do it this way."

They both looked at the little Princess, following her stare up to the sky. At that moment, Sorrow hovered just above the treetops. Seeing them notice her, she gracefully floated down to land in the middle of the stunned crowd. She dropped to one knee and placed her hand on her heart.

"The Protector has returned!" Her voice was loud and confident. "And no force in the universe can take me from my home or my family again."

Standing again, she extended her wings out fully for her mother and Xena to see. The white wings simmered in the fading sunlight, highlighting the translucent nature of each feather.

"We surprised you!" Madalene’s happy squeals broke her parents from their thoughts.

Pulling the wings up against her back, as a bird would, Sorrow walked up to stand on the stage in front of her mother.

"Are you all right?" She feared she’d scared them to death.

"Your wings...We thought you had lost them forever." Gabrielle found her voice.

"It took time, but they healed." She smiled.

"Their so quite now." Gabrielle reached out and ran her hand over the smooth white feathers. Remembering the thunder that once announced her daughter's flight.

"I am not what I was before," she whispered softly.

Realizing the entire village was watching them, Sorrow took her seat.

"Let the celebration begin!" Gabrielle was floored by the sudden cheering of the crowd. Despite Sorrow’s apprehension, most of the Amazons were overjoyed to have the Protector back amongst them.

"Sorrow!" Ephiny approached now, still in shock. "We thought you were dead."

"Not dead, just badly broken for awhile." She hugged the Regent.

"You were the mysterious visitor from the Southern Gate." She looked at Eponin and shook her head. "And you should have told me sooner." She frowned at the Queen.

"But you were so surprised!" Gabrielle laughed.

"I don’t think surprised was quite the word." Ephiny couldn’t help laughing.

*   *   *   *

She’d struggled to keep herself from fainting when Sorrow appeared. The world around her had gone black, and only the white wings had remained clear in her vision.

"This cannot be!" She spoke the words to herself. Suddenly Tearnon’s arms were around her, holding her up.

"Are you all right?" Tearnon had watched the colour drain from Danu’s face and had moved to catch her fiancee, just before she passed out.

"Yes... no." Instinctually Danu pulled away and propelled herself backwards through the crowd. Not caring whom she pushed aside. "I have to go home, I don’t feel very well."

"I’ll come with you then." Tearnon offered. She had no idea what was happening to the archer.

"No!" Her voice was too firm, but she couldn’t be bothered to correct it. "I just want to lie down, you enjoy the party. Please, stay."

Tearnon nodded and released her. Danu did her best to calmly walk away. Praying that Tearnon would do as she'd asked. Once inside her hut, she collapsed onto the bed.

‘She is alive!’ Her mind raced. ‘After all this time, she’s alive and she’s come home.’ Her hands shook, her heart pounded and it felt as if her head would explode. ‘Why didn’t she come to see me? Why didn’t see tell me herself?’ The awful answer came to her now. Sorrow was home, and had made no attempt to find her. ‘I was nothing to her." Danu couldn’t believe what was happening. "I didn’t even deserve to be told in person.’ She started to cry.

*   *   *   *

Even amongst the festivities, Xena had noticed the archer pushing herself frantically through the crowd. Even taking into account the sheer shock of Sorrow being alive, Danu’s reaction was extreme.

‘So you are not over her as much as we all thought.’ Xena kept the observance to herself.

*   *   *   *

Tearnon had watched Danu leave and decided to wait for a while before following. She had no idea what had happened to the archer. Having moved to the village only two seasons ago, she hadn’t known of the Protector before this day. More importantly, Danu had never mentioned Sorrow. Tearnon made her way closer to the stage. She was curious to find out more about the Queen’s strange daughter. She was of course a member of the Royal guard, and it was her sworn duty to protect any and all members of the Royal family. Seeing Solari standing off to the side enjoying a drink, she felt it all right to approach her.

"Tearnon, you do not have a drink?" Solari greeted the warrior happily. She’d been on several missions with Tearnon and was impressed with the her abilities. On top of that, Solari had always found her interesting to talk with.

"No, I haven’t made it over there yet." She accepted the drink that was handed to her. "I was wondering if I could ask you a question?"

"Sure, what’s on your mind?"

"Who is this Protector? Why has she been gone so long?" Tearnon took a deep gulp of her wine.

"That Tearnon, is Princess Sorrow." Solari couldn’t keep the smile from her face. "She once defeated an entire army to save this village. I was almost killed in the first attack. In one day, she killed them all." She took a sip from her mug. "Artemis herself came to declare Sorrow our Princess."

"So she isn't really an Amazon?"

"She is." Solari could see the amazement on Tearnon's face. She answered the next question before the guard could ask. "The Queen really is her mother."

"Who in Tatarus is her father then?"

"Don't know." Solari lied.

Her mind was still full of questions, but it was impossible to miss the reverence in Solari's words.

"But she’s not human, is she?" Tearnon tried to ask the question without offending the other warrior.

"Not completely." Solari couldn’t blame Tearnon for her ignorance. Few in the village were aware of the events surrounding Sorrow’s birth. "She is the Queen’s daughter none the less, and the most powerful warrior I have ever seen."

"Where has she been then?"

"The God of War stole Princess Madalene the day she was born." Solari could see Tearnon’s surprise. "We had all thought she was killed in the rescue, but from what I’ve heard she was only injured very badly. She has spent all of this time healing."

"She’s mortal?" Tearnon asked surprised that such an unbelievable creature could be killed.

"Yes, although only the God’s really know what could kill her." Solari’s words were interrupted by Ephiny’s voice calling from the stage. "Excuse me."

*   *   *   *

The party finally winded down hours later. Sorrow sat in her chair on the stage, with Madalene asleep in her arms. She caught her mother starring at them.

"I have never been so content." She smiled at her. "She loves me without doubt or question."

Gabrielle couldn’t respond. There was nothing she could say that would do justice to the joy she felt.

"You all look so beautiful!" No one missed the slight slur in the warrior’s voice. "You especially!" She gave Gabrielle a quick kiss.

"I think it’s time to put a certain Warrior Princess to bed." The Queen took her champion’s hand and kissed it. She turned her attention back to her daughter. "I hope you don’t mind, but Madalene wanted you to sleep in her room tonight. I had a bed brought to the house for you. We were kind of hoping to convince you to take over the guest room after that."

"Not hoping, insisting!" Xena spoke up, but found she was having a bit of trouble following the conversation. Ephiny had been a little upset about the surprise and had challenged the warrior to a drinking contest as payback. She had left the Regent passed out in Solari’s arms.

"I wouldn’t want it any other way." Sorrow hadn’t even considered arguing. She wanted nothing more than to be close to her family. She was home and everything felt so right.

"Good, let’s go my love." Gabrielle couldn’t help laughing as she watched the warrior struggle to stay awake. Gabrielle lead Xena home, as Sorrow followed carrying the little Princess.

*   *   *   *

"Do you want some tea?" Gabrielle asked, glad they would have some time alone.

"No, I’m all right," Sorrow sighed.

"Are you tired? Please don’t stay up just because of me." The mother in her emerged.

"No, I’m not tired. I’m just afraid that when I open my eyes in the morning, this will all have been a dream."

"If I thought this was a dream, I wouldn’t let you wake up." She sat down beside her daughter. "I’ve missed you so much."

"Not nearly as much as I've missed you." They held hands in silence.

"Xena and you have raised a beautiful little girl." Sorrow finally spoke. "I feel so bad about missing all this time with her."

"Sorrow, it is because of you that she's alive." She rubbed the back of her daughter’s hand. "There's always been a special bond between you."

"She doesn’t remember the cavern, does she?"

"No, but she has never forgotten you."

"What do you mean?"

Standing up, Gabrielle walked over to Madalene’s door.

"Come see." She motioned for Sorrow to join her.

The door opened without a noise and the firelight fell softly on the little bed. Sorrow couldn’t believe what she saw. On the wall, above Madalene’s head, hung the protection necklace.

"How did she get that?" She'd forgotten the gift.

"Danu gave it to her, from you, on her second birthday." Gabrielle closed the door and led Sorrow back to sit down.

"Something very strange happened that day. It gave me a little hope that you weren’t really dead." She held tightly onto her daughter’s hand. "We hadn’t told her about you. We were waiting until she got a little older, so she’d understand."

Sorrow nodded her approval at the strategy.

"Also, because I found it hard to talk about you then."

She hated to see her mother relive the painful memories, but she didn't dare interrupt.

"As soon as she opened the box, she knew it was from you. She knew it was you. She held the feather up too her cheek and said that she loved you. She even called you by name."

"How did she know?" Sorrow questioned amazed.

"We don’t have any idea. It was the same as today when she knew you’d been in pain and that your hair had changed." Gabrielle ran her hand through the white streak, marveling at the softness. "It defies explanation."

"Those are not the only times." Sorrow didn’t want to cause more worry, but she had to be honest with her mother. "I was talking to Eponin and apparently Madalene knew I was here before she came inside."

"That’s impossible. Only Xena and I knew you were alive."

"I had shown Eponin my wrist band, but even she wasn't completely sure it was me."

"But she wouldn’t have told Madalene who she thought you were?"

"She didn’t." Sorrow wanted to gauge how worried she should let herself be. "Mother, have you ever told her about my title?"

"She didn’t know about that until tonight."

"Mother brace yourself, she referred to me as the Protector." A small chuckle escaped her. "In fact, Eponin said Madalene looked at her like she was stupid for not knowing it was me."

"What’s going on?" Gabrielle was starting to feel very uneasy. "Xena’s always been worried about the power Ares claimed she had. This couldn’t be that, could it?"

"I don’t know, but all of this seems to revolve around me somehow. Maybe being so young she's able to pick up on my power. My guess is she doesn’t even realize she’s doing it." Sorrow tried to calm her mother’s fears, even as hers continued to grow.

"That makes sense," Gabrielle held tightly to the explanation, even though she didn’t really believe it. "She’s using your own power to pick up little pieces of information on you." Her own words meant nothing. Her rational mind reminded her that the first time Madalene had done this, Sorrow had been trapped deep in the ground. By her own admission she had been too weak to send out her thoughts.

"There was something else I wanted to discuss with you." Gabrielle changed the subject. "Soon I have to make a trip north and meet with the Prince of Aldernon. The King passed away recently, and now his son is claiming the treaty between us needs to be changed."

"Are you expecting trouble?" The Protector within her arose.

"No," Gabrielle saw the sudden readiness in Sorrow's eyes. "Relations between our kingdoms have always been peaceful. I just think he wants a little more compensation for the security he thinks he brings to the Northern border." She was relieved to see Sorrow relax again. "I was hoping you would come along, so we could spend some time together on the journey."

"Of course." Sorrow glimpsed at Madalene's door. "Are you bringing the little one?"

"No, even though I hate to leave her. But negotiations are such a boring affair. Besides, she has classes and she loves to spend time driving Ephiny and Solari crazy."

They both laughed.

"How long will we be gone?" She hated to leave her little sister so soon. She tried to remember that they would have a lifetime together now.

"It's only two days away. The real delay will depend on how stubborn the Prince is."

"Does he know what I am?"

Gabrielle cringed at the question.

"First of all..." A mother's stern voice answered. "You will never again refer to yourself as a what. Secondly, no he does not know of your skills. I've been very careful to make sure the Protector and the Princess are seen as two different people beyond our borders."

"Good." Sorrow liked the advantage this brought. Unable to stop herself, she yawned.

"It's late. Time of all my little children to got to bed." Gabrielle ran her hand through her daughter's hair and placed a kiss on her cheek. "Goodnight." Sorrow couldn't argue, and went directly to bed.

*   *   *   *

Danu couldn't believe the softness of the lips against her own. Their kiss seemed to span space and time. Her memory told her Xena should be interrupting them, but the intrusion never came. What should have been inexperienced hands, lead her downwards to lie in the cool grass of the field. Gentle hands roamed over her. Sweet kisses brought even more heat to her burning skin. Nothing compared to this. Reaching down to bury her hands in the thick brown mane of hair, she was lightheaded from the soft words of love that floated up to her ears.

"I love you, Sorrow." She felt herself falling, sinking down into the luscious feeling.

*   *   *   *

"Sorrow!" Danu shot up into a sitting position. Realizing it had only been a dream, she was relieved that Tearnon hadn't been awakened by her voice. The royal guard snored softly beside her and smelled of sweet Amazon wine. Danu knew that nothing short of an earthquake would wake her now.

'How can I be here with you...' She brushed her hand over Tearnon's arm. 'But still be dreaming of her.'

Despite her guilt, her mind made ever attempt to hold onto the last shreds of the dream.

It had been so long since she had dreamed of Sorrow. So long since her heart had used sleep to trick her mind into giving into the pleasure it desired.

Danu remembered the first time she’d seen Tearnon. After over two years of self imposed mourning, she'd finally been persuaded to attend the harvest celebration. She hadn't intended for anything to happen. But when the beautiful new member of the Royal guard had asked her to dance, she had been unable to say no. Distracted by the tall warrior's strength and fiery red hair. As the relationship had grown, she’s lied and told herself that she was finally over Sorrow. She’d immersed herself in Tearnon, but secretly always loved the Protector. She knew that love would last forever, despite the Princess' death.

Danu had never held onto the hope that Sorrow might still be alive. She'd simply begun to define herself by the loss and daydream endlessly about what could have been. She wouldn't lie. She did feel something for Tearnon. But even at the peaks of passion, it had never compared to simply holding Sorrow's hand.

"But none of this matters." Mumbling to herself, she laid back down. "I'm nothing to her, nothing at all."

*   *   *   *

The call for help came suddenly into her sleeping mind. It was strong enough to propel Sorrow out of bed and into the wall. Quickly she scanned the room, ready for a fight.

But the shadows were empty. Only the small Princess lay thrashing around in her bed.

"Madalene," She calmed herself and knelt beside the small bed. Her sister was in the tight grip of a nightmare. "Madalene, wake up."

Her eyes snapped open and she instinctually crawled into Sorrow's arms. Rocking her sister, Sorrow waited for the flood of tears to subside.

"A bad man, he is a very bad man. Please don't go there." Her words were quick.

"Go where? There are no bad men here." Sorrow struggled to follow the jagged plea.

"Don't go north. He hates Mommy. He'll poison her." She began to cry again.

Sorrow couldn't believe what she was hearing. Madalene knew nothing of the impending journey to the North.

"You don't have to worry, I won't let anything happen to her." She tried to calm the little girl's fears.

"Can I sleep with you?" The words passed slowly through her quivering lips. Sorrow nodded, and they both cuddled into her bed.

*   *   *   *

Opening her eyes, Gabrielle was almost startle to find Xena still asleep beside her.

'This is different.' She thought. Unable to believe she had managed to wake up before the warrior. 'She must have had some jag in last night.'

Quietly, she slipped out of bed and pulled on her robe. Knowing it was best to let the hung over warrior stay asleep, she went to make herself some tea. Seeing Sorrow's thick cloak, slung over a chair, she raced to Madalene's door. Afraid it had all been a dream.

Sorrow slept on her side, with Madalene snuggled peacefully into her arms. Gabrielle felt her eyes well up. She fought to shed her joyous tears quietly, lest she wake her sleeping children. Closing the door, she silently counted her blessing. Collecting her tea and taking Sorrow's cloak for a blanket, she went outside to sit on the porch.

*   *   *   *

When Xena awoke, she welcomed the pounding in her head. The discomfort reminded her that none of this was a dream. That Sorrow really was alive and she’d once again drank Ephiny under the table. Hauling herself up into a sitting position, she cringed. The bard had managed to get up before her. She'd never live this down. Throwing on her own robe, she went to find her.

*   *   *   *

"Don't you look snug." Xena's voice broke her thoughts. "And radiant." The sunlight danced of the bard's golden hair. She could only smile and motion for her partner to sit with her. Snuggling into Xena, she moved the cloak to cover them both. Xena stole a lingering kiss.

*   *   *   *

Later that day, when Xena felt better, she dragged Sorrow to the practice field.

"Come on, you know you enjoy this." She teased the Princess, handing her a staff.

"Xena, I'm not sure about this." Sorrow couldn't believe how flimsy the thick Amazon staff now felt to her. "I haven't fought anyone in along time, and I'm a little nervous. With all that has happened I'm..."

Xena didn't let her continue. The warrior picked up a staff and attacked her.

"Well, you are a little rusty." Xena brought a sharp strike down onto her shoulder, and laughed.

"And maybe you're getting a little soft." Sorrow absorbed the blow, while sweeping her own staff at knee level. Xena wasn't amused when she landed on her back. She was even less amused when the pack of Amazons watching their exchange began to clap for Sorrow.

"Soft! You're gonna pay for that." Arching up, she jumped to land on her feet.

"Now Xena," Sorrow backed away playfully. "I believe you were the one who started this."

"And I'm also the one whose going to finish it!" She flashed her teeth.

"As you wish, your Highness." Sorrow executed a slow, deep bow. As a sign of respect, Xena returned the gesture before attacking. None of the student's could speak, as they watched the fighters execute strike after strike. They were definitely getting a lesson in advanced staff techniques today. True to her own admission, Sorrow was a little rusty. Xena soon had her on her back, with her staff pointed at her throat.

"Submit!" Xena asked coyly, ready for any surprise Sorrow could come up with.

"The match is yours, your Highness." Sorrow nodded her head in submission and accepted Xena's hand as she got up. "Looks like you're not soft at all."

"Or maybe you just need a little practice." Xena slapped her on the back playfully.

*   *   *   *

Sitting on the grass, she watched Xena smack the staff out of the student's hand for the fortieth time. Sorrow couldn't help but smile. She was so happy to be home. Her happiness was short lived.

"Princess Sorrow." A member of the Royal guard knelt beside her.

"Yes." Sorrow didn't take her eyes from the lesson.

"I have a message from the Queen." The guard rose only when Sorrow finally motioned for her to do so.

"Yes?" Sorrow stood up now, and looked at the guard.

"She has asked that you and Xena meet her in the courtyard. Immediately!" The guard hated to stress the last word, but felt she should.

"What's wrong?" Sorrow instinctually reached her mind outwards, but only a slightly disturbed feeling surrounded her mother.

"Three men arrived at the Northern Gate and the Queen is having an audience with them right now. They are members of Prince Rike's court." The guard knew this was not part of the original message, but this was the Protector. She wanted to give her any information that would help.

"Thank you." Sorrow dismissed her and called to Xena. "Your Highness?"

Xena stopped the lesson and looked at her, visibly annoyed. She hated that title. Looking at Sorrow's face, she realized that the Princess knew this and was only using it to bother her.

"Yes, Princess." Two could play this game.

"The Queen would like us to join her in the courtyard, immediately." Sorrow almost laughed at the way Xena drew the word Princess out.

Xena raised an inquisitive eyebrow and strode over to her.

"I'll tell you on the way."

*   *   *   *

"I would like to offer an apology for arriving unannounced. Prince Rike was so overjoyed that you had agreed to meet with him, that he wanted to send a small token of good faith." Lord Dunlop motioned to the pack horses, laden with packages. "Spices and fine silks from the Far East. Our kingdom has had some very lucrative dealing this year." On cue his two companions began to open the packages and lay their contents on the edge of the stage for the Queen to admire.

"Lord Dunlop," Gabrielle answered, glancing to her left. She was happy to see Xena and Sorrow approaching. "None of this was necessary."

She was amazed by how differently the two warriors approached the situation. Xena stalked up onto the stage, head high, muscles taunt and took her place as champion. She watched the colour drain from Lord Dunlop's face.

'So, you know of the Warrior Princess.' The Queen still loved how Xena could make men cower with a simple look. She tried to bury her rising passion for the warrior, this was obviously not the time for her mind to wander.

Sorrow glided onto the stage and sat gracefully in her chair. Gabrielle would swear that her daughter almost appeared fragile.

"Lord Dunlop, may I introduce my consort and champion Xena, Warrior Princess." Without looking she knew Xena was completely in warrior mode. Under her Champion's glare the man took a deep breath and bowed.

"And this is my daughter, Princess Sorrow."

Gabrielle didn't like what she was seeing. Lord Dunlop forgot the imposing Warrior Princess as his jaw dropped open at the sight of the Princess. His eyes traced up her leg, remaining for a heartbeat to imagine what was hidden beneath the short tan leather skirt. Remaining for a longer moment to imagine what was beneath the tan leather top before he finally looked her in the eye. He bowed again.

"Lord Dunlop." Sorrow bowed her head slightly.

"I must apologize again." He attempted to regain his composure. "Prince Rike was unaware that your Majesty had a daughter. I am afraid he will see his gifts as insufficient now."

'Or that Xena really was your wife.' He thought to himself. 'This is definitely going to upset him.'

"The Princess has been studying abroad," She gave a simple explanation. "And the gifts are too much already."

"Your Majesty is most gracious." He bowed again. "With your permission we will leave. On behalf of Prince Rike, I would like to invite Princess Sorrow to come as well. He is planning a large celebration in your honour."

"Do you require anything for your journey?" The Queen tried to keep herself in her throne. She wanted to slap the man for leering at her daughter.

"No, we have left supplies just outside of your territory."

"We will see you soon then." The Queen motioned for the guards to escort the party away.

"Do you want me to escort him?" Xena secretly hoped to teach him a lesson in manners.

"No, if anybody gets to kick his butt it's gonna be me." Gabrielle took her hand having read the warrior's thoughts. Sorrow started to laugh. She had found his display funny.

"This is perfect!" She finally responded to their questioning faces. "He doesn't suspect what I am." The scowl on her mother's face demanded an immediate correction. "I meant he doesn't suspect what I can do. He thinks I'm a fragile little Princess."

"That could be useful." Xena conceded as she sat in her throne.

"I know. But I still will not spend my time watching him undress you in his mind." Gabrielle felt her temper rise. "Next time he does it, I will not be so gracious."

"But Mother, I was thinking... If they don't know I'm the Protector, then we don't have to worry about them mounting a sneak attack on the Nation. The Prince will assume that the Protector is still here. More than that, it means Madalene will be safe here without us."

"She's got a point." Xena liked this strategy. It would afford her a little comfort in leaving Madalene home. "On top of that, we can leave the more capable of the Royal Guard here to guard Madalene. Whoever we bring will only be for show, since both Sorrow and myself will be with you."

'Maybe this is a good thing.' Gabrielle thought for a moment.

"All right. If you two think this is such a good idea." They both nodded that it was.

*   *   *   *

For the second night in a row, the scream for help sliced through her mind. Now in the guest room, she hadn't remembered the small table near the bed. Springing out of bed she had landed on top of now broken table. Racing out of the room, she was met by Xena.

"What in Tatarus is going on?" The loud crash had awakened her. She stood with her sword at the ready.

Sorrow didn't answer. She just rushed to Madalene's room. The little Princess had her hands out, as if to ward off an attacker.

"Bad man, bad man," she mumbled, even though still sound asleep.

"Madalene, it's all right now." Sorrow picked her up and coaxed her awake.

"She's having a nightmare." She turned to the frazzled warrior, who stood in the doorway. Madalene didn't wake up completely, even when Sorrow handed her to Xena.

"I'll bring her in with us." The warrior was at a loss. She could easily defeat anything in the real world, but she was helpless to protect the little one from nightmares.

"Good idea." Sorrow took a minute to catch her breath. "I'm sorry about the table."

"Don't worry about that...How did you know?" Xena had been awaken by the crash, but she wondered what had awaken Sorrow.

"She called out for help." Sorrow knew the warrior would not be happy.

"I didn't hear her."

Sorrow pointed to her head. Xena's eyes opened wide.

"She doesn't know she's doing it." She tried to be reassuring. "I think it's just a fear response."

"It's late, we'll talk about this more in the morning." Xena couldn't hide the discomfort in her voice.

*   *   *   *

"Why didn't anyone tell me about all of this before?" Her anger was evident. "I am her mother you know."

"Xena, I asked Sorrow not to tell you." Gabrielle winced from the sting of her partner's words. "I didn't want to worry you until we knew what was going on."

"I'm sorry, if you want me to leave." Sorrow leaned her head on the table.

"No, this is not your fault." Xena pulled out a chair and sat down. "I just like to know about these things."

"Then there's something else I should tell you." Sorrow raised her head. "It happened the night before as well."

Xena looked immediately to Gabrielle, who looked just as shocked.

"She's having nightmares about our trip north."

"But she doesn't know we're going yet." Xena didn't like the sound of this.

"I don't know how, but she does. She says that in her dreams there is a very bad man and..." She paused to gather her courage. "And that he'll poison you."

"That's ridiculous." Xena brushed the statement away.

"Maybe it isn't." Gabrielle's scared voice answered. "All of the other things Madalene has said have been right."

"But this was during a nightmare, not when she was awake." Sorrow tried to inject some reason. "I think she's just afraid that something might happen and her fear is playing tricks."

"But how did she know we're going north." The bard shot back.

"I know." Xena tried to come up with a plausible explanation to put Gabrielle's mind at ease. "Most of the Nation is preparing supplies for the journey. She must have overheard someone speaking about the trip."

They all agreed this was a very reasonable explanation. The discussion then turned to the impending journey. Despite themselves, the main topic of conversation was how to make sure everyone was safe while they were there.

"I agree with..." The sharp explosion of pain in her head caused Sorrow to fall backwards off the chair.

Xena leapt and managed to keep her head from smacking into the fireplace.

"What's wrong?" Gabrielle questioned, seeing the pained look on her daughter's face.

"Madalene... in the daycare." Sorrow found herself being dropped as Xena ran from the room. Gabrielle was right behind. Her head still swam from the pain, as she struggled to follow them.

*   *   *   *

Xena tore into the daycare like a mad woman. Scanning frantically, she couldn't find Madalene.

"Your Highness, what's wrong?" The teacher tried to calm the frightened children.

"Where is the Princess?" Gabrielle had caught up and pushed past Xena.

"She was running and fell down. She scrapped her knee. My assistant Janyn took her to the healer."

They raced to the healer's, only to find Madalene laughing as the healer told her a story.

"Madalene are you all right?" Xena scooped her up and looked at her bandaged knee.

"I really hurt, but Oxin made it feel better." The Princess smiled widely.

"We thought something was really wrong." Gabrielle took the child into her arms, checking her again to soothe her own mind.

"I was running and I tripped. I'm sorry." Madalene didn't understand what all the fuss was about, but she knew it was because of her.

"Is she all right?" Sorrow finally arrived, having made better progress once the pain in her head subsided.

"She scrapped her knee." Xena scowled at her. "The way you were carrying on I though she'd been..." She didn't finish the sentence.

"Sorry," She rubbed her temple. "From the pain she sent I though just that."

"I think it's time for all of us to have a talk about this." The level headed Queen motioned them outside and led them home.

*   *   *   *

"Madalene, after you fell...what were you thinking about?" Gabrielle tried to coax her daughter.

"That my knee really hurt and I wanted it to stop."

"You weren't thinking about Sorrow. Didn't think about telling her how much pain you were in." Xena liked a more straightforward approach.

"No. Why?" Madalene was smart, even for three.

"Let's play a game." Sorrow looked at Xena and her mother for approval before she continued. "I want you to think of an animal. Then whisper to Mommy what you're thinking of." Madalene did as she was instructed. "Now close your eyes and try to send a picture of that animal from your mind into my mind." Madalene put her hands over her eyes and concentrated. "A horse." Sorrow knew instantly. "Argo, to be precise."

"How did you know that?" Madalene asked amazed. "Do it again?"

"A butterfly... a bird... a dog..." Sorrow listed off each image that appeared in her head. "Madalene, stop please. I want to try something else."

"You're thinking about a deer." Her little face lit up when the picture flashed in her head.

"Good. Now try and send a picture to Mother."

Madalene scrunched up her nose and concentrated.

"A tree." The bard was astonished.

"Now to Mommy." Sorrow instructed her.

"A flower." The warrior had almost hoped this wouldn't work.

"I like this game." Madalene bounced up and down in Xena's lap.

"Madalene this is not a game." Gabrielle spoke softly. "You have a very special gift, and you need to respect it."

"Can't everyone do it?" She asked innocently.

"No honey." Xena brushed a hand through her hair. "Only the four of us can do this."

Madalene thought for a moment about this.

"But only Sorrow and I really can do this. You only can because of us."

"That's right." Xena wondered how her three year old could understand so much. "So don't try it with anyone else, all right."

"But I can do it at home?" She still viewed it as a game.

"Yes, in fact I think your big sister is going to have to start some lessons with you." Xena stressed the word lessons.

"Like school...yuck. I thought this would be fun."

"It will be." Sorrow smiled. "But for everyone sanity I've got to teach you to control it better."

"My heart can't take another scare like today," Gabrielle added.

*   *   *   *

The following few days were busy for everyone. Gabrielle found herself caught up in a constant string of meetings, in an attempt to prepare the nation for her departure.

"Ephiny, we really appreciate you taking care of Madalene while we're gone." She signed the last scroll and took a large sip of water.

"Solari can't wait and neither can I." The Regent thought of the last time they had baby-sat the little Princess.

"She's much more predictable now." Gabrielle could tell what she was thinking. "Besides, we both know that if something bad happens, she'll have Sorrow flying home in an instant."

The bard had decided, with Xena's consent, to tell Ephiny and Solari about the Princess' gift. Already knowing of Sorrow's power, Ephiny had suspected something. Every time Madalene so much as stubbed her toe, Sorrow made a mad dash through the village to find her.

"That does offer a little comfort." Ephiny laughed. "But I think we can handle it. Especially since you're leaving most of the Royal guard home. You know many of them are a little upset."

"Too bad," she answered, taking another sip.. "Remind them that Madalene is the future Queen, and they are sworn to protect her. No matter how boring they think it may be. Who's upset anyway?"

"Well, Solari for one." Ephiny laughed again. "She doesn't like the idea of three fourths of the Royal family leaving the nation without it's best warriors."

"But I do have it's best warriors."

"True, but you know what she means." Ephiny scowled at her.

"I know, but Eponin has assured me that everyone in our party is more than capable. Their just not the Amazon elite." She finished off her water, and gladly accepted a refill from the Regent. "I almost forgot, is my gift for Sorrow ready?"

"Yes, and if I say so myself it's magnificent." Ephiny went to the corner of the room and retrieved the large box.

"I can't wait until she sees this." Gabrielle looked into the box and gasped. "This is even better than I had hoped."

"Well, we had some pretty amazing materials to work from." Ephiny felt very proud. She had slaved for hours to make the present.

"Thank you for doing this." Gabrielle hugged her.

"No problem. Remember she's my Princess as well."

*   *   *   *

"So it's all set." Xena stopped sharpening her sword, when she heard Eponin approach.

"Just as you wanted," Eponin leaned against the railing of the porch. "But I'd really like to know why you made me do this. Is the Princess not going with you tomorrow?"

"Oh, she's still going. But I think she needs to straighten something out first." Xena looked up and smiled deviously. "They both are on for the early watch, right? Wouldn't want to keep them out all night!"

Eponin just smiled back.

Continues here.

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