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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. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
EXTREME VIOLENCE WARNING/DISCLAIMER: This story depicts scenes of extreme 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 scene are contained within the story.
NOTE: This story is a continuation of the story line in my first story "Sorrow". I strongly recommend you read that story first or this one may be a bit confusing.
FEEDBACK: Any comments would be greatly appreciated.
SPECIAL THANKS: For editing help above and beyond the call of duty, I would like to thank The Hiker. For editing help and never-ending creative encouragement, I would like to thank Gin.
|Sorrow||A Need For Sorrow||Sorrow's Sacrifice|
A NEED FOR SORROW
by: Kathleen Wolf
It had been several moons since the revelations in Pearson. Gabrielle had cried that first day for hours without stopping. Xena tended to her, fearing she would never recover from the torment. The next dawn brought calm. Gabrielle had awakened, her same cheery self, and had not spoken a word about the subject since.
As Xena sat against a rock by their campfire, she tried to decide if Gabrielle's silence was a cause for alarm. How much longer could she spend trying to get the bard to talk? She desperately tried to find a way to bring up the subject of Sorrow. But every time the moment seemed right, it would pass. Or sensing her thoughts, Gabrielle would quickly fill the silence.
"It's too dark tonight. I wish there was a moon." Gabrielle looked longingly at the dark sky.
"Yes," Xena responded, softly. "I could build the fire for more light. Would that make it any better?"
"It reminds me of the night before the battle in Pearson." The words had slipped out before she could force them from her mind.
"So you haven't forgotten?" Xena was quick to call her on the slip.
"No, I haven't forgotten. How could I?" Gabrielle poked angrily at the fire.
"Do you want to talk about it? You always say that it helps." Xena motioned for Gabrielle to come and sit by her.
The bard moved slowly, feeling as if she carried the weight of the world on her shoulders. Xena reached out to stroke her hair.
"I know you're hurting. I wish you would talk to me." Her voice was barely audible.
"I've been trying to deny it, ignore it, forget it. None of it works. Everything reminds me of her, then of Hope, and then of Dahak. The memories are all so jumbled up. I can't make sense of what I'm feeling."
"Do you blame her for what was done to you?"
"To us, Xena. From the first moment at the inn, you didn't trust her...then suddenly," Gabrielle had wanted to ask her the question for so long. "Why didn't you kill her?"
"Because she saved you." Xena words were faint, as her heart remembered the ache of watching her love fall into the fiery pit. Gabrielle turned to look at the warrior, as she continued. "Yes, at first I didn't trust her. But I watched her and saw things that started to change my mind. Even before she revealed herself."
"What Xena? I need to know what you saw. I've been struggling to find some sort of clarity in my mind. But I have this seed of hate inside, trying desperately to grow and poison me. I want to blame her." Gabrielle couldn't believe what she was admitting. She was the one always talking about forgiveness and love. How could she be consumed now by hate?
"I saw that even though she had lethal skills, she could just as easily be obedient and submissive. She has no lust to kill or to destroy. When we sparred that first morning by the river, she didn't try to show off. How many people have you seen try to prove themselves against me?" Xena raised an inquisitive eyebrow before continuing. "I watched her risk herself to save you. That night in the forest, she attacked those men in desperation. Out of fear for your safety she went alone to attack the army in Pearson."
"Attack the army alone?" Gabrielle asked, confused for a moment, before she understood. "Are you sure? The scout said close to a hundred men were killed."
"Don't focus on that Gabrielle. I would've done the same. Think of how dangerous that was, even for her. We were backed into a corner and she was afraid." She tried desperately to keep Gabrielle's mind focused on Sorrow's motivation, not on her actions. "We do extraordinary things in the face of fear."
"So she only kills to protect us. Does that make it all right?" Gabrielle gave voice to the distrust inside her.
"Gabrielle, I only kill to protect us." Xena's soft reminder almost completely hid the alarm she felt at Gabrielle's tone.
Gabrielle instantly realized the implication of her words and quickly reached out for Xena's hand.
"I didn't mean it that way. I meant..." she paused. "I know the depth of good you possess. I'm questioning hers. Every time I think of her all I see is the demon. I see Dahak looking back at me." Locks of long reddish blonde hair obscured her face, as she bowed her head.
"I know you trust me to make the right choices in battle. You trust that I act out of love, because you're able to see what motivates me. I'm asking you to see what motivates Sorrow. The love intended by her actions. See that she has a heart and a soul. See how she cries." Xena pulled the small woman to her. Within these strong arms, Gabrielle started to sob. Within these arms, she cried herself to sleep.
* * * *
The next morning they started out early. Gabrielle was attempting to amuse herself and the warrior with a story, when her companion's stern words interrupted.
"Xena, we're on a main road, other people do use it," the bard said jokingly, regretting the words when she saw Xena's face.
"Approaching on horseback and in a hurry!" Xena added sharply as she moved defensively in front of the bard. Within seconds, a pair of women riders came into view.
"Amazons." Xena said, as they got closer and thought, 'Something must be wrong.'
"I don't recognize them," Gabrielle answered as she squinted to see their faces. The pair stopped short of them and dismounted. Dropping to her knees, the taller of the two young girls spoke first.
"Queen Gabrielle?" Her voice squeaked in desperation. This woman fit the description she had been given, but she needed to be sure.
"Yes. And you are?" Gabrielle smiled at the girl.
"My name is Althin and this is Othia. We are so happy to have finally found you." The young girl looked up, the relief on her face obvious.
"Why are you looking for me? What's wrong?" Gabrielle feared the answer.
"Queen Ephiny sent us to find you. We have been under attack for almost a week now, many have died," Althin answered, saddened by her memories. "She sent us to bring you and Xena," she looked at the tall warrior in awe, "...back to help."
"Who is attacking the Amazons?" The concern in Xena's voice and the fact that she tried to hide it from the young messengers increased the small knot of fear growing inside Gabrielle.
"We don't know who. An army arrived at the southern border, and with no warning started a war." The young Amazon felt stupid for not knowing more.
"How old are you two?" Xena asked bluntly.
"Old enough to fight." Othia spoke for the first time.
"Why didn't Ephiny send the regular messengers?" Gabrielle asked.
"Because everyone who can is guarding the border. The army pulled back this morning, but no one else could be spared," Althin added, embarrassed that they were to young to fight.
"You were trusted with a very important task. You have performed your duty with great courage." Gabrielle's words filled the girls with pride.
"We'd better get moving." Xena looked at Gabrielle and then glanced at Argo. "There's no telling how long before they attack again."
'Meaning I have to ride.' Gabrielle thought as her stomach started to turn.
"Let's go," she answered bravely, as Xena pulled her up onto Argo.
* * * *
The group traveled at a feverish rate, pushing the horses to near exhaustion. On the second night they arrived at the northern border.
"I can't believe we've gotten this far into Amazon territory without being stopped." Gabrielle spoke to Xena softly, trying not to alarm the two young girls.
It was a few moments later when they heard a warning call from the trees above. All of the women raised their hands to show they were unarmed. An Amazon, barely a few cycles older than the messengers, came down from the trees.
"Queen Gabrielle, Xena, we are so relieved to see you!" The young woman seemed to release the breath she had been holding.
"Where are the rest of the guards?" Xena tension was visible.
"We're spread very far apart in the north. The enemy has been concentrating their efforts on the southern border. The fighting has been stopped now for four days," she answered the warrior in a strained voice. "It could start again any time."
"We'll head on to the village. Remain at your post."
The nervous guard looked past Xena to her Queen. Gabrielle nodded at her, to reinforce the instruction.
* * * *
Upon entering the village, Gabrielle dismissed the messengers to get some sleep. Xena and the Queen headed straight to the royal hut.
Ephiny and Eponin were huddled around a small desk when they entered.
"Gabrielle, Xena!" Ephiny jumped from her seat when she saw them. "Thank Artemis they found you."
"How bad are things that you sent children to find us?" Xena asked sadly, seeing how tired the Regent looked.
"Horrible." The frazzled woman drew a stray hand through her hair. Trying to calm herself, she continued. "We don't know who or why? A week ago, without warning, they marched up to the edge of the southern border. For the first few days they just sent groups of men to nearby towns, gathering supplies. Then small groups began to enter our territory, and engaged the border guards. And then," Ephiny stopped to take a breath, "they made an attempt at the village. The fighting lasted all day and night. We inflicted heavy casualties. But..." She thought of Solari for a moment. It had almost killed her when she had found her, lying in the bushes with an arrow in her stomach.
Gabrielle picked up on her suffering and moved closer to her.
"Ephiny, where's Solari?" The Reagent couldn't answer, she just collapsed into Gabrielle's arms to cry.
"She took a crossbow arrow to the stomach. She's in the infirmary. We don't know..." Eponin answered the question as best as she could. "We took many other causalities as well. By the time the enemy retreated, there were barely enough of us to carry the injured back." The woman's words became faster and more urgent. "The infirmary is overflowing. The forest is littered with the dead. And three of the royal guard went missing in the battle."
"Oh, Ephiny." Gabrielle hugged her friend tighter. It had been less than a season since Ephiny and Solari had been joined. Gabrielle had performed the ceremony herself; she couldn't believe Solari might die.
"I'm going to have a look at our enemy," Xena's flat words broke in. She knew they would all be better served if Gabrielle dealt with the heartache and she with the army.
* * * *
Xena crouched silently in the tall tree, observing the torch lit camp. It was quiet, and only a few scattered men were outside of the tents.
'Too quiet,' she thought. 'Somebody come out and show me what I need to know!'
The show started soon enough, and her blood went cold. The missing royal guards were carried, fighting tooth and nail, from one of the larger tents. Even from far away, Xena could tell that all of them had been beaten badly. Part of an arrow still stuck out of the right thigh of the tallest Amazon. When she saw where the women were being led, Xena's blood nearly froze in her veins.
Two large, wooden poles had been erected in the middle of the camp. Despite all of her attempts to resist, the tallest Amazon was tied between them. The other two Amazons were forced to their knees a few feet away.
A shrill blast of a trumpet broke the camp's silence. A hooded figure emerged from a tent near the south end of the compound. Xena knew this was the commander. She watched as the man slowly walked toward the poles. Groups of soldiers emerged from the other tents, and followed him. Even men who had been wounded in the battle limped or were carried to gather around the prisoners. Xena watched the hooded man position himself inches away from the Amazon. Xena could only speculate on his words, until the Amazon's face became enraged and she strained helplessly against her bonds. The commander turned and addressed his men. Xena wished she was closer, so she could hear him.
* * * *
"I have spent four days listening to you whine." The leader chastised his men as he walked in circles around the torture poles. "You question why I pulled you back. You question why I did not have these three killed immediately," a hand came up to point at the forest, "because now they are watching, confused. Now they will see how cruel I can be. Now they will fear those under my command. Give me my whip!"
* * * *
Xena tensed when the whip was presented to the hooded man, knowing the torture to follow would be excruciating. She fought to keep herself from charging the camp, as the other Amazons made futile attempts to come to the aid of their sister. Xena knew she could not take on the army alone, and the Amazons could not be lead hastily into another battle.
She had purposely taken the long way through the village. Just as Eponin had described, the infirmary was overflowing. Her brief glimpse showed most of the injuries were serious and if not for the imminent threat she would have offered her help. The warrior had forced herself to continue on, not bothering to count the number of shrouded bodies or ask those at the pyres how many funerals had already occurred. She doubted the nation had ever suffered such devastation. At least not since her army had attacked them so long ago. The whipping continued long after the woman's legs had given out. The commander only stopped when the Amazon dropped into unconsciousness.
* * * *
"Take her down," the leader instructed.
"We will kill you for this!" one of the kneeling Amazons yelled out.
"And put her up." The leader pointed to the insolent woman, who the men promptly dragged to the poles, and strung up the same way as the other.
"I will not waste my whip on you," The relaxed tone of voice chilled the brave warrior's blood. "Give me my staff."
* * * *
With great anguish, Xena was forced to watch as the second Amazon was mercilessly beaten. Knowing the man's staff had broken most of her bones by now, she prayed for him to stop.
* * * *
"Take her down," The nearest solider jumped to fulfill the command. "And put the last one up."
The last Amazon presented little challenge as she was tied.
"Do you fear me?" The voice was relaxed and calm.
"Never." The Amazon found new spirit. "Why don't you untie me and we'll see who fears who?"
"Amusing." The commander moved in close to whisper in her ear. "You will not taunt me into killing you. I need to show them my control. I need to show your sisters my brutality. By my hand a plague of suffering will descend on your Nation. No, I will not kill you," A hand came up to hold the woman's face in place. "I will send you back to tell them what you've seen. You should have no trouble remembering , since this is the last thing you will see."
* * * *
Xena held her painful vigil, watching as another soldier came forth to hold the woman's head back. Since she had not heard the commander's words, she was surprised when the small bottle was handed to him. Her surprise turned to horror as the thick liquid was poured in each of the Amazon's eyes. Her screams filled the night.
* * * *
"We will not just kill the Amazons," the leader screamed now at the mass of men. "We will wipe them from the face of the Earth!" And with this proclamation, the camp erupted into yells of approval.
"Bandage her eyes, then release her at the edge of the forest." The order was barked out. Now that the spectacle was over, she reached up to pull the itchy wool hood from her head. Letting her black hair fall to rest on her shoulders. "Bandage her before she bleeds to death!" Her dark brown eyes bore into the nearby soldier.
"As you command, Lady Cassandra." The man saluted as she walked by him.
* * * * 'A woman!' Xena was shocked when the hood was removed.
From the torture she had witnessed, Xena had not expected that a woman's face had been hiding under there. She had assumed it was a man. Now, as she studied the figure walking through camp, she chastised herself for not noticing sooner. The walk, the build of the body under the thick armor... yes, to an untrained eye, a mistake could be made. But she was the Warrior Princess, this was not the time for her to lose her edge. The approach of the solider leading the blind Amazon towards the forest broke her thoughts.
Leaping silently to the bushes below, she waited. The soldier released the woman at the tree line and with a kick, sent her tumbling into the forest.
"Come and get her," he laughed into the trees, as he walked away.
Xena fought the urge to kill him.
"Don't worry I've got you," Xena whispered when she finally thought it safe to approach.
"I can't see!"
"Don't worry, I'll lead you back." Xena tried to sound calm, as she took the woman's arm and began to maneuver them around the trees. "What's your name?"
"Sierra. Who are you? I don't recognize your voice." The Amazon stiffened with fear.
"Xena. I travel with Queen Gabrielle."
"Xena." Sierra recognized the name and realized she was safe. The sadness welled up inside her. "She tortured them to death. I couldn't do anything."
"I know, I couldn't do anything either." Xena admitted her feelings of helplessness, in the hopes of easing the woman's regret. "What did she say? Why is she doing this?"
* * * *
"Xena's returning with one of the missing guards." Eponin came running into the royal hut.
"Who?" Ephiny asked, surprised.
"No word yet. But they should be here within minutes."
Ephiny ran to find Gabrielle.
* * * *
Xena reluctantly released her hold on Sierra when they entered the village, allowing one of the guards to lead her to the infirmary.
'She needs someone more familiar than you now,' Xena comforted herself, as she went to find Gabrielle. This didnt take long, for the Amazon Queen was running frantically to find her..
"Are you all right?" Gabrielle questioned as they embraced.
"Fine." The short answer caused Gabrielle to release her quickly.
"What happened?" the bard asked with increasing alarm.
"Let's find Ephiny and Eponin first. I only want to say this once."
* * * *
"Lady Cassandra, I've never heard of her." Only Gabrielle felt the right to break the long silence produced by Xena's report. What Sierra had recounted, coupled with what Xena herself had seen, horrified them all.
"Neither have I." Ephiny added. Eponin just shook her head.
"What would motivate her to want to destroy all Amazons?" Gabrielle looked at Xena for an answer.
"I don't know," she shot back in a hard voice. "I'm not personal friends with every warlord you know!"
"I'm sorry Xena," Gabrielle realized now how horrible Xena felt for not being able to stop the torture. "You couldn't have helped them. Even you can't take on an entire army by yourself." She caught herself moving towards the warrior, and stopped.
'Leave her alone for now,' the little voice inside her head spoke up.
"I think we have until morning before she attacks again." Xena watched the bard abandon her approach, and felt even worse inside.
'I'll make it up to her later.' The warrior in her took over and her mind focused in on the problem at hand.
"How many Amazons are still able to fight?" she asked Ephiny, trying to formulate a plan.
"Maybe two dozen. I'll have to check who's healthy." Ephiny shook her head sadly, knowing the list would be very short.
"And out of those who can't go into battle, find out who can stand guard at the walls. We need to increase the numbers, even if it's just for show." Xena spoke more to herself now, as she tried to work out a viable strategy in her head.
"I'll do that," Gabrielle spoke up. "I don't want anyone going into battle just be slaughtered."
"Thank you," Xena spoke softly to Gabrielle, fearing suddenly the bard had volunteered just to get away from her.
"I'm sorry I'm being cold but..." She made an attempt at an apology.
"I know, I know," Gabrielle answered with an understanding voice, flashed her love a quick smile and left.
"What do you really want to do?" Eponin waited for Gabrielle to leave before asking the warrior. "Your not going to leave the village to be guarded by injured Amazons, are you?"
Xena shook her head, confirming the warrior's suspicions.
"I need a half dozen of your best warriors. Lady Cassandra has such a hold on her troops, she approves their every move..."
"An assassination is suicide Xena!" Ephiny broke in, when Xena's plan dawned on her. "Besides, Gabrielle won't allow this."
"Gabrielle won't know!" Xena looked at her sternly. "She is the Queen and if she knows she won't act in the best interest of her people, your people."
"But she loves you so much. If you fail..." Ephiny couldn't speak of the consequences, she knew them only too well.
"If I fail..." Xena stopped as visions of the bard being whipped between those poles poisoned her mind.
"Are there no other options?" Ephiny looked at her desperately. She didn't want to deceive Gabrielle like this, letting Xena go on a suicide mission. But she had to think of the others.
"No, there aren't!" Eponin hated to admit this, but Xena was right. They only had one shot at this. "I'll go assemble the team."
Xena sat down and thought for a minute. She motioned for Ephiny to sit as well.
"I have to do this. There are no other choices. But if there is enough time, then just maybe..." Xena told Ephiny about the battle in Pearson and of Gabrielle's torment.
* * * *
"You can't let on that I've told you. Only if you get word that I've failed. If time allows, it will be the nation's only hope."
"Why can't she call her now? The need is surely great enough." The story was hard to believe and Ephiny found herself confused.
"No, I may still be able to end this. We can't force Gabrielle to call her. Not unless it's absolutely necessary." Xena hoped Ephiny would understand.
"If you think that's best." Ephiny sighed.
* * * *
"Xena, are you worried about tomorrow?" Gabrielle asked when they were alone. She had been watching her stoic warrior sharpen her sword now for a candlemark and could no longer stand the silence.
"No, if things go as planned everything will be fine." It took all of her control to lie. She was very worried, but if her plan worked...'There is still no guarantee that the army would fall apart.' her fear broke through.
"Xena, I don't want you worrying about me when we're fighting tomorrow. I can handle myself now." Gabrielle spoke strongly to the warrior, expecting a disagreement.
"I know you can handle yourself." Xena hoped the battle would be over before Gabrielle even awoke the next morning. 'How can you leave her to fend for herself? If you fail she'll be alone and she'll be killed. Or maybe just blinded? How would you like that?' an angry voice rambled through her head.
"Wait a minute." Gabrielle snapped the warrior's attention back. "Aren't you going to argue with me? Tell me that I'm leaving now, or that tomorrow I have to hide in a hut somewhere?"
Xena realized immediately that her response hadn't been normal.
'Why are you so damn perceptive?' She cursed her own stupidity.
"So that we can fight about it?" Xena shot back quickly, then softened her approach. "I just figured I needed to show more confidence in you. Besides you are the Queen and your leadership is needed."
'That's it, lie to her again,' the cruel inner voice snapped back at Xena. The same voice that always told her she didn't deserve Gabrielle's love.
'But you do believe this.' The words from Xena's heart easily won the argument.
"I'm sorry." Gabrielle realized the severity of her accusations. "I'm just worried myself." She crossed the short distance between them and melted into the open arms she found there.
"So am I." Xena added softly.
"I don't know what I'd do if I lost you again."
Xena didn't try to find any words to answer. Letting love alone guide her, she brought Gabrielle's head up and kissed her. The passion grew so quickly, it overtook them both. The warrior knew she was expected elsewhere, but she conceded to the need in her soul.
Xena slowed the building desire within her long enough to look deep into her lover's eyes.
"Tonight I give you all of me, everything I am or ever will be is yours." Every word was accompanied by a teardrop, falling gently onto Gabrielle's face.
* * * *
A small piece of Xena's soul was wept out through those small droplets. Gabrielle's flesh soaked up the wayward spirit and drew it down to mingle with her own.
* * * *
When Gabrielle's breathing became rhythmic and soft, she stole out of the tent to meet Eponin and the others in the dining hall.
"Everyone is ready." Eponin was waiting at the entrance. "Gabrielle's asleep?"
"Yes." Xena felt her heart lurch, but she could not stop things now. She looked through the door at the others in the hall. "I need at least six warriors with me. Is there no one else?"
"I'm the sixth," Eponin placed a strong hand on Xena's shoulder. "Unless of course, you want me screaming to wake even the dead." Xena immediately caught her reference to how soundly the bard slept.
"I don't like this at all, but fine." Xena answered her angrily. "Amazons, let's go."
* * * *
At the edge of the forest the Amazons split off into pairs, with Xena going on alone. In half a candlemark, she had positioned herself by the commander's tent. Right on cue, the diversions began. In different areas of the camp, the Amazons were setting fires, releasing horses and doing anything else to occupy the men.
Xena slipped inside. Lady Cassandra was sitting at a desk, writing.
'I'm going to cut your throat for what you did to them!' Xena thought as she quietly approached the woman.
* * * *
"Do you think me stupid or just ignorant?" The voice of the woman surprised Xena. Lady Cassandra did not even turn around. "I said, do you think me stupid or just ignorant?"
"I think you're dead!" Xena drew her sword.
The commander rose in a swift motion, and with a backward kick sent the chair flying into Xena, who smacked it away. Lady Cassandra turned to face her now. Her pale white skin seemed to illuminate on it's own. Her dark eyes focused in on the warrior.
"No, I think you fell for my little trap, Xena, Warrior Princess!"
On cue, the very walls of the tent were pulled away. A circle of men, ten deep, surrounded them.
"I can still kill you before they could do a thing!." Xena spat at her incredulously.
"True, very true," Lady Cassandra smiled slyly back. "But could you keep them from slitting her throat as well?" She waved to her left. The mass of men parted to show Eponin, being held about twenty feet away. The knife to her throat had already drawn small drops of blood.
"Kill her!" Eponin pleaded with her, but Xena knew she was already defeated.
"I only want you, Xena. If you surrender, you have my word that I will let her go unharmed. I'll never bother the Amazons again."
"Fine. Let her go then." She dropped her sword and chakram, hoping the action would give her an opening. More importantly, she knew the blade would be removed from Eponin's neck.
"Good, very good!" Lady Cassandra she took a few bold steps toward Xena. In a quick movement, she threw a handful of powder into the warrior's face. Xena put up her hands, but couldn't keep the substance from settling on her skin. A quick breath of surprise drew the poison down deep into her lungs. The burning started immediately.
'I can't breath!' One thought broke forcefully into her head. 'Gabrielle, I'm sorry.' A group of soldiers descended on the helpless warrior.
"Let the Amazon go! But be warned little one," Lady Cassandra turned now to Eponin. "If the Amazons try anything to save her, I will wipe your kind from the face of the Earth. On that you have my word." And with a wave of a hand, Eponin was dismissed.
* * * *
Eponin ran for the forest. She thought at first that they would hunt her down, but not one man followed. Only within the safety of the trees did the other Amazons in the party come out of hiding.
"We thought she would kill you both!" a voice hissed from the shadows.
"I wish she had." Eponin hated herself for getting caught, but even more than that she dreaded having to tell Gabrielle what had happened.
"Look!" Another voice broke into her thoughts.
Within the camp all of the torches were being lit and placed in a circle around the torture poles. They all watched helplessly as an unconscious Xena was shackled to them. A large group of soldiers were ordered to stand guard, as the rest of camp returned to their tents.
* * * *
"Sleep now Warrior Princess." Lady Cassandra ran the back of her hand over her captive's cheek.
"When you wake, when you have all your senses, only then can this be." And with these words she walked away and entered the nearby tent.
* * * *
'She not going to kill her right away,' Eponin's mind raced. 'I have to get back to the village.' She didn't know what, but Ephiny had alluded to another plan. One that could be put in action if there mission failed.
"Stay and watch. Send word back immediately if anything happens. I have to report to the Queen." She took off through the forest.
* * * *
Gabrielle had awoken with a start.
"Xena..." Her hand shot out in the dark, but was met by nothing but cold blanket. "Xena!" The volume of her voice betrayed her. She scrambled out of bed.
"Xena!" she called again, once outside. Seeing and hearing no one, she headed for Ephiny's hut.
* * * *
By the time she roused Ephiny from her sleep, she was consumed by fear.
"What is going on?" She yelled at the startled woman. "Where is Xena?"
Her question was answered when a breathless Eponin arrived.
"Oh no! She didn't. You didn't" Gabrielle's voice began to waver in panic. "Where is she?"
"Lady Cassandra has her." Eponin's words were choppy, spit out between ragged breaths. "It was a trap, they knew we were coming. Xena almost had her but...." Eponin's shame stalled her words. "I was captured. She surrendered so they would spare me." Eponin fell to her knees before her Queen. "I told her not to do it, not for me. I will take any punishment you see fit."
"There's no time for that now!" Ephiny dragged Eponin to her feet.
Regaining her composure, Eponin continued.
"She only wants Xena. That's why she's here. She's going to kill her. She gave her word that if we don't interfere, she'll leave the Nation alone. If we do, she'll kill us all! We have little time, what do you want to do?" Eponin held her breath, secretly hoping the young Queen would send the nation into war. At least then she would have a chance to redeem herself. Right now dying in battle would be better than knowing she had caused Xena's death.
Gabrielle didn't answer. She couldn't, her mind having long since seized from the strain.
"Gabrielle, there really is very little time to make a decision." Ephiny guided her toward the bed and sat her catatonic Queen down.
"You want me to choose between her life and the nation!" Gabrielle sunk further into the bed.
"I won't choose." She stood up suddenly and grabbed her staff. "Ephiny, I am giving you the Queen's mask. It will be your choice if the Amazons fight. Either way, I'm going to save her!"
"You're gonna what?" The Regent couldn't believe her ears. Looking at the small woman, she doubted Gabrielle would get half way to the camp before she would be killed. No matter how much courage she was showing, her plan was suicide. "I won't take the mask and you're not going!"
"Ephiny, there are no other options. Xena wouldn't have resorted to such desperate measures if she thought the Nation could win. I won't have anyone's blood on my hands. They won't fight by my order." She stood ready to defend her decision.
"Gabrielle, if you take one step toward that army...you know every warrior that can, will follow you. There's another option."
"There is?" Gabrielle said, running over the limited choices again in her mind.
Ephiny took the small piece of folded parchment from the desk and handed it to her.
"Xena left this for you."
Gabrielle hands shook as she reached for it.
'What is it you want me to do Xena?' The bard's mind went completely blank. She unfolded it and read silently.
* * * *
Dear Gabrielle, If you are reading this, then I have failed. I'm sorry I lied about what I intended to do, but I had to try. I love you more than life itself. I have a million things to say to you, but there is no time to write them down. There is something else I haven't told you. That day in Pearson, Sorrow told me no matter how you feel, if you ever need her she will come. She told me this... "Just have her concentrate, to stretch her mind across the land and call me. I will come in an instant. I will fight to the death for any cause she deems worthy." I know you are still very confused. I know you didn't want to see her again. But please Gabrielle for the sake of the Amazons. For your own sake, you must try. Xena
* * * *
Gabrielle's face lost the little colour that remained as she read. Ephiny feared the woman would drop from the strain.
"What has been done to her?" Gabrielle's voice was almost inaudible.
"She's been shackled to the torture poles like the others. Lady Cassandra used some sort of powder to knock her out. It's likely the torture will begin when she awakes." Eponin hated the natural emphasis her voice put on the last few words.
"Gabrielle, she told me about Sorrow." Ephiny moved close to her.
"Oh." Another wave of shock caused her to shudder. Her mind felt betrayed. Why was she being forced to think of Sorrow again? Why did calling her have to be an option?
"I don't understand what you're feeling. I don't know how I would react to her, but if you have a chance to save Xena?" Ephiny's voice begged her now. "We don't know how much time she has left. If not for Xena, think of those of us who will die when we follow you."
Gabrielle nodded. To this she could not argue. For this she would swallow her own doubts and concede to her warrior's last request.
"I'll call her," Gabrielle's true voice returned as she walked out.
The darkness was just giving way to light as she made her way to the center of the courtyard. Gabrielle took a deep breath, tried to concentrate, tried to calm her racing mind. She thought of Xena and then suddenly she felt her mind expand. It covered miles in an instant, spanning mountains and oceans.
"Sorrow I need you!" The soft words passed over her lips and were carried out through her thoughts.
"Yes mother. I am not too far, I will be there soon." The voice of her child came smoothly back into her.
Then just as suddenly, her consciousness retreated, again occupying only her head.
* * * *
As the first threads of consciousness returned, Xena held to them desperately. Will alone brought her back to consciousness. The suffocating feeling was still there, but she was able to draw a large breath of air into her lungs, and the panic subsided. Opening her eyes, the world around her came into focus slowly. She struggled against the chains, remembering where she was.
"Oh good, you're awake," Lady Cassandra's voice came from behind her. "I can't believe the mighty Warrior Princess fell for such a simple maneuver. Your legend has been greatly exaggerated!"
"You seem to know a great deal about me," Xena baited the woman, as she tried to assess escape options.
"Yes, I do. But I imagine you haven't a clue who I am, or why I've done this."
"Come to think of it, no." Xena studied the woman, who stood in front of her now. "Let me guess...years ago my army attacked your village, killed your family and now your seeking revenge?"
"You want to be the greatest warrior ever known, and you figure you have to defeat me in order to prove yourself?"
"Wrong again," Lady Cassandra mocked her. "Let's just say my intentions are a little less honorable than even those. I'm just a very uncommon hired hand."
"You're a mercenary!" Xena didn't like the sound of this. If this woman wasn't motivated by her own desires, then her emotions couldn't be used against her. She would be much more dangerous to deal with. She feared again for Gabrielle and the Amazons. This woman was unlikely to keep her word. "Who hired you?"
"We have a mutual friend. He's a little bothered by your constant interference in his Destiny." Lady Cassandra let the last word roll sharply off her tongue.
"Caesar!" Xena grasped the reference immediately.
"Yes, he's a strange little man. He wanted to just tramp an army into Greece, and hunt you down. Such an ego!" Lady Cassandra laughed.
"That's him." The flatness of Xena's response caused the commander to laugh even louder.
"I heard of his pitiful plan and offered my expert services. He more than gladly accepted my price."
Lady Cassandra walked closer to the warrior and she spoke in a low hiss. "And now I will gladly earn my pay."
The first slap fell fast and sharp. Xena knew it was not meant to hurt her, just a sign of her captor's intentions.
"I will make you scream so loud, Caesar himself will hear you in Rome."
"You're not really much of a lady!" Xena injected in defiance, as Lady Cassandra was handed her whip.
* * * *
"She's coming," Gabrielle reassured Ephiny as she approached. "Did Xena tell you everything about her?"
"Yes." Ephiny knew this admission would only increase Gabrielle's pain. "She also told me what Sorrow risked for you. Only good can come from calling her. This is the best option available. She has a chance, where the rest of us will fail."
Ephiny remembered the carnage in the forest. She'd been in her fair share of battles and seen her share of dead, but never anything like this. If necessary, she knew all of the Amazons would fight and die to save Xena. But if this mysterious child of Gabrielle's could be called, then maybe no more Amazon blood would need to be shed.
"How is it that you all trust her when I can't?" Gabrielle was so ashamed of herself. "I have given that trust so freely, so often. Why is there none left for her?"
"No one can answer that but you. No one can make you accept her as your child. Or accept the unusual commitment that brings." Ephiny's words were stopped when the sound began. It was faint at first, but quickly grew to a deafening pitch.
"She's here." Gabrielle had felt her daughter before the noise had started.
Ephiny was wide eyed, as the Queen's daughter appeared above the treetops and swooped down to land a few feet away from her.
Sorrow hadn't known how many people would see her arrive, so she had only given freedom to her wings. The rest of her monster form was carefully concealed.
'This is not the demon Xena described, but not human either,' Ephiny's thoughts confirmed when Sorrow allowed the wings to recede into her back. "What do you need me to do?" Sorrow dropped to one knee, believing that was what she should do in front of an Amazon Queen, especially since she assumed no one knew of her connection to Gabrielle.
"Xena has been captured. Bring her back to me." Gabrielle couldn't help but turn away, unable to look at Sorrow.
"Where is she being held?"
After a long silence Ephiny answered.
"I am Ephiny, the Queen's Regent." Standing tall, she felt it only proper to introduce herself.
"I am Sorrow," looking deep into Ephiny's eyes, Sorrow imagined that under different circumstance they could be friends. Remembering her duty, she dismissed the fantasy quickly. "Can you tell me where Xena's being held?"
"An army, camped to the south," she tried to control her amazement, marveling at how the intense green eyes were like the Queen's. She couldn't help but wonder how such a beautiful exterior concealed the demon form that Xena had described. Averting her eyes she continued. After all this was Gabrielle's daughter, and she didn't want to be caught staring.. "The commander is named Lady Cassandra. She's going to kill her, and promises that if we interfere, she'll kill us all."
"Do you care how I do this?" Sorrow turned and addressed her mother.
"Just bring her back." Gabrielle answered blankly, reminding herself that the lives of so many hung on her command. She would not let herself imagine the destruction her child could bring, the destruction she was ordering.
"As you wish." Sorrow bowed her head to her mother and turned back to Ephiny. "Send word quickly to any of your people out there. Tell them not to be afraid of what they see, I am under the rule of their Queen, so they are safe, no matter what happens."
She bowed her head to the Regent.
Ephiny allowed herself to study at Sorrow as the horns emerged, the fangs dropped down through her lips, the claws grew out and again the wings spread behind her. Lastly the spikes raised up through her skin. Sorrow snapped her arms out to bring them into place.
Then rising into the sky, she disappeared from sight.
* * * *
By air, Sorrow reached the camp in minutes. As she approached, her eyes focused in on the figure tied between the torture poles.
'How dare they?' The rage grew inside her, not for her mother's pain, but at the sight of Xena being beaten. 'She is the only one who has ever offered me any kindness.'
* * * *
"By the Gods, what is that?" one of the solider screamed, as he saw the winged creature approach.
Everyone was frozen in panic. Lady Cassandra's eyes tracked Sorrow, as she darted down and perched herself atop one of the large poles.
"Who dares to harm this woman?" Sorrow's voice was loud and unnatural.
"I, Lady Cassandra!" The inflection of the defiant answer betrayed the commanders underlying fear. "Who are you?"
"I am the demon Ranavalona, Protector of the Amazons." Sorrow's mind created the persona quickly. In her heart she wished to fulfill her mother's command without any bloodshed. 'If I can just scare them away, then I won't have to hurt anyone.'
Looking down at Xena, her plan took on a new importance. The warrior was close to death, Sorrow didn't have time to fight them.
"I am enraged by your actions, but offer you one warning. Leave now and never return. Or stay and I'll scatter you over this land in pieces!" When no one moved, Sorrow let out a vicious howl. She jumped down from her perch and with her bare hands, snapped Xena's heavy chains. Fearing she would injure Xena further, she retracted the spikes and lifted the woman up into her arms. Turning to face the army, she spread her wings out fully, lifted up and soared off.
* * * *
"Xena, can you hear me?" her soft voice begged for a response.
"Where am I?" Xena asked, disoriented by the wind that whipped by her ears.
"I'm taking you to Gabrielle. Don't be afraid."
"Sorrow?" The mumbled word came as Xena tumbled back into unconsciousness.
* * * *
Neither of them had left the courtyard. Ephiny's eyes were locked on the sky, while Gabrielle kept her eyes fixed on the ground.
When Sorrow landed, a large group of Amazons had gathered to investigate the sound created by her wings. Sorrow carried Xena slowly to where Gabrielle stood, ignoring the stunned crowd. Several of the healthy warriors moved to defend the Queen.
"Back off, it's all right!" Ephiny moved between her warriors and Sorrow. Reluctantly they obeyed the Regent and moved away. Despite the order, not one of them dared lower their swords. "Is she..." A brief glance at the limp warrior in Sorrow's arms, made the bard think the worst.
"No." The one word relieved her greatest fears.
"Please carry her, " Gabrielle said, motioning to a nearby hut.
"Get the healer and bring bandages." Ephiny barked out orders before stepping through the doorway.
As Sorrow followed, she looked at the women that had gathered. She cursed herself for not thinking to take a more human appearance. Retracting her wings in order to fit through the small doorway, she heard someone gasp.
* * * *
Once inside, Sorrow gently placed Xena on the bed and backed away. Gabrielle knelt by her fallen warrior's side.
"Xena...Xena..." She waited desperately for an answer. But none came, just ragged breaths through broken ribs.
The healer arrived almost immediately, and no one missed her sharp gasp upon seeing Xena. Burying her fear, Ephiny walked over to Sorrow.
"What of the army?" The Regent was anxious; Sorrow had been gone such a short time. Definitely not long enough for her to have destroyed them.
"I told them I was a demon, Ranavalona, Protector of the Amazons. I also told them that if they didn't leave, I would litter the land with pieces of them." Sorrow's eyes did not move from Xena. Even without looking she could tell that that Ephiny was having a hard time talking to her in this form. She transformed slowly, allowing Ephiny a full view of her metamorphosis.
"You did what?" Ephiny's words were louder then she had intended. It was somehow easier to question Sorrow in her human form, especially since she was having a hard time believing this creature had only threatened the army. The mere sight of Solari in the infirmary would drive her to kill them all, if she possessed Sorrow's form.
"What's wrong?" Gabrielle looked up at Sorrow. "What did you do?"
"I just brought her back and told the army to leave or I'd come back and destroy them. I didn't even touch anyone. I swear." Sorrow felt like a child as she pleaded her case.
"Must destroy..." Xena's sudden words scared everyone. "Caesar...sent by Caesar!" Gabrielle hands flew to hold her down.
"Ssssh, Xena. You're badly hurt." The soft voice eased Xena back onto the bed.
"Who is Caesar?" Sorrow questioned.
"He is the Emperor of Rome. He is a very powerful enemy. Xena has ruined his plans many times. He even..." Gabrielle's mind conjured the hurtful image. "... crucified her long ago."
"Won't leave...she's coming!" Having found a moment of consciousness, Xena was frantic again. "Must protect..." Despite her efforts to hold on, the pain won and dragged her back into the blackness.
The rage inside Sorrow found new fuel in Xena's words.
'So it must be done.' Her resolution grew with each new breath, 'Will mother ever forgive me?' She decided not to worry about that now. If she didn't act now, the Amazon nation would be destroyed.
"Then I will be the demon I proclaimed," Sorrow addressed the room. "Send word that any man who reaches the forest, your warriors can deal with." She turned to Ephiny, "The rest are mine."
Ephiny nodded that she understood. It was clear to her now that Sorrow could not kill without proper provocation. Her demon form did not make her a blood thirsty killer.
'She is indeed Gabrielle's daughter.' The Regent thought.
Sorrow took one last look at her mother. Gabrielle looked away and Sorrow ran from the hut. She ran through the Amazons gathered outside, with each step becoming the demon she had proclaimed herself to be. Leaping into the air, she rose above the trees and out of sight.
* * * *
Silence gripped the camp tightly after the creature departed. Lady Cassandra stood shocked, her mind racing with the visions of what had been perched before her.
"Shall I order the men to pack, or will we just leave everything?" her second in command asked tentatively, breaking her trance.
"Order the Captains to line up the troops!" She snapped the order at him.
Within moments the men were arranged before her.
"I am faced with an easy choice," Her voice was thunderous and stern. "I send you into battle against that creature or... I march you back to Rome, and Caesar feeds us all to the lions!" Lady Cassandra drew her sword and held it above her head. "If this protector of the Amazons is so powerful, how did we kill so many? Why did she not destroy us right away?" She paused between each of her questions. "I have seen magician's tricks like this before. Will a Roman be fooled by such things? Well, I will not!"
The mood of the men began to change. Some feared the horrible death that awaited them in Rome, others now felt foolish for being scared by a hoax. Lady Cassandra was confident her words were working.
"Shall I send word to the weak Amazons that we surrender... that we will flee like children?"
"NO!" The thunderous response of the men shot back at her.
"FOR LADY CASSANDRA!"
"Send squads One to Six on foot. Once they've engaged the enemy, send in the cavalry."
* * * *
Seeing the mass of men marching toward the forest, Sorrow landed short of the camp.
'Xena was right,' she thought as her feet hit the soft grass.
Watching the creature land, the enraged soldiers ran to attack.
"Mother, forgive me!" Raising her head, she released a painful howl.
* * * *
Many Amazons watched the battle in horror from the tree line. Man after man attacked the creature, and one by one they were slaughtered. Soon the dead lay everywhere. The lush green field was turned a crimson red. Only a few soldiers reached the forest, and were quickly taken down by the guards.
* * * *
Sorrow found herself dripping in blood, still fighting her way toward the camp, when the carnage overwhelmed her.
"Don't make me do this!" she pleaded with her attackers, who just kept coming. None of them heard her, the screams of the dying drowning out her voice.
* * * *
Within the camp, Lady Cassandra watched her army being destroyed.
"Please, your horse is ready, you must go!" a soldier came running and grabbed her by the arm.
"I do not run!" Pride clouded her thoughts, as she shook his arm away.
* * * *
Her fight into camp was a long one. By then most of the men had been killed. Her attackers were less frequent now. Her route to Lady Cassandra was clear and easy. The commander stood with her sword at the ready. Fire burning behind her eyes, she felt no fear. Sorrow stopped short of her.
"You forced me! I would have let you all leave." The fangs clouded the anguish in her words and made them sinister.
From behind, a desperate soldier attempted to defend his commander. Sorrow drove her claws deep into his chest and easily tossed him aside. Bending down, she picked up his sword. She would not play the part of the monster, she would not tear this woman apart, she would use skill.
"Unlike your men, I'll give you a fighting chance," Sorrow spat, as she returned to her human form.
"I don't care what you look like. I'll send you straight to your grave!" Lady Cassandra lunged recklessly.
Sorrow easily deflected the rampant blow, and sent a sharp kick into the woman's stomach. But her opponent was well trained, and regaining her focus, attacked again. Blow after blow was exchanged. Sorrow felt herself growing weaker, worn out by the war she had already fought. With each new attempt, Sorrow found it harder to deflect the woman's sword.
She was not surprised when Lady Cassandra broke down her defenses, and the sword burrowed deep into her chest.
"So you do bleed?" her opponent's ragged breath asked, as the weapon was pulled out.
"Just as you!" Sorrow brought her sword back and with the last of her strength, took off the woman's head.
There was no pride in her victory, Sorrow cast the bloody sword aside and fell to her knees.
'Those who question what I am must surely have their answer now.' Exhausted by the ordeal, she could not find the strength to hate herself.
'I need to wash,' she thought looking down at blood soaked skin. 'And heal.' The flesh of her chest gaped open. She had been injured before, but never this badly. She couldn't feel the familiar heat growing in the wound, that preceded the healing.
'This may be too much for even my flesh to fix, must rest.' The primitive drive to survive pleaded with her to find safety. But the plea was momentarily ignored. 'First I must find something.'
* * * *
Ephiny left Gabrielle alone with Xena. The healer's prognosis for the warrior was questionable. Xena had been severely beaten, and had not regained consciousness since her last brief words. The Reagent had forced herself outside after Xena had a brief seizure. The sight of the bard attempting to hold the flailing warrior down was too much.
Her heart led her to her own fallen warrior. Near the back of the infirmary, Solari lay asleep on the small bed. One of the healers whispered to her that the bleeding had stopped, but Solari still wasn't out of the woods. Ephiny sat down on the floor, trying to wait patiently for news from the Southern border.
'The sun will soon set.' She couldn't believe that an entire day had passed and still no word. How could she blame those at the border? Who could imagine what was happening there before them?
'Still, since there has been no attack on the village by now, we must be safe.' Ephiny took some comfort in that thought, but other horrible questions still loomed. She held her lover's hand and prayed.
* * * *
It was dark when the members of the Southern border patrol returned to the village. They had witnessed it all. None of them felt they could leave until the battle had finished. The sight of Sorrow flying off into the setting sun finally sent them back to the village. The patrol's senior warrior went immediately to report to Ephiny, recounting the events in such detail, that Ephiny almost asked the woman to stop. From what Xena had described in Pearson, she knew she could not doubt a word of it.
* * * *
"Gabrielle?" Ephiny entered the hut quietly. An exhausted face looked up at her.
"The battle ended at sunset, the entire army has been..." Ephiny struggled to find the proper word.
"Lady Cassandra?" Gabrielle asked fearfully.
"Also dead." A vision of the woman being decapitated sprang to her mind.
"Was anyone hurt?" The bard choked back the lump in her throat.
"All of the Amazons are fine," Ephiny said not knowing what to say in regards to Sorrow.
"And Sorrow?" Gabrielle gently released Xena's hand and stood up.
"Those who saw can't be sure, she fought so many and..." Ephiny's voice faded out. She couldn't help but worry considering what she had been told.
"What? What happened?" Gabrielle walked over to place a hand on her shoulder, more for her own support, than to comfort Ephiny.
"The reports are that Lady Cassandra landed a mortal blow, but," Ephiny spoke quickly now, trying to be reassuring. "They watched her fly off toward the west. Surely she would have returned here if she was injured. She's immortal, isn't she?"
Gabrielle drank in the words and felt her stomach turn. It was Ephiny's last question that filled her with panic.
"I don't know. She's recovered from other wounds that I know of," Memories of Hope dying in the stable flooded over her. "Her twin wasn't. So how could she be?"
Ephiny hugged her Queen as she began to shake.
'Again I've have killed my child.' The dreadful thought rang mercilessly through her head.
* * * *
That night and the next day Gabrielle kept a constant vigil at her warrior's bedside. She did not eat. She did not sleep. She did nothing but pray for Xena to recover, and cry for her lost child. Staring down at her lover's hand, she didn't notice that Xena had opened her eyes. Xena let the images clear for a moment. Realizing she was in a hut, in the Amazon village, she let her mind relax. It was then that she saw Gabrielle, kneeling at her bedside.
"Gabrielle." A hoarse voice struggled to work.
"Xena!" The bard nearly jumped out of her skin. She sprang up and hugged her love. "I was so worried, I didn't think you would ever wake."
"I told you I would never leave you. I couldn't break my promise, could I?" Xena felt waves of pain as a result of Gabrielle's grasp, but the comfort of the contact was more important. She allowed Gabrielle to settle back into a chair, but made sure she kept the bard's hand clasped in her own.
"What happened? Who rescued me?"
"You don't remember?" Gabrielle realized immediately how stupid the question was, how could the poor woman remember. "Sorrow saved you."
Xena tried to remember, to piece together what had transpired. Suddenly her final conversation with Lady Cassandra broke into her thoughts.
"She was hired by Caesar. She'll stop at nothing to finish her job!"
"It's all right. The entire army has been destroyed and Lady Cassandra is dead." Gabrielle cut her off.
"Sorrow?" Xena knew in her heart it was the only possible answer.
"Yes," Gabrielle felt the guilt rise up again. "When Ephiny gave me your note, I called her. There was no other choice, I was so scared of losing you. At first she just brought you back, she tried to scare them off...but you warned us Caesar was involved. And she killed them all, I gave her no choice but to kill them all."
Xena saw the guilt and anguish in her eyes.
"Gabrielle, this is not your fault. You didn't cause this. You didn't make her do anything she wouldn't do, if it meant protecting you." Xena tried to offer some consolation. The look on Gabrielle's face told her this was not the time. "When was the last time you ate?"
"I um...I don't remember."
"Then I think you should go get something to eat, while I rest for a little while." Xena tried to sound stern. It would do no good to anyone if Gabrielle starved herself with grief and guilt.
"But you just woke up. You might need something?" She didn't want to leave, but the hole in her stomach begged to be filled.
"I'll take a nap while your gone. Then when you get back, we can talk about what happened in detail." Xena offered the bard the one thing she would want the most, her words.
"If you're sure?" Gabrielle loved her even more at this moment. 'She almost died, yet her main concern is whether my stomach's been filled.' "I love you, you know?"
"I love you too." Xena squeezed the hand within her own and then motioned for her to go.
* * * *
Gabrielle walked happily out of the hut. Xena was awake, and for the moment she had pushed her feelings about Sorrow away. She went straight to the dining hall, finding it relatively empty. A young Amazon, came over when she entered.
"Queen Gabrielle! We didn't know you were coming, everything has been cleared away. I'll get the cooks to make you something quickly." Danu could see her poor Queen was starving.
Normally she would not have dared approach the monarch, but she had found herself out of her seat and talking before she realized what she was doing.
"Thank you. I'd appreciate that." Gabrielle was genuinely thankful for the woman's help. She knew the Amazons would do anything for their Queen, but often they feared the title and would not approach her. Gabrielle sat down alone at one of the long tables.
In a short time, Danu returned with a small platter and a large pitcher.
"You looked thirsty, but I'm not sure of your preference. I figured this was safe." Danu referred awkwardly to the water.
"This is perfect, thank you. Would you join me?" Gabrielle longed for company and conversation. With each breath some of the tension she felt melted away, and she hoped that idle conversation might help even more.
"Thank you, Queen Gabrielle." Danu smiled happily at the request and sat down across from her.
"Please just call me Gabrielle. And you?"
"My name is Danu." Gabrielle watched the woman tuck her long blond hair behind her ears and become more relaxed. "I don't want to pry, but how is Xena doing?"
"She's awake, she's going to be fine." Gabrielle answered the question with great optimism. It felt good to be able to say those things.
"I'm so glad. She risked so much for all of us. My older sister was killed in the first attack. I was so afraid more of us would die." Danu's heart hurt as she thought of her loss, and she fought to keep her composure.
"I'm so sorry. We came as soon as we heard." Gabrielle felt guilty for her absence.
"It's not your fault. Without Xena and you, they would have killed us all." Danu quickly tried to relieve the misplaced guilt she had caused. "My sister, Latty, always wished that she would die in battle, as a warrior. I find a little comfort knowing that she wanted it this way. She was never any good at anything but hunting and fighting. She would say that without her Amazon sisters, she'd have ate raw meat and been dressed in a sack. She vowed to repay the nation by using the skills she did have and ultimately with her life."
"You should be very proud of her. I'm not a warrior, and I don't always understand what motivates one into battle...but defending those you love is an honourable way to live. The entire nation celebrates your sister's courage and mourns her loss. I am humbled by her sacrifice." She spoke now as Queen, in an attempt to offer the warrior support.
"Thank you, " Danu wiped away a stray tear. "And she'd be very proud that you summoned someone who would avenge her death and save the Nation."
"Xena would do anything for the Amazon nation. She was not under my orders." Gabrielle's eyes widened.
"Not Xena..." Danu was fascinated by Gabrielle's reaction. Was she wrong in assuming the stranger was under the rule of her Queen? "...the warrior who slaughtered the army. Whoever that was, she risked everything for us. You should've seen her fight. I was so afraid for her. I've never seen such courage, to stand up to an entire army. Even with her attributes." Danu chose the last word carefully.
Others in the village had called her a creature, an abomination. They hadn't seen her that day; they hadn't seen the anguish in her face. They hadn't heard the things that Danu had. No one could possibly understand, unless they had seen.
"Why were you there?" Gabrielle was surprised that such a young Amazon had been at the front that day. In her estimation, Danu couldn't be more than seventeen seasons.
"I'm very skilled with a bow." Danu was too shy to tell the Queen she was the best archer in the nation. "I was positioned at the edge of the trees, to take the enemy down before they could enter the forest."
Gabrielle chastised herself for thinking so little of the girl. How many times had people judged her for looking too young? She made a mental note to ask Ephiny about Danu later. She knew that under the circumstances the nation had been in grave danger, but this young archer must be very talented for Ephiny to assign her to the front line. "Tell me something... truthfully. During the fighting, how was she acting?" Gabrielle could not give up the opportunity to get an innocent opinion of Sorrow. Danu obviously did not know the circumstances surrounding Sorrow's birth. Maybe this girl could help her reach the clarity she so desperately needed.
"Do you mean how well did she fight? Her skills defy definition."
"No, more how she went about it. Did she seem to enjoy it?" Gabrielle knew the question was a loaded one, but she had to know. Under such circumstances Sorrow would not have been able to hide her true nature. If she had found any pleasure in her task Danu would have seen it.
"Not at all!" Danu took offense to the question. "She waited for them to come to her. I think she hoped they would just run away." Sorrow's emotional cry echoed inside Danu's head.
"While she waited for them to reach her, she called out. Even from the trees I could hear her, and it broke my heart." Sadness veiled Danu's face. A small part of her felt as if she was betraying the warrior. No other Amazon had heard those words, and now it was as if Danu shared a secret with her. But this was her Queen; any connection she felt to the stranger would have to be sacrificed.
"What did she say?" Gabrielle could barely voice the question.
"She screamed, 'Mother, forgive me.'" Danu silently asked the warrior for forgiveness.
These three small words made Gabrielle's heart stop. The clarity she had been searching for came so suddenly now. She possessed the perspective that before she could not find.
'She is not the demon!' Gabrielle's inner voice screamed. 'With all horrible assumptions you made about her, you are!' Danu could not miss the discomfort on her Queen's face. Something was going on that she was not a part of. The silence hung heavy for several minutes, before not knowing what else to do, Danu got up and left.
* * * *
Finally able to use her legs, Gabrielle stood and ran to the courtyard.
'I called her once. I can call her again. She must know there is nothing to forgive. That none of this is her fault.' Her thoughts moved faster than her legs.
The middle of the courtyard held a new heartache for her. Embedded into the ground was Xena's sword, her chakram hanging off the hilt.
"Sorrow, where are you?" her words echoed through the village.
* * * *
Ephiny was sitting with Solari in the infirmary when she heard the scream.
"It's Gabrielle." Solari's weak voice confirmed what her mind was already thinking. "Go!"
Ephiny gave her lover's hand one more squeeze and ran to find the bard.
She headed straight for Xena's hut. She hoped desperately that she would not find the Warrior Princess dead.
"Gabrielle, what's wrong?" Ephiny was confused to find the small woman on her knees, clutching a sword to her chest. "Is Xena all right?"
"She was here, did anyone see her?" Gabrielle's growing hysteria was obvious. Her eyes darted wildly around the sky.
"See who? Where did those come from?" Ephiny recognized the weapons.
"Sorrow. She left them here. Someone must have seen her?" Ephiny shook her head no.
"She didn't even want to see me. She hates me Ephiny, I made her kill them. She hates me." She was raving now.
"Gabrielle please calm down." Ephiny bent down and took the small woman in her arms.
"Do you know what she asked for before she went into battle?" Her words slowed a little.
"No, Gabrielle. What?"
"She asked for my forgiveness," the sobs broke free from inside her chest. "She didn't ask for strength or courage, or even to survive. She asked for me to forgive her." As the last word left her lips, the Amazon Queen passed out from the strain.
* * * *
Gabrielle's scream woke Xena. The warrior's mind ordered her body to leap from the bed, but her flesh would not listen. Her first attempt to get up only sent her tumbling to the floor, and briefly into unconsciousness. Fighting her way back to her senses, she slowly climbed up to sit on the bed. Using willpower alone she made herself stand. Throwing herself forward she hurtled towards the doorway. Despite the pain she managed to catch herself on the door frame before her legs gave out again. Using the doorway to support herself, she pivoted to look outside. Seeing Gabrielle on the ground in Ephiny's arms, her panic escalated.
"What's wrong?" Every word punched at her broken ribs.
Ephiny turned toward the sound, and was horrified to see Xena in the doorway. The warrior looked uncharacteristically fragile, and Ephiny didn't know who she should help first.
"If you can get yourself back in bed, I'll bring her in there." Ephiny lifted her prone Queen up and carried her towards Xena.
* * * *
Ephiny placed Gabrielle into one bed, and helped Xena back into the other. She sent for the healer, fearing Xena had injured herself again. She also instructed that the healer bring a sedative for the Queen. Ephiny honestly could not tell what she was more worried about at this moment. With Xena's broken body and Gabrielle's fractured mind, the choice was difficult.
"What happened?" Xena was exhausted from her small effort.
"She hasn't been sleeping, or eating. I guess it was just to much for her." Ephiny tried to downplay the incident, hoping to keep Xena calm until the healer arrived. A large bloody stain was spreading across the warrior's shift.
"Ephiny, what happened?" Xena demanded an answer.
"I was in the infirmary when I heard her scream. When I found her, she was in the courtyard, hugging your sword. Ranting about Sorrow."
The healer arrived and waved a strong smelling herb under Gabrielle's nose to bring her around.
"What...?" the bard questioned for a moment, before her mind cleared and the anguish returned. She immediately began to cry. The healer went to administer the sedative, but was stopped by an icy glare from Xena.
"Gabrielle, what's wrong?" Xena's soft words of concern caused a moment of peace in the tumult.
"She's alive, Xena. I found your sword and chakram in the courtyard. She didn't even want to see me. All she ever wanted was my love, and I couldn't even give that to her. She went into battle, wanting only my forgiveness." The tears returned. "I've finally found clarity. Clarity to know that I am the only monster here."
All Xena could do was hold her hand as she cried. For once Xena's many skills failed her. She looked to the healer and nodded. The sedative acted quickly. Gabrielle was soon asleep.
Xena tried to make sense of what was going on, as the healer replaced the broken stitches in her side. She had no idea what Sorrow was thinking and even less of an idea where woman had gone.
* * * *
Two moons passed without any news. Xena had recovered slowly at first, but then with a quickness that no one expected. Gabrielle had spent her days caught between the joy of Xena's recovery and the pain of Sorrow's disappearance. The bard kept this mostly to herself, with only Xena seeing the majority of her pain. They had spent long hours talking, Xena trying desperately to help her love be more optimistic. At least Sorrow was alive.
"Xena, have you thought about where you want to head first, when we leave?" Gabrielle posed the question one morning.
"I thought you wanted to stay until I was better?" Xena turned the question back at the bard, knowing that she had been feeling fine for half a moon. She had hoped that Sorrow would've returned to the village by now.
"Yes and from the back flips I saw you doing yesterday, I'd say you're fine." Gabrielle's look scolded her at first, then turned to a loving smile.
"You were supposed to be at one of those royal meeting things," Xena blushed.
"I know you've been keeping me here in case Sorrow returned. But it's all right, we can go." The small woman walked to her and fell into loving arms.
"Are you sure?" Xena was anxious to get moving. She hated to be in one place long. Even with the comforts of the Amazon village, she still longed for the open road.
"Yes. If I am to see her again it will happen, no matter where we roam." Xena felt a sigh released against her chest. "I just have to hold court today. Ephiny says since I'm here, it's my turn. We can leave tomorrow." Gabrielle raised her head, to be answered by a sweet kiss.
"Have you tried to call her?" Xena asked softly when the contact ended.
"A thousand times. I just can't make it happen. I find it hard to believe that I was able to reach her before."
Thinking of Sorrow, her heart filled up, but it wasn't guilt or pain this time. Only love. Love for the one who had risked everything to save Xena. Love for the one who had saved the Amazons from certain death. Love for the one who had fought all the evil of Dahak, before she even knew he was evil. Love for the child that had loved her first.
* * * *
Gabrielle was unaware that this love finally opened her mind. Lost in her own thoughts, she did not know she was projecting her words out over the land.
* * * *
Sorrow was sitting cross legged in the damp cave. She had found this secluded place that first night, and now it was her refuge. During all this time she had only left it to return Xena's sword and chakram. She had remained in the courtyard briefly, hoping that her mother would come. But the pain had driven her back to the cave. The wound in her chest had healed, but the wound in her heart bleed freely. She had started the journey back to the Amazon village a hundred times, but something always made her stop: the memory of what she had done, the faces of those she had slaughtered. Her own guilt would not let her return.
"Wherever you are Sorrow, please come back to me."
She thought she had dreamt the words when they came, but every fiber of her body told her they were real. Her mother wanted her to return, wanted to see her again. She took to the skies immediately. She didn't know anything more than her mother wanted her, and to her mother she would go. A brief flash of fear shot through her as she wondered, 'What if she wants to punish you? All of the Amazons must fear you after what you did.' Sorrow buried the harmful thoughts deep down inside herself. She would not speculate, but the fear had caused a small change in her plans.
She came down to earth, just outside of Amazon territory. She would walk into the village, on two human legs. She would show them she was not the demon from the battle. She was just a child, desperately seeking the love of her mother.
* * * *
Xena stood next to the throne, as the young Queen took her place. Almost the entire village was gathered there, less those few left on border guard. Xena perceived a profound peace in Gabrielle now. The bard caught her staring and offered a wide smile. Xena returned the smile and turned her eyes to the crowd.
Gabrielle had not told Xena what she was planning. She really did not have to hold court today, but she wanted to speak to the Nation. She wanted her words to show even the warrior, what great changes had occurred within her heart. When she stood, the crowd fell hushed.
"I have called you all here, my sisters, to make a confession. I hope this will alleviate the fear and confusion among us." Gabrielle began to feel as if she would not find the words to express herself. Taking a deep breath, she tried. "When I arrived to see the suffering caused by Lady Cassandra, my heart broke. The devastation caused by her army was unlike any the Nation has ever suffered. A great many of our sister's were lost and even more injured." She looked at Solari. The warrior's stomach was still wrapped in thick bandages. "The bravery and courage displayed by everyone was inspiring. Especially those warriors who volunteered to assist Xena, in her attempt to assassinate Lady Cassandra." Gabrielle looked quickly at Eponin, who lowered her head. Despite being forgiven by both the bard and the warrior, she still felt ashamed and inadequate. "I must admit to you all now, that the desperation of the situation made me take extraordinary measures. With so many injured, I could not lead you into battle and I was forced to send out a call for help."
"Once again I have heard you, my Queen." Sorrow's voice resounded up from the back of the crowd. When she had reached the border, the Amazon guards had immediately escorted her to the village. Arriving just as her mother began to speak, her first instinct was to see what she had to say. But her heart needed another path.
The crowd parted, and Sorrow walked up silently to stand before the stage. Dropping to one knee, she bowed her head.
"I will only disrespect you now, in that I will not ask your permission to speak. These are words that must be said, no matter what else transpires." Sorrow placed her hand over her heart. "On this day I pledge my loyalty and service, not only to you my Queen, but all Amazons, for the rest of time. I will become the protector I have proclaimed myself to be. The word will be spread to the ends of the Earth that those enemies who wish to do harm to the Amazons...will first do battle with me! I ask for nothing in return. I will interfere in no way with Amazon life, except when I am asked to defend it. I have found a purpose for my nature, have found a good that can come out of my evil skills. I vow with all my heart and soul to do no harm, unless equal harm threatens the Amazons."
Silence hung across everything for a moment. Until fearing the Queen would reject the pledge, Danu's voice raised up from within the crowd.
"Please Queen Gabrielle, may I speak?" The young archer ran to stand next to Sorrow. Gabrielle nodded her head in approval.
"Many in the village have different opinions on who or what this woman is. But we must all realize, that what she is does not matter. Only what she has done. This valiant warrior walked into a hopeless battle for a people she did not know, and who have spent all of their time since doubting her." Danu cast an ashamed look at the crowd. "If one of our own had rushed into that battle, her legend would never die. She asks for no legend, only the right to protect us. To use what some would call evil gifts, to help us. I myself can not call them evil gifts, when it is these very skills that ensured our safety. I plead with everyone not only to accept her pledge, but to accept her into our village and our lives. I say this because I watched first hand the agony she suffered to destroy our enemy. I witnessed the torment on her face. None of us want to kill, but we do when our sisters are in danger. Can we condemn her for actions we ourselves are willing to take everyday? Can we call her a demon, when clearly she is not?" Danu's speech finished suddenly. She had nothing else to say. She didn't know how to get her feelings across. The one thing she was sure of, was that within Sorrow something glowed brightly.
Gabrielle stood as silent as the rest, listening to Danu speak. Deep inside, her own feelings were confirmed, as she heard them reflected back to her. "The question is clear, Amazons," the Queen addressed them now, not the woman. "Do you accept this pledge? Do you accept this woman into our sisterhood?"
The response was genuine and joyous.
"Then by the decision of the entire Amazon nation, I accept this vow." The Queen spoke the words with great pride.
"But I have something left to say on this subject." The tone of her voice changed and the woman spoke now. "As I said earlier, I have a confession to make. I also need to beg your forgiveness." Gabrielle spoke directly to her child. "I have been blinded by fear and pain. I have closed my heart and spoken hateful things." Her voice cracked, as she begged for the strength to continue. "And most of all I have been ashamed. I have been blind while others have seen." She turned to Xena, who eyes encouraged her silently to continue. "But I have found the clarity to see my mistakes, to see how unfair I have been. I have opened my heart, and now only love comes from it." Gabrielle jumped down off the stage, to stand in front of Sorrow.
"I hope that you still have room in your heart to love me." Still on her knees, Sorrow looked up into her mother's face.
"My heart is filled with nothing but love for you." Sorrow answered her softly and rose to hug her mother tightly.
Gabrielle led Sorrow up onto the stage.
"My sisters, I would like to present someone very beautiful and special to you. This is Sorrow, my daughter." Gabrielle hand clung to Sorrow's as she spoke.
* * * *
Beside the two women a swirl of light appeared. It grew brighter as a form emerged from within it.
The Goddess Artemis stood on the stage beside them. A hush came over the crowd in an instant. No one dared to speak, as all the Amazons dropped to their knees
"Once again you have proven to be a worthy choice, Queen of the Amazons." Artemis walked the short distance to Gabrielle. Bending down, she whispered in the Queen's ear, "You had me very worried for a time. But I see the power of your heart won, as I had hoped." Gabrielle's mouth crept into a small smile, at the thought of Artemis being worried. "And you little one."
The glowing figure turned to Sorrow now.
"I am indebted to you for defending my Amazons and in return for your courage, I wish to offer you a gift."
Sorrow's head remained high. From the corner of her eye she could see that Xena also refused to cower before the Goddess.
"I need no gift. I have done nothing more than what I was capable, and wished to do." Sorrow's words were proud and defiant.
"As I expected. No creature such as you has walked this earth before, but as the daughter of my Chosen One...excuse me if I feel some small association with you. Besides, I believe this is a gift that may put your mother's heart at ease a little."
"I can think of nothing that could make me any happier at this moment. The Amazons are safe, I have Xena's love and the love of my daughter." Gabrielle's words came quickly, fearing what the Goddess would bestow on her child.
"You are not telling the whole truth. There is a little discomfort with this child's name?" Artemis posed the question. "I offer only to have it changed to whatever her mother would have wanted. The name of her father will be removed from the very fabric of time and never associated with her again."
Gabrielle looked at Sorrow, who for some reason was looking at Xena.
"Tell her Sorrow. Tell her what it means to you." Xena's simple words brought tears to Sorrow's eyes.
"This name is not a curse." Sorrow turned and took her mother's hands. "Yes, every time it is said, the image of my father comes forth. But with that image, comes something more important. You named my sister Hope, not knowing that it was father's hope she would work towards. I lied to you in the temple. Father did not name me this because I was his Sorrow. He didn't know that I would betray him. He named me this because in his vision of the future, I would stand at his side." Sorrow choked on the words now, her soul aching from the hideousness of her own admission. "I was to be the embodiment of the very word. Everyone I touched would feel my rage and nothing but sorrow would come from it. Hope would use her form to inspire others to join him, I would show those who did not come by choice what real suffering was."
Sorrow's shame overtook her and she let go of her mother's hands to turn away. Gabrielle wouldn't allow this. Her hands flew from her sides to hold her daughter in place.
"But you're not! When I named your sister, it was because I thought I needed hope to survive what had happened. But she wasn't mine, you are. You chose to be your father's sorrow, which makes you the cause of my greatest joy. I can't take credit for who you are, because it wasn't my hand that guided you to be virtuous. It wasn't my words that taught you right from wrong."
"This is all you." Sorrow pleaded with her mother. "It was Xena who realized it, I hadn't even known until then. You gave me the greatest gift of all, a soul." They embraced again, all secrets now revealed and the love between them shining even brighter.
"Then by the wish of the Queen of the Amazons and with my consent, you shall be known from this day forth as Princess Sorrow, daughter of Queen Gabrielle." The words of the Goddess rang through the village and up into the sky.
"But with what I am, how can I accept this? Should an Amazon princess not be a mortal human woman?" Even as she spoke, Sorrow did not release her hold on her mother.
"You are mortal little one," Artemis' voice chastised her for implying otherwise. "Your flesh will be able to repair most damage done to it, and it would take an extraordinary effort to kill you." Artemis gave these small insights freely. "But yes, the endowments from your father do cause me to put a condition on your title. You will not be eligible to Gabrielle's right of caste. You can never assume the role of Queen. You are now and forever an Amazon Princess...and I expect you to hold to your vow to protect my people. And especially your new little sister."
The Goddess flashed a wicked smile and then disappeared.
The cheers began immediately. Someone called for a banquet to honor Sorrow. Plans were being made fast and feverishly, as the crowd dispersed. No one on the stage took notice.
"Did she just say...?" Xena's amazed voice was the first to break the silence.
"I think so..." Gabrielle stood silently in amazement, when she felt it. Deep within, her small daughter moved as an answer.
"Xena!" Her hands flew to her stomach when she felt the tiny motion inside. Soon she was crying, as Xena ran to embrace her.
"How?" A single tear slipped down her cheek.
"The night you went to assassinate Lady Cassandra, remember when we made love." Gabrielle spoke the words softly, so only her warrior could hear them. "Something happened that night. I took everything you offered, every bit of you. I soaked your very tears into my skin. I guess I wanted you so much, that I forgot to give some of you back when we were done."
"I'm to have a sister." Sorrow spoke the words more to herself than to anyone else.
"Yes, one special sister...but now an entire village as well." Ephiny's hand fell onto her shoulder. Sorrow turned to look at the other Amazons remaining on the stage. She watched as Ephiny, Eponin and Solari all dropped in unison to one knee.
"It will be an honour to serve you, Princess Sorrow." The Regent words spoke for them all.
Turning to see the display, Gabrielle noticed the uncomfortable look on her daughter's face and chuckled.
"It takes awhile to get used to the bowing and stuff." She tried to make light of Sorrow's new position as Princess. "But there are a lot of perks to the job."
"Like the meals served in bed? Guess now that you're with child your gonna expect them a lot more often?" Ephiny's poked back at her as she hugged Gabrielle and Xena in turn.
"So Xena, you do have many skills!" Solari jabbed the dazed warrior in the ribs playfully. "You haven't been teaching us those moves on the practice field!"
"And I'm not about to either." Xena tried to appear offended, but the joy inside her was too great.
Fearing that the moment would turn out to be a dream, Gabrielle hugged Sorrow again. Her mind raced one minute and stood very still the next. It counted the blessings that the day had given, over an over.
Sorrow just breathed in the scent of her mother. Her mind focused in on the sound of the woman's heartbeat, and then to the small beat that accompanied it. Her thoughts focused in even further. Until only the small thud, thud filled her mind.
"Mother loves you, Xena loves you. I love you. You are safe with us always." Sorrow opened her mind and sent the soft words to her sister.
Gabrielle felt Sorrow's body tense for a brief second.
"What's wrong?" She asked concerned.
"She's going to be an amazing child!" Sorrow spoke the words with new tears in her eyes.
Gabrielle hugged her even harder now, not realizing that within Sorrow's head a small wordless voice had happily hummed back in response.
Xena's voice broke the silence of their embrace.
"Sorrow, you better bring her down, your mother doesn't like heights," the warrior joked from below. In their happiness, neither had realized Sorrow's wings had emerged and they now hovered some distance above the platform. Gabrielle instinctually held onto her daughter even tighter.
"Don't worry mother, I would never let you fall." Sorrow soft words came through her bright smile, as she returned them to earth.
"Oh I know, I just HATE heights...but one day you can take me flying. Once I get the nerve."
Everyone laughed openly.
"Don't hold your breath, I can't even get her to ride Argo unless all Tartarus has broke loose." Xena teased, as she put her arm around Gabrielle.
* * * *
Sitting by the large fire, Gabrielle snuggled in closer to Xena. The Amazon cooks had outdone themselves with the banquet and the bard was completely stuffed.
"You like this eating for two dont you?" Xena's words drifted softly into her ear.
"Very much!" A bright smile crossed her face. Looking up at the warrior, she was captivated by the light playing in her blue eyes. "Almost as happy as you."
Xena's joy was obvious. This was one time she could not control her feelings. All night she had been floating around in a dream. She clasped her arm around Gabrielle tightly.
"So which direction are we headed in the morning?" the bard asked as she fought back a yawn. The light of the fire was lulling her into a gentle sleep.
"I was thinking about that a lot Gabrielle." Xena tensed a little. She had assumed they would stay in the village, maybe even settle down.
"O.K., what's on your mind?" Gabrielle pulled away and sat up, remaining close. She knew that tone, and it meant the woman was wrestling with something.
"Well, I figured you wouldn't want to travel with the baby... I mean I don't want you traveling in this condition. So, I was figuring we could stay here and build a little house. You are Queen, so I didn't think anyone would object."
Gabrielle was silent. She had assumed Xena was stir crazy by now. She hadn't even entertained the idea of settling down.
"This is what you want? To build a little house and settle down. No more traveling, no more adventures?"
"Yes. I want to make a home with you, I want to raise our child." Xena placed her hand gently on the bard's stomach. "Besides there will be plenty of adventures here. And this would give you a chance to spend some time with Sorrow. You've lost so much time with her."
No answer came, just sweet kisses of agreement.
"Where is Sorrow anyway?" A sudden concern rose in Gabrielle. It had only been a little while ago that Sorrow had quietly excused herself from the pair, sensing they needed a little time alone.
"Over there." Xena motioned with her hand to a bench beside a hut in the distance. "Looks like your daughter has your gift for making new friends."
"I know her!" Gabrielle recognized Danu immediately.
"Isn't she..." Xena scrutinized the girl. Her long blond hair was up in a long braid, but she was definitely the Amazon who had spoken up for Sorrow.
"Yes, she was also one of the few to see Sorrow destroy the army. She lost her sister in the first attack." the bard answered, continuing to watch Sorrow. "I talked to Ephiny about her earlier. She's the best archer in the nation. She says that Danu's mother was killed when she was eight and ever since she has dedicated herself to the weapon."
"Best in the nation?" Xena questioned surprised.
"Ephiny says it's eerie, like she has a sixth sense. During the last weapons competition she split another contestant's arrow in two."
"I've done that." The warrior couldn't help but brag.
"She was two hundred paces away..." Gabrielle glanced to confirm that the warrior was still unimpressed before continuing. "And blindfolded."
"Not bad!" Xena studied the archer further, seeing the only target the woman was interested in right now was the Princess. "I know your daughter looks like an adult, but she's only still a child in some ways."
"Xena, what are you implying?" The bard shot a quick look at the smirking warrior, before turning back to stare at Sorrow.
"Well...this being an Amazon village and all, you might want to have a talk with your daughter about the birds and the bees!"
"You don't think..." Gabrielle jaw dropped.
"I'm just saying, it's obvious that Sorrow inherited her mother's charm and I know how irresistible you are." Before she could answer, Xena scooped Gabrielle up into her arms and carried her away.
The end for now...
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