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DISCLAIMER: See Part One for disclaimers.
FEEDBACK: Any comments would be greatly appreciated.
SPECIAL THANKS: Thanks to Alina for beta reading my latest little rambling and for being the first ever to call me a romantic mussball. Thanks to Lizzy for going on vacation (hope you had a good time) and making me realize how just how much easier life would be if I paid more attention to grammar. To Gin the Answer Lady, thanks for reminding me I had no one to blame but myself for the plot and for believing I could actually finish it even when it looked impossible.
|Part 1 2 3 4|
TRIAL BY SORROW
by: Kathleen Wolf
Their journey to the Aldernon border was uneventful. Cresting the last hill, Xena silently applauded Delara for her accurate description of what they were up against. Gabrielle had asked her how the Queen would be able to amass such a large army in a relatively small kingdom. The warrior only had one easy answer for her, money.
Everyone was wound tightly when they approached the fringes of the border. Hand signals from the back of the group told Xena that no one was coming up behind them. To both the warrior and the Queen's surprise, it was Lord Dunlop who came out on horseback to meet them.
"Queen Delany has asked me escort you into the compound." The nervous man hung his head.
"I have a question first." The Queen moved closer to his horse and waited for the man to dismount. "Who exactly is this Queen Delany?"
"She is the late King's twin sister." Lord Dunlop answered quickly. "She and her brother had a falling out many seasons ago. She was living in Rome when she heard of his death. As the only living heir, she returned to take the throne."
Seeing his discomfort, Gabrielle walked back to Argo. Excepting Xena's arm, she was soon sitting snugly behind the warrior.
"Lead on then!" Xena commanded the shaken man.
* * * *
The compound turned out to be an elaborate grouping of tents and one building. The Queen's sole reason for constructing the large central hall was Danu's trial. On each side of the building a network of tents had been erected. The door flaps of the tents on the right were open to reveal that the structures were furnished but empty.
"These are for your use during the trial. The area within the green flags will be honoured as Amazon territory for the duration of your stay." Lord Dunlop explained to them as he dismounted. Handing the reigns of his horse off to a young soldier, he started to move towards the large tent on the left. "These are Queen Delany's quarters. She requested that I bring you to see her as soon as you arrived."
Xena jumped off of Argo. Gabrielle waited for the warrior to help her off the horse. Danu and the rest of the Royal guard dismounted together. A small number of Amazon warriors, brought along under the guise of stable girls, tended to the horses. Other warrior's began the job of unpacking supplies and getting the Amazon tents prepared for habitation. Solari signaled where she wanted guards posted around the Amazon portion of the compound. With five of her best warriors she followed the Queen, Xena and Danu into Delany's tent.
* * * *
The large tent had been divided into several different rooms. The Queen's private chambers were at the back, hidden behind thick crimson curtains. The main area of the tent held a throne and large table.
"Welcome," Queen Delany's coarse voice greeted them as she emerged from a small curtained room behind the throne. Her black hair was cut short and the way it framed her face immediately reminded Gabrielle of Rike. No one could dispute that these two were twins. "I am so glad you've come to settle our little problem in a civilized way. I was so concerned that I'd have to start a war." She removed the sword from her side as she sat down on the ornate throne.
"I would like nothing more than to have a civilized discussion." Gabrielle locked her chin as she spoke. The hatred she felt towards Rike was instantly transferred to his repugnant sister.
"There will be more than enough time for that in the morning." Delany waved at Lord Dunlop, who raced to get her wine. "The trial starts at dawn."
"I was hoping we could discuss things first and that this trial might not be necessary." The bard tried to filter the dislike from her voice.
"What would we need to discuss?" The dark haired Queen cocked her head to one side and stared wide eyed at the Amazon. "The treaty is very clear. The crime was committed in my kingdom, so my laws apply."
"Yes, you are correct." Gabrielle knew better than to dispute this moot point with her. "I'm not sure if you are aware of some of the extenuating circumstances surrounding your brother's death."
"What extenuating circumstances could possible change the fact that my brother, the King, was murdered?" She dragged out the last word for effect.
"Your brother had poisoned two members of the Amazon Royal family and was a heartbeat away from killing my daughter. I see those as fairly compelling extenuating circumstances." The bard pointed out what she was sure Delany already knew.
"True!" She gulped her wine. "In your kingdom that might make a difference and it may make a difference to the trial judge. But too me, it doesn't mean anything!" She lowered her dark eyes to stare into the Amazon Queen.
Gabrielle fought the urge to shake her head at the woman's stubbornness. Her first logical attempt to have the trial stopped was failing, so she changed her tactics. Queen Delany seemed more like a spoiled child than a monarch. The type of person who only responded to authority and not gentle persuasion. Hoping her character assessment was right, she tried a new approach.
"I have a request regarding the trial." Her words dragged Delany's wavering attention back.
"I am sure your kingdom has many fine judges. I ask only for the right to pick one from among the many to rule during the trial." She crossed her arms in front of her. The request was not unreasonable and from Delany's response she'd get some evidence of how fair the trial was to be.
"Of course." Delany chuckled. "I have twenty possible choices for you. I'll send them all to your quarters immediately."
'Twenty!' The bard groaned to herself. She hadn't counted on such a large number, determining the best candidate was going to take all night.
"Excellent!" Gabrielle smiled brightly, refusing to give Delany the satisfaction of seeing her upset.
"Guards!" Delany stood suddenly and screamed. Xena and the Royal guard went on immediate alert as two soldiers entered the tent. "Take the prisoner away."
"Now is that really necessary?" Gabrielle's calm voice broke the tension. "Do you have such little faith in your army that you think they couldn't stop this small woman from escaping?" She motioned to Danu who stood behind her.
"Fine." Delany spat, embarrassed by her own overzealousness. Silently she cursed Rike for leaving her to deal with the annoying Amazon Queen. "Dunlop show them to their quarters!"
Gabrielle nodded her approval at woman's change of heart. Turning she followed the rest of her group out of the tent.
Leaning back further into the throne. Delany concentrated on the image of Danu in her mind. She'd picked out the archer immediately from the other Amazon's. Surprised by how small the woman seemed compared to the monster she'd conjured in her mind. But size didn't matter, she'd still pay for her crime.
* * * *
"Thank you." Gabrielle tried to make her tired muscles smile for the hundredth time as the man exited the tent. "Solari please send in the next candidate."
"That was the last one." The warrior stuck her head inside the tent flap.
"Thank the Gods." The Queen slumped down in her chair.
"Any of them seem honest?" Xena slipped in behind her.
"A few." Gabrielle turned to the warrior. "So do you have good news or bad?"
"Neither. The army is exactly as Delara described it."
"I was hoping you'd return to tell me that you'd found a way to beat them yourself." The bard looked at her through tired eyes.
"If it comes down to it " Xena bent down and kissed her. "You know I'll find a way."
* * * *
The merciless dawn came too quickly for Gabrielle. Looking up to see Xena already dressed and eating, she realized she'd slept in late.
"Why didn't you wake me?" She struggled to shake the sluggishness from her legs as she dressed.
"I did and you told me to go to Tartarus!" Xena answered playfully. "I figured I'd just throw a bucket of cold water on you in a few minutes."
"I'm sorry, did I really say that?" She looked sadly at her partner. She knew she could be a real grump when she didn't get enough sleep.
"I'm kidding." The warrior moved to embrace her. "I was waiting as long as possible before I woke you up."
"Thank you." Moving up onto her tiptoes she kissed the leather clad woman. "Expecting trouble?" She looked down to see Xena's breast dagger in its usual place.
"Just want to be prepared." The warrior followed her gaze down. "You better hurry up and eat. Delany's going to want to start soon." She led the sleepy woman over to the table. "Did you make a decision on who you want to be the judge?"
"Yes, there is one who I'd really like but I doubt she'll go for it." Gabrielle tore into a piece of cheese. "Once she rejects him, I have a second choice she'll readily agree to."
"When did you get so sneaky?" Xena instantly realized the bard's plan. Having Delany reject her first choice, would force the acceptance of her second choice without argument.
"Me, sneaky?" She looked up innocently. Finishing the last of her breakfast she went over her trial notes. The sound of trumpets told them it was time.
* * * *
Danu was talking with Solari outside of the Queen's hut when the trumpets sounded.
"Good morning!" Gabrielle emerged first and went straight to hug the archer. Seeing her future daughter-in-law looking so nervous almost broke her heart. Pulling back she looked Danu in the eye. "Everything is going to be fine. I promise."
"I know." Danu tried her best to smile. The truth was she wasn't worried about herself, she was worried about Sorrow.
"My Queen, everyone is ready." Solari's report shattered the fragile exchange. Gabrielle nodded and led the Amazon procession to the trial hall.
The large building was overflowing with people. Two dozen benches were arranged in rows to look at a large desk against the far wall of the room. Delany's throne had been moved from her tent to the right side of the hall, in front of the benches. Three large padded chairs sat across from the throne on the left side of the hall. Under Solari's supervision the Royal guard was positioned throughout the crowd for security. Danu silently took one of the three seats on the left side of the room, while Gabrielle and Xena stood nearby talking. A lone chair sat off to the right of the desk, waiting for the testimony of those who'd borne witness to the crime.
Queen Delany entered the room with Lord Dunlop and the twenty possible trial judges in tow. She slammed herself down into her throne and glared at the Amazon Queen. Whose tactic was to ignore the childish woman as the rest of the crowd fell hushed.
"Who is your choice?" Unable to bare the bard's silence, Delany barked the question across the hall at her.
Purposely turning back to finish her conversation with Xena, she made the dark haired Queen wait a few more moments before she spoke.
"I choose Lord Dunlop." She smiled brightly at the shocked figure across the hall.
"He's not a judge, you can't choose him!" Delany slammed her fist down onto throne's armrest.
"He is a member of the Royal house and privy to all the laws of Aldernon, is he not?" Gabrielle took a few steps closer.
"Yes, but he was witness to the events following my brother's murder. He cannot stand as judge." The irate Queen shifted in her seat.
"Then my second choice is " She scanned the group of judges one last time. "Judge Henrik."
"Fine, everyone else is dismissed!" Delany smiled, happy that she'd forced the Amazon Queen to make an unwanted choice. She watched amused as the gray haired judge bowed first to her, and then to Gabrielle, before taking his seat behind the large table at the front of the hall.
"Please read the charges." Henrik instructed the guard who sat now to his right.
"The Amazon warrior known as Danu is hereby charged with the murder of King Rike." The guard’s loud booming voice echoed through the hall.
"I object to the charges." Gabrielle spoke firmly. She was the only person in the room standing and this alone struck the crowd as a defiant action.
"On what grounds?" Henrik admired the young woman's determination. He'd struggled all night to understand the relevance of many of her interview questions. The only thing he was sure of, was that she wasn't about to give up without a very compelling argument.
"Although I acknowledge that the treaty between Rike and myself would dictate that Danu be tried here, under your rules, I plead that there are reasonable extenuating circumstances that negate the right to charge her with murder." The bard kept her voice even and confident. With each word her general nervousness diminished and she settled in to do what she did best. Talk up a storm
"What circumstances do you view as being so extraordinary that the law would not apply in this case?" The judge questioned. There was no circumstance he knew of that could negate the law but he was curious as to what she'd argue.
"Danu did not kill the King out of malice or revenge. She killed him because that was her duty. At the moment her arrow pierced his heart, his dagger was poised to kill a member of the Amazon Royal family. My daughter, Princess Sorrow." Gabrielle glanced at Delany. The woman's blank stare made her uneasy. "This in addition to the attempt by the King to poison both the Princess and my Champion earlier in the evening, is surely enough reason to dismiss the charges."
Henrik looked at the Warrior Princess. Xena stared right back at him.
"The law is clear!" Delany rose up, breaking the momentary silence. "Rike's actions prior or even during the moment of his death are irrelevant. She killed a member of Aldernon Royal family. She's guilty of murder."
"Right now I am ruling on the right of this court to charge Danu." Henrik spoke directly to his Queen. No matter what her agenda might be, he was bound and determined to give the Amazon warrior a fair trial. "The matter of guilt is not the issue right now." He cleared his throat and looked at Gabrielle. "Whether the law is reasonable or not is not mine to decide. Queen Gabrielle, do you deny that you freely signed the treaty with the King?"
"I freely admit that I signed the treaty." Gabrielle conceded the point since she couldn't deny it.
"Then as dictated by the treaty between Aldernon and the Amazon Nation, Danu must stand trial for the murder of King Rike." His eyes silently apologized. His hands were tied, only the Queen could change the letter of the law. "Queen Delany you may begin the presentation of the case against the accused."
"I call Lord Dunlop to testify." Still standing, the Queen waited for Dunlop to sit before she began. "Please describe to me in your own words everything you witnessed from the moment the Amazon Royal family arrived at the castle, up until the moment my brother was found murdered."
Taking a deep breath, Dunlop told his version of events to the court. Under Delany's prompting he was forced to admit that he'd hid them in his chambers the night of the murder and the following day. Admit that he alone had given the antidote to Xena and only with his help had they been able to escape. Although glad to get the secrets off his cheast, Dunlop knew he'd be killed after the trial for treason.
"Dunlop," Delany purred as she paced around him ready to pounce. With every word this man was digging himself a deeper grave that she would happily send him into. She focused herself on the task at hand. "I want to clarify something. When you met Danu in front of the ante-chamber, what were her exact words when you asked her where the King was?"
"She said 'Your so-called King is dead. I sent him to Tartarus, where he belongs.'" Dunlop's words were punctuated by a deep gasp from the crowd.
"So she admitted, without any prompting, that she killed my brother?" The monarch asked.
"Thank you, Lord Dunlop." Delany waved him away. The thankful man sprang from the chair and tentatively moved to his previous position near the throne. "I call Xena, Warrior Princess to testify."
Xena stood stiffly, adjusted her armor, before she confidently strode to the witness chair and sat down.
"You were witness to my brother's murder, were you not?" Delany cut right to the point.
"No." The warrior's short answer caused the Aldernon Queen to stop her pacing.
"You're denying that you were in the ante chamber when he died?" She studied the warrior face.
"No. I was there when he died." Xena leaned her weight forward in the chair and challenged Delany. "I just don't believe he was murdered."
"Please don't start that all over again!" Delany threw her hands up in disgust. Focusing her eyes to stare at the warrior she poised her own challenge. "What were you doing when my brother was killed? Obviously your reputation is a little exaggerated. I thought the mighty Warrior Princess would've had no trouble defeating the God of War and disarming my brother!"
Xena was silent. Her stare into the dark haired Queen didn't falter as she answered.
"When your brother was killed," her voice was deep. "I was fighting the God of War. Who for your information, didn't get his title because he looked good in leather pants." She hated giving Ares any credit but how else could she defend her lack of action.
"But from your prone position on the floor you did see who fired the lethal arrow?"
"Danu fired the arrow to protect the Princess." Xena stopped the one-word answers to add her interpretation of the event.
"Once again, I don't care about her motivation. Just that everyone has heard you admit that it was Danu who fired the fatal shot." Delany waved her hand to dismiss the warrior. Xena remained in the chair, unwilling to follow her command.
"Xena you may return to your seat." Henrik's soft voice added after a long uncomfortable silence. Only on his request did the warrior move. "Queen Delany you may call your next witness."
"I call the accused to testify." Turning to face the crowd, she walked back to her throne. She sat patiently as Danu slowly made her way to the witness stand, only when the archer was seated did she rise again.
"Did you kill my brother?" She asked the blunt question.
"Yes." Danu's voice was blank. She tried not to show any emotion, afraid that her feelings would only serve as ammunition for the vengeful Queen.
"Everyone here seems to be very preoccupied with why you killed him. I have to admit, I'm a little curious myself." Delany stood a few feet away from the archer. "So, why did you kill him?"
"It was my duty." Danu raised her head proudly. "I had to protect the Princess."
"Protect her from what?" Delany shot a quick look at Gabrielle. Who'd been studying every one of the woman's words, looking for something she could use against her.
"King Rike was about to plunge a dagger into her heart." Danu answered confused. Why would Delany be asking this again?
"And she'd already been poisoned?"
"Yes." Her answer was slow.
"What other titles have the Amazons given Princess Sorrow?" Delany smiled wickedly, knowing that the Amazon Queen wouldn't be expecting this angle.
"Titles? I don't understand what you mean." Danu was genuinely puzzled.
"Isn't your Princess also known as the Demon Ranavalona?" Delany turned away from the archer and stared at Gabrielle. A little disappointed by how well the woman managed her shock. "Isn't she also known as the Protector?"
"She is both." Danu gulped hard as she answered. Frantically trying to figure out how this woman could've known either of these things. The answer came suddenly. Dropping her right hand to the side of the chair, she used signals to convey her suspicions to Solari. Who in turn signaled Xena. The signal gave no new insight to the Warrior Princess. She'd come to the same conclusion earlier.
"There is a spy among us." She whispered the words to Gabrielle. A slight flinch was the only response the bard could afford.
"Now then " Delany returned to her pacing as she spoke. "Could you please tell the court what Princess Sorrow is?"
"She is not a what!" Danu's strong voice snapped back at her questioner.
"You seem very touchy about that. I'll get back to why that is in a moment." She stayed her pacing for a heartbeat before restarting the rhythmic walk once more. "I'll make this easy. Isn't Princess Sorrow really an immortal demon from another realm?"
"She's not immortal." Danu shook her head.
"You're agreeing that she is a demon and that she is from another realm?" Delany laughed at the archer's discomfort.
"Yes." Danu hoped the short answer would save her from revealing any more. She refused to argue that Sorrow was part human due to her soul. She wouldn't give the monster before her the satisfaction of seeing her struggle.
"Why do you say she is mortal?" The Queen looked at the hall's high ceiling. Unable to look at the pitiful archer, less she burst out laughing.
"The Goddess Artemis proclaimed that she was." Danu hoped the word of a Goddess would convince the court of Sorrow's mortality.
"Please tell the court how it is that the Princess can be killed?" Delany looked back at Danu with pleading eyes.
"I don't know." Danu bowed her head.
"Then I'll make it easy. Tell the court so far what injuries have failed to kill her!" Delany grew impatient with the archer's silent contemplation and began to mock her. "Hello?"
"She has survived many wounds." Danu finally began. "From swords, Xena's chakram and " The archer couldn't bring herself to say the words.
"Did she survive having the wings cut off her back? Did she survive four seasons buried underground in molten rock? Didn't she survive being poisoned?" Delany's voice grated the archer’s nerves like knives. All Danu could do was nod. "What in the world made you believe that this dagger would kill the Protector?" Delany pulled her brother's dagger from the harness in her sleeve and embedded it into the judge's table. Dropping her voice down to a low hiss she continued. "I think you had a much more emotional reason for murdering my brother! Jealous much?"
Danu's jaw dropped with the accusation. Her mind was still busy trying to understand how, even with a spy, this woman knew so much about Sorrow.
"I mean why else would a lowly archer chose to stay behind with Xena. Her bow would be of little use when they were attacked by the palace guards." Delany licked her lips. "That is, unless she could use that bow to murder the one man who threatened to steal away her demon lover. You were so possessive of her that you went to confront her that evening, didn't you?" She gave Danu no time to answer. "What was it you called her, the village whore? I guess her nocturnal encounter's with my brother would qualify her as one."
"She did nothing with your disgusting brother." Danu response was loud and angry. Her white knuckled hands gripped the chair in an attempt to keep herself from charging the woman.
"All right, so that was a little exaggeration. It did show everyone just how defensive you are about the Princess." The Queen laughed. "In an attempt to make the decision of this court an easier one. I believe I have shown that Danu wasn't doing her duty when she killed my brother. But that she murdered him in cold blood because she was jealous. She knew the Princess was not in any danger because she couldn't be killed. She had no other reason to fire the fatal arrow then she was afraid that my brother would steal Sorrow from her."
Danu could hardly breath. Her mind tried to remember when exactly it was that everything had gone so wrong. When exactly was it that she went from a warrior doing her duty to a revengeful jealous lover?
"Now, although the letter of the law states that what my brother was doing at the time he was murdered has no bearing on this trial. I think you will agree that the motivation of his killer is of the utmost importance in the determination of guilt and punishment." Delany addressed the judge.
"Yes, her motive is of great importance." Henrik looked sadly at the Amazon in the witness chair.
"Then I believe I'm finished." The Aldernon Queen turned and began to walk back to her chair. As an afterthought she turned to add one last request. "When she is found guilty, I request that the punishment be an immediate public execution." Smiling happily she returned to her throne.
"Judge Henrik, I humbly ask for a recess." The Amazon's Queen even voice came the moment Delany's hateful request was finished.
"On what grounds?" Protocol forced the judge to ask, he couldn't just recess the trial without a compelling reason.
"I must admit that I have come here today as a lamb walking into a lion's den. I am at an obvious disadvantage in that I had no idea what evidence Queen Delany would present." The Queen's soft words begged for his sympathy. In his interview, she had gotten the impression that he was an emotional man. That he suffered with his position as judge. Always worried if justice was really being served when he ordered someone to be executed. "I will need time to form a proper defense to these accusations." Gabrielle knew she was taking a chance. She was confident that even if the recess was denied, she could regain herself in a heartbeat.
"Under the circumstances, that seems quite reasonable." Henrik reacted as Gabrielle had expected. He believed that justice wouldn't be served if the Amazon Queen wasn't given time to prepare a proper defense. "The trial will resume tomorrow at high noon." The icy look from his Queen made him realize the unusualness of his decision. If the trial started at noon, he hoped the Amazon Queen would argue enough to give the archer at least one more day on earth. With what had been presented so far, Danu would surely be executed.
* * * *
Back in the Amazon portion of the encampment, the archer broke down. She didn't return to the Queen's tent with everyone else, instead opting to go into one of the smaller structures alone. Her mind tried to understand how all of this could be happening.
'I'm going to be executed!' The once unbelievable thought suddenly seemed possible and with this thought came an even greater worry. She rushed to find Xena.
The warrior was sitting at the table in the main tent, discussing strategy with Gabrielle and Solari.
"I don't care what you promised!" Danu's frantic voice announced her entrance into the tent. Ignoring that Xena could snap her like a twig, the archer moved to challenge the warrior. "You will not call her!"
"That isn't your decision." Xena shook her head and stood up to meet Danu's approach. When the archer planted herself only inches in front of her, the warrior prayed she wouldn't move. Afraid her reflexes would react without her mind's consent.
"Whose is it then?" Danu jaw began to quiver. "Hers? You know she'd be here now if it was her choice."
The warrior shook her head. Sorrow may have made the request, but she would decide if the Protector was called.
"Yours then?" Danu choked on the words. "Cause if you call her, you're killing her." The image of Sorrow struggling to simply lift her arm flooded back to the archer. "Do you understand how weak she is? How vulnerable?"
"Danu, calm down." Gabrielle approached the archer carefully and led her away from the tense Warrior Princess. "You don't have to worry about this. No one will have to make that decision. I won't let that happen."
"Have you lost your mind?" Danu questioned, with no thought that she was talking to her Queen and Sorrow's mother. "They're going to find me guilty and they're going execute me. Whatever clever argument you come up with tonight is only going to stop them."
"She's right, Gabrielle." Xena hated agreeing with Danu's bleak view of the future.
"No, she's not right!" The bard snapped at both of them. "I refuse to believe that we've lost before we've even tried to fight. I can not and will not walk into that hall tomorrow believing that everything I say is futile and I would appreciate it if the rest of you, at least faked, a little confidence." Fed up with all of them, she stalked out of the tent. Her last look told the warrior not to follow.
"We have another problem to deal with." Xena turned back to Solari, forcing herself to heed the bard's unspoken command. "As we all figured out, there's a spy in the nation."
"It seems that way." Solari returned from the corner she'd retreated to during the argument. "She knows things only those in the village would."
"She knows even more than that." Xena replayed Delany's words in her mind. There were only two people who knew that at the time Rike was killed, she'd been on the ground in one of the corners of the antechamber. There'd also been one God in the room. At the very least Ares was feeding Delany information. The important thing now, was to figure out what he gained from all of this.
* * * *
A candlemark later, when Gabrielle still hadn't returned, Xena went to search for her. It didn't take any of the warrior's skills to realize that she'd gone to the stables. The four members of the Royal guard, standing at attention outside the structure, gave away the Queen's location.
"I'll guard her now." The warrior gave the order as she entered the stable. She didn't bother looking around as she went straight to Argo's stall. The Amazon Queen was sitting on a pile of fresh hay not far from the horse.
"Gabrielle, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make it sound like I doubted you." Xena offered the apology freely when she realized the bard had been crying.
"It's not that." She sighed loudly, fighting back another wave of tears. "Danu is right. No matter what I say tomorrow, he'll find her guilty and Delany will have her executed. It's just "
Xena sat down in the hay beside her. She'd known all along the real reason why the bard had lost her temper.
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you. That was wrong." Hanging her head, she spoke the words softly.
"You were wrong!" Gabrielle snapped back. "I knew though. I was waiting for you to say something. But you didn't. I thought we shared everything. What hurts the most is knowing that you're willing to keep something like that from me." The hurt look on Xena's face made her soften her tone. "How were you going to explain Sorrow suddenly showing up out of no where?"
The silent warrior shook her head. She'd tried not to think about that. Thinking about it made her remember how horrible it was to be keeping secrets from the woman she loved.
"You'll call her, won't you?" Gabrielle stared into the warrior's blue eyes for an answer. "You will. No matter how much Danu or I object."
"What would you have me do Gabrielle?" Starring back at the bard she asked the unanswerable question. "If I don't call her Danu will die and I go home to face Sorrow's grief. I know what's it's like to lose the person you love." The image of Gabrielle dragging Hope into the fiery pit filled her mind. "I don't know if I can put her through that." She paused for a moment before continuing. "Or I call her. Even in her weak state she may be able to fight them for awhile and I'll do my best to help her. Do I take the chance of her being killed? Do I take the chance of being so caught up in fighting that something happens to you? What would you have me do Gabrielle?"
"By the God's Xena, I don't know." The bard whispered, resting her face in her hands.
"I was only hoping to spare you the burden of this choice. That's why I didn't tell you that Sorrow made me promise to call her." Xena's low voice apologized again.
"Wait." Gabrielle looked up at her. "You promised her?"
"Yes." She'd hoped the bard wouldn't pick up on her choice of words.
"Then I guess the choice is already made." Gabrielle took a deep breath and finally allowed the burning tears to fall from her eyes. Her warrior wouldn't go back on a promise, no matter what the consequences may be.
"She has to be given the chance Gabrielle." She gathered the crying woman into her strong arms. "I'd want her to do the same for me."
* * * *
"Slow down, Madalene!" Ephiny called as she increased speed to catch the little Princess running ahead of her. "She'll be there whether we run or walk."
"But she called me!" Madalene pleaded, she'd been so happy when Sorrow's voice had floated into her head during dinner.
"All right, let's go!" Ephiny picked up the child and shifting her into a piggyback carry, broke into a run.
* * * *
"So you did hear me." Sorrow smiled when the duo burst into her room. "I was starting to think you were ignoring me."
"Aunt Ephiny is slow." Madalene jumped from her perch atop the Regents back to land on the bed. She quickly moved to hug her sister. "I missed you."
"I know, I missed you too." Sorrow hugged her tightly. Relieved when her arms promptly responded to her mind's direction.
"How are you feeling?" Ephiny asked concerned as she sat down in a nearby chair. Sorrow had been in her coma like sleep since Danu's departure.
"A little better." Sorrow managed, with a some effort, to sit up and lean against the headboard of the bed. "Any news?"
"Not a word." The Regent shook her head sadly. "But no news is good news, right?"
"I hope so." Sorrow answered, distracted by the little Princess who hands were busy admiring her promise necklace.
"Where'd you get this?" The child asked fascinated by the smoothness of the white ivory.
"It was a gift from Danu." She smiled as she spoke. Her happy thoughts of the archer were quickly broken when Madalene slid one small hand between the necklace and her skin. Her other hand gripped tightly onto Sorrow's right hand. "What's wrong Madalene?" Sorrow recognized the change in her immediately. Starring first at Sorrow and then through her, Madalene's monotone voice answered.
"You must remember her vow. Only you heard the words. Only you can invoke the law. You are the law. She is yours alone to claim." Her grip on Sorrow's hand was as tight as her small fingers would allow. "Flesh and Fire. Fire and Flesh. You are the law. Call forth the fire." Madalene released her grip on the necklace and ran her fingers softly over the scar on Sorrow's palm. "Call forth the fire and soar on the flames." Blinking hard, a sudden shiver went over the Princess as she came back to herself.
"Madalene, are you all right?" Sorrow gathered her sister into her arms and stared deep into her eyes.
"I'm fine." The tiniest of voices answered.
"What did you see?" Sorrow questioned.
"Danu in the forest. On her knees. In the rain. A big leather book. I couldn't read the writing. You, a big fire and then you flying." Madalene tried to hold onto the fading images. When the last of them fled from her mind, she felt normal again. "You're thirsty! I'm going to get you some water." She exclaimed suddenly and scrambled off the bed. Ephiny could see that Sorrow was shaking.
"It's happened before. She's fine now." Ephiny tried to offer a shred of comfort to the Princess.
"When? I've never seen her do that." She tried to calm herself. She could still feel the Madalene's blank stare penetrating into her soul. The Regent went on to explain Madalene's vision of marrying Thallia during dinner.
"That time she understood what she was seeing. I don't think she had any idea what she was watching this time." The lack of similarity between the two events made Sorrow worry even more.
"Does what she was said mean anything to you?" Ephiny finally asked, hoping that at least part of the cryptic message meant something to the Princess.
"The 'Flesh and Fire' part could be about my body using heat to heal. That once the flesh has enough heat, I'll be able to fly again." That part of the message had seemed so clear. "I have no idea what she's talking about with me being the law and being the only one who can invoke it."
"Could she mean Amazon law?" Ephiny smiled as she offered the obvious interpretation. "You are a Princess."
"I don't think so." Sorrow thought for a moment. "While Mother is away, it's your power alone to administer Amazon law. Even as Princess, I fall under your command."
"True." Ephiny agreed, although she knew deep down she would always look for Sorrow's opinion on decisions. "What about this big leather book she mentioned?"
"I'm back." Madalene came in balancing the large mug in her small hands
"How did you know I was thirsty little one?" She took a long drink of the cool liquid.
"Just knew!" The little Princess jumped back onto the bed. "Aunt Ephiny and I are going to leave now. You need to go back to sleep." She proclaimed authoritatively.
"Guess I've been told." Sorrow laughed. "You be good for Aunt Ephiny, okay?"
"I will." Madalene gave her a big bear hug.
"And Ephiny, I'll let you know if I think of any explanations." The Regent's nod, told the Princess that she understood.
Hearing the front door close, Sorrow moved back down onto the bed. Closing her eyes, the healing sleep came to her quickly. Even as she slept, the question of what Madalene's vision meant consumed her mind.
* * * *
Tearnon stared at the ceiling of the tent. Judging from the amount of sunlight hitting the roof, she had less than a candlemark before she'd have to report for watch duty. Her thoughts were focused on the archer. She'd almost died when Queen Delany had accused Danu of being Sorrow's jealous lover. How stupid had she been? That demon had intended on stealing Danu from the moment she'd flown into the village. It must have been the Princess who arranged for Danu to go to Aldernon. Why else would you bring an archer to a treaty negotiation? The Princess had probably arranged for her to stay home so that they could be alone. Suddenly the reason why most of the Royal Guard hadn't made the first trip to Aldernon seemed very clear. The entire Royal family was conspiring to keep her and Danu apart.
'I hope you're holding up your part of our agreement.' Tearnon thought of Syn and her secret assassin. 'I hope you kill her slowly.'
* * * *
"Aunt Ephiny Aunt Ephiny!" Madalene jumped up onto the sleeping woman's stomach.
"What?" Ephiny shot straight up, knocking the little Princess onto Solari’s side of the bed.
"We have to go to my house." Madalene regained her balance and started for the door.
"Whoa, wait a minute!" The sleepy woman attempted to regain control of the situation. "Why do we have to go to your house? It’s the middle of the night."
"Sorrow’s in danger!" The little Princess stood impatiently in the doorway. "Someone's trying to kill her!"
The Regent stopped herself from asking the obvious question. She decided to have faith in Madalene's abilities. Grabbing her sword, she followed the little Princess out of the hut.
* * * *
"What’s wrong?" Delara was returning from the baths when she saw the Regent running with the little Princess across the courtyard.
"Someone is going to try and kill Princess Sorrow." She whispered to the scout as she approached. Seeing the puzzled look on the woman’s face she continued. "Look I can’t tell you how I know, just trust me. I have to get the Madalene somewhere safe. Can you go to the Royal house? I’ll be right behind you."
"I’m on it!" Delara broke into a run. She didn’t care what Ephiny’s source was. If there was a chance that someone was making an attempt on Sorrow’s life, she was going to do her best to stop it. She’d always admired the Princess’ patience when she taught weapon skills in the practice field. The scout had been even more impressed the day she’d come across the Princess in the forest teaching hunting skills to some of the younger Amazons. Although Sorrow made sure they all realized how important and serious the hunt was, she was patient with the girls. Choosing to offer constructive criticism, rather than berate them, if they accidentally scared off their target. The scout had taken the opportunity to hide in the trees and test if the woman’s skills were as spectacular as everyone claimed. Delara had thought that she’d managed to allude the Protectors senses, until at the last moment, when Sorrow had looked up to her perch and waved goodbye. She'd almost fallen out of the tree in shock.
After first scanning the front of the house, Delara moved stealthily to the back of the structure. The open window sent up an immediate red flag. Carefully, she peered inside. Her nerves weren’t surprised to see the darkly clothed figure moving towards the sleeping Princess.
‘One shot!’ She thought, as she hoisted herself up into the window frame and dived. The intruder's attention was focused on the Princess, allowing Delara to take her by surprise. Having no weapons, the scout’s first thought was to disarm the assassin. As her opponent regained her footing, Delara scrambled away and grabbed Sorrow’s cloak from its hook on the wall. Curling the thick fabric around her arm, she used the dense barrier to deflect the dagger blade aimed at her cheast. Twirling, she drove her forearm into the back of the intruder, knocking the small woman to the ground. Shifting her weight she prepared herself for the next attack.
‘If I can just keep her occupied until Ephiny gets here.’ She reassured herself. Glancing through the darkness at the Princess, she hoped that she’d gotten there in time. She was surprised when the chair came flying at her. She hadn’t expected the intruder to abandon her dagger attack and opt to throw the heavy wooden chair next to the bed at her. Striking her across the head, the blow caused Delara to stumble back against the wall, momentarily disoriented. Seeing her chance, the assassin moved in to dispose of the Princess’ savior.
"I believe it was me you were interested in!" Sorrow was sitting on the edge of the bed. Her voice made the assassin turn and momentarily forget the scout. "Don’t tell me you’ve found someone more intriguing already." Moving to stand, she was glad her legs didn’t give out. "Well come on then!" She baited her attacker, surprised when she found herself being pinned onto the bed. Her hands focused on the location of the dagger. They both stared each other down for a moment as the warm pool of blood gathered between them.
It was Delara that pulled the dead assassin off of Sorrow, just as Ephiny barged into the room with her sword drawn. Seeing Sorrow covered in blood, she feared the worst
"How badly are you injured?" She glanced at the dead woman on the floor as she rushed to Sorrow.
"Happy to report that none of this is mine!" Sorrow smiled at them. She'd managed to turn the blade back on its owner at the last possible moment.
"Thank the Gods!" Ephiny bent down to look closely at the dead assassin. "Either of you know her?"
"I think her name is Sura, she's from one of the northern tribes. She arrived about a week ago." Delara filled in the blanks for them.
"If someone is willing to call in outside help." Sorrow leaned back on the bed to rest. "We’ve got major problems."
"Damn!" Ephiny cursed. "We’ll have to send word to Gabrielle." Sorrow nodded in agreement.
"I’ll leave immediately." Delara volunteered without hesitation. "I already know where the Queen is and have a good knowledge of the army."
"I’ll write you a decoy letter." Ephiny went to the main room to find some parchment.
"Thank you." Sorrow broke the silence left by the Regents departure.
"Anytime." The scout smiled back.
"How did you two know that someone was about to slice and dice me?" Sorrow asked, not sure if she wanted to know the answer.
"You'll have to ask Ephiny that." Delara answered honestly. "I was on my way back from the baths when I saw her and your sister running through the courtyard. When I asked her what was wrong, she asked me to come here and protect you."
"Madalene was with her?" She swallowed the lump in her throat. The answer was clear now.
"Ephiny was bringing her somewhere safe and I ran right over." Delara entertained the idea of asking Sorrow if she knew how Ephiny had known. Deciding that it was better for some questions to remain unanswered she held her tongue.
"Would you deliver a personal message for me?" Sorrow changed the subject.
"Oh course." Delara sat down on the bed and listened closely to the message.
* * * *
"Here you go." Ephiny returned a short time later.
"Just got to grab my kit and I'm on my way." The scout accepted the letter and headed for the door. "Take care, Princess."
"You too." She smiled back, feeling very happy with the new kinship that the event had forged between them. Although next time she saw the scout, she'd have to tell her to drop the Princess.
"I think I should post some guards here with you. Just in case." Ephiny waited for the Princess' objection.
"On one condition." She swallowed her pride. "You and Madalene come to stay with me in the house. If something like this happens again, I'd like to have you both close by. It'll be easier to protect you that way."
"Agreed." The Regent walked towards the door. She had no intention of pointing out that again that it was Sorrow and not them who needed protection. "I'm going to go and wake up the guards. I'll get someone here right away to remove your unwanted guest."
"I was starting to think I'd have to drag her out myself." Sorrow was glad to hear the Amazon laugh. "And don't worry Ephiny. I'll be fine until you get back."
"I'll try to hurry." Ephiny's gaze fell onto Sorrow's bloodstained cheast and arms. "I’ll run you a bath when I get back."
"That would be nice." She managed a weak smile. She hated the feeling of the blood drying on her skin. The feel of the thick sticky liquid reminded her of her childhood. The days spent slaughtering other's in the name of her education. Her father's insistence that to be covered in blood meant she'd performed her lessons well.
* * * *
"Bath's ready!" Ephiny announced as she watched the Princess struggling to move herself to the edge of the bed and sit up.
"I guess I used up a little more energy before than I thought." She looked at the Regent embarrassed.
"At your service." Ephiny offered her arm. Helping Sorrow to stand, she tried to support as much of the weak woman's weight as she could. They moved slowly to the small room off the master bedroom, where the Queen's private bathtub waited.
"Do you need me to " Ephiny asked sheepishly as she watched Sorrow struggle to get out of the long sleeping gown.
"Sorry about this."
"No need to apologize." The Regent tentatively grabbed hold of the loose fabric at the sides of her waist and lifted. Making the most conscious effort possible to stare Sorrow directly in the eye. Despite herself, she found her stare straying to study the Princess's naked form as she helped her into the hot bath.
'This is just a natural curiosity. I mean everyone must be curious if her human form is anatomically correct, right?' The voice inside her head tried to rationalize her actions. 'In no way shape or form are you leering at Gabrielle's daughter. It's not like you're sitting here thinking what a great body she has. Oh, wait!' Her unconscious thoughts caught up with her rational mind. 'Bad Ephiny!'
"Would it be to much to ask for a little more help?" Sorrow loathed asking the question. How helpless must she be that she couldn't wash herself? All she knew was right now was that she needed to get the blood off of her skin as soon as possible. "I really am sorry to make you do this."
"Stop apologizing." Ephiny had finally gotten a hold of herself. Her momentary childish reaction to the situation had been easily quelled when she started to wash the blood off. The stains a serious reminder of the dangerous the Princess had faced. "I'm more than happy to help." Realizing the possible implications of her words, the Regent froze.
"It's okay, I know what you meant." Sorrow laughed and felt the underlying tension of the situation evaporate. She'd naively figured that her own discomfort had been solely because of her feeling so helpless, but now knew better. "Do you think I want Solari coming home to kick my butt around the village?"
* * * *
Dressed in fresh clean clothes and back in her room, Sorrow could barely keep her eyes open. Madalene's soft rhythmic breathing beside her was a great comfort. She fought the grip of sleep just to listen to its cadence. Thinking to herself how each person's breathing during sleep was as individual as their voice. Knowing the house was under heavy guard and that Ephiny was asleep in Madalene's room, she felt secure enough to give into her body's demands. Resting her hand on Danu's promise necklace, she drifted into unconsciousness.
* * * *
Having cleared the forest around dawn, Delara hoped to reach her destination by early afternoon. Forcing the horse to quicken its pace, she planned to ride the poor beast to exhaustion. Hoping that when she was finally forced to abandon her mount, she wouldn't have too long a distance to run. The feeling of urgency weighted on her greatly as she rode. Digging her heels further into the steed’s sides, she focused her sights on the horizon. Willing the distance between her and the Queen to shrink as quickly as possible.
* * * *
Entering the hall well before noon, the archer, the Warrior Princess and the Amazon Queen were alone within the structure. Xena sat on one of the front benches watching the bard mumble to herself as she paced back and forth in front of the judge’s desk. The warrior silently worried about her, Gabrielle had remained staunchly focused on arguing a case she couldn't possibility win. She'd been so consumed with planning her words that the bard had skipped breakfast. This small fact, had not been missed by the warrior, and only added to her concern.
The archer had chosen to stay at the back of the hall. Alone in the night, she'd made some decisions. She'd let Gabrielle argue for as long as she wanted too. Even though she knew all of the Queen's carefully chosen words would be wasted. The judge did seem to be an honest and just man, but there was no other way of interpreting the law. By her own admission she'd killed the King and for that act she would die. She held tightly onto two convictions now. The first was that when it came time, she would die on her terms. The second was to find a way from keeping Xena from calling Sorrow.
"I'm going to get you some water before you lose your voice." Xena volunteered when Gabrielle started to cough suddenly. Danu waited for the warrior to leave the hall before she approached her Queen.
"If they do find me guilty, you have to stop her from calling Sorrow." Danu took her courage in hand and confronted Gabrielle. "You're the only one who can stop her."
"Danu, not even I can do that." The bard shook her head sadly.
"Can't or won't?" The archer’s anger got the better of her as she let the accusation fly.
"I can't stop her. She promised Sorrow and Xena won't break her promise. Even for me." Gabrielle conceded.
"She would if you asked." Danu countered. If anyone on earth could get the warrior princess to do something against her will, it would be Gabrielle.
"Danu, do you think I want Sorrow to come here in the state she's in?" The bard questioned back. "Do you think I won't suffer if I lose her again? Do you suddenly believe that you’re the only one who loves her?" Gabrielle voice was harsh and demanding. She really didn't want a confrontation with Danu over this but it seemed the only way to get the archer to remember they were all worried right now.
"I'm sorry, it's just " Danu tried to continue, but the words choked in her throat. Gabrielle embraced her just as the tears started.
"I know." She hugged the archer tightly. "It'll work out for the best, we just have to have faith."
* * * *
The hall quickly filled up as noon approached. Gabrielle wasn't surprised to see that the judge looked very weary as he took his place. She'd hoped the man would be kept up all night with thoughts of the trial. She hoped to use this to her advantage. Taking her seat between Danu and Xena, she waited patiently for Queen Delany to arrive. A half candlemark later it was Lord Dunlop who ran into the hall.
"Queen Gabrielle," He talked quietly as he approached. "You must come quickly. One of your scout's was just brought in from the border. She says she has a urgent message for you."
"Did she say her name?" Gabrielle asked fearfully.
"I think it was Delar." He tried to remember the tall Amazon's name.
"Yes, that it. Queen Delany is questioning her right now. She's gotten very paranoid that you're going to launch a sneak attack on Aldernon." He gave Gabrielle the small insight without guilt. He knew he would hang for his previous actions, he might as well earn his trip to the gallows twice.
"Show me where they are." Gabrielle knew the man would do as she asked. Xena and Danu followed her out of the hall.
* * * *
"Tell me what the hidden message within this letter is!" Delany demanded as she slapped the scout.
"There will be dire consequences if you dare to strike her again." Having just entered the tent, the bard's forceful command stopped the woman's hand. Seeing the deep red welt raising itself on Delara's cheek she was enraged. "Why was she not brought directly to me?"
"The letter she carries is pointless. I know she has some other secret message for you." She snapped back viscously. "I will not stand for such treachery."
"May I see the letter?" Gabrielle walked over and snatched it from her grasp. Scanning it quickly, she knew immediately that Delany was right. This wasn't the real reason that Delara had been sent. "I do not consider this to be pointless. In fact I believe it is of the utmost importance to know that the business of my nation is going smoothly in my absence."
"You'd have a messenger travel here just to so you could know that one of your horses gave birth while you were gone." Delany laughed at her.
"Yes!" Gabrielle's insides turned. How bad must the real message be if Ephiny had sent such a hastily composed letter as a decoy. "Queen Delany, you can run your kingdom any way you choose. I will run mine as I see fit." Gabrielle moved over to inspect Delara's face. "Since you have seen fit to delay the trial to see to your paranoia. I choose to delay while I see to my scout's wounds. Do you have any objection or shall I ask the Judge directly?"
"Fine! Take all the time you want. It won't change anything, I'll have her life before nightfall." Delany starred at Danu and laughed. "Dunlop inform the Judge of the recess." She turned and retreated to her private chambers at the back of the tent.
* * * *
"It's not as bad as it looks." Delara offered as Xena examined the welt on her face. "I just wish she hadn't been wearing that damn ring." The slice across her cheek bleed freely.
"It's not too deep. I don't think you'll have a scar." The warrior cleaned the wound.
Gabrielle stood only an arms length away, patiently waiting for Xena to finish.
"I guess you've realized that wasn't the real message." Delara offered as Xena worked. Gabrielle only nodded that she did. She didn't trust her own voice enough to talk.
"What's got Ephiny so upset that she sent you?" The warrior asked in a calm voice.
"There's been an attempt on Princess Sorrow's life." The scout hated saying the words. The strained looks on everyone's faces told her things were not going as planned. "She's wasn't injured in the attack. The assassin was killed before we could get any information."
"Do you know who it was?" Xena asked as she finished bandaging the scout's face.
"She arrived from one of the northern tribes about a week ago. Her name was Sura." Delara filled in the little information she had.
"When did this happen?" Gabrielle's shaky voice asked.
"Late last night."
"Sweet Artemis Delara, you must've ridden three horses into the ground to get here so quickly." Solari spoke for the first time.
"Just one horse and these." She pointed to her legs and smiled, proud of how quickly she'd made the trip.
"Tell us everything that happened." Xena instructed.
Delara described the events of the previous night in as much detail as possible. Suddenly realizing the huge question still remained of how Ephiny had known of the assassin. The scout was surprised when no one asked.
"She was able to stand up on her own?" Danu asked hopefully. Since there seemed to be no way to prevent Xena from calling the Protector, the archer prayed that her heath had improved.
"Yes, but she seemed quite exhausted afterwards." The scout answered honestly.
"Oh!" Danu's hope dissipated quickly.
Xena looked around the room deep in thought. With the attempt on Sorrow's life, her suspicions had consolidated into facts. Gabrielle watched the change in the warrior.
"Delany knows of the attack on Sorrow." Xena voiced her inner thoughts to them. "That's why she was so paranoid about Delara's message. She's desperate to know if the assassination attempt was successful or not."
"What should we let her think?" The bard wondered which choice would better serve them.
"We give her nothing one way or the other." Xena answered, deep in contemplation. "If we can drive her into making more slips, then maybe we can get a better idea of who in the Nation is assisting her."
"Why would someone in the Nation help her?" Delara questioned. "I'd assumed the attack on Princess Sorrow was just someone trying to make a challenging the Queen for her mask easier."
"It's both!" The warrior said, filling in another piece of the puzzle in her mind. "Delany doesn't really care who is leading the Nation as long as she gets her revenge on Danu. Her ally within the Nation is planning to make an attempt at Gabrielle's mask. Each one sees their partnership as a means to their perspective ends."
"Why would she be so desperate to know if Sorrow's dead then?" Danu wasn't following the warrior's logic.
"Because this game has another player." The warrior looked at Gabrielle seriously. "Ares."
"Why would the God of War care about any of this?" The scout questioned.
"He wants Sorrow dead." The Queen responded harshly. "Curse him and his petty revenge!"
"I don't think this was ever about revenge." Xena finally shared her concern. "I don't know why, but Ares needs Sorrow dead and he can't kill her directly."
"So he's recruited Queen Delany to help him." Gabrielle tried to clarify the idea in her mind. "But what is he doing for her?"
"Remember when you asked me how such a small kingdom could amass such a huge army?"
"You think Ares gave her this army?" The bard questioned fearfully.
"Yes." The warrior continued. "There are other reasons I believe he's involved. Lord Dunlop told us that Delany had been in Rome when her brother was killed. There is no possible way she could've gotten news of his death and returned to Aldernon in such a short period of time."
"Let me get this straight," Solari attempted to summarize what was being said. Too much of the conversation was being spoken silently between the bard and warrior. She figured the rest of the room was as confused as she was. "Ares needs Sorrow dead, so he helped Delany get back here in order to get her revenge on Danu. Delany, in turn, has made an alliance in the Nation with someone who wants the Queens mask and is willing to kill the Princess to get it. I can see why Delany needs an ally within the Nation. But why would our traitor need Delany's help?" The simple asking of the question supplied the answer. "Damn! The trial's nothing but a diversion."
"Not to Delany." Gabrielle shook her head sadly.
"Or to Ares." The warrior added mapping out all possible angles. "He knew that if the assassination failed, the trial would provide him a second chance."
"This army wasn't assembled to start a war with the Nation this army's only purpose is to kill Sorrow when she comes to save me." Danu spoke the words slowly.
"I'm afraid so." The warrior conceded sadly.
"Xena, please tell me you won't call her. Not knowing all of this." Danu small voice pleaded with her. "Before she might've had a chance. If you call her to fight against these odds, she'll die."
The Warrior Princess didn't answer the archer’s plea.
"I need to think." Exchanging a brief glance with Gabrielle she walked out of the tent and headed towards stables.
* * * *
Xena picked up the brush and began to groom Argo, trying to still the torment in her heart.
"There all looking to me for answers, girl." She spoke softly to the horse. Who snorted back in response. "And I can't find any." Argo snorted again. "Well of course there are answers, but none of them are good ones. If only Gabrielle wasn't here, I could just start a war and hope everything turned out for the best."
"Doesn't sound like much of a plan." The bard slipped behind her and encircled the warrior's waist with her arms. "Sorrow would still come."
"Well, then if only you and Danu weren't here, I could just start a war and hope." Xena soaked in the feeling of the woman pressed against her back.
"Xena, you know she'd come if she knew you were in danger." Gabrielle felt the body within her arms release a heavy sigh.
"This would all be so easy if Sorrow wasn't so loyal and self-sacrificing." The warrior twisted around to look at the bard. "I guess I should blame her Mother for that."
"It's who she is. She reminds me of someone else I know." She raised her hand to Xena's cheek. "Something will happen to tip the scale in our favor. It always does." Trying to convince her, she kissed the warrior softly on the lips. "The next move is mine. I'll try to get Delany to reveal as much as I possibly can."
"I almost pity her." Xena laughed softly. Seeing the bard's questioning eyes she continued. "She's has no idea who she's going up against. She be spilling her guts before she knows what hit her."
* * * *
"Danu, can I speak to you in private for a minute." Delara motioned for the archer to join her at one end of the tent. She watched the defeated woman walk slowly to her and hoped the message she carried might offer some comfort. "Sorrow asked me to give you a message."
"She did?" Danu's eyes lit up. Delara leaned in to whisper in the archer's ear, just as the Princess had instructed.
"Every moment my ears are filled with the sound of your breathing, my skin remembers the feel of your touch, my heart aches to beat in rhythm with yours and my soul waits impatiently to join with yours forever. I love you."
Danu's legs went weak. It was no longer the scout who was speaking to her, for the words came to her ears in Sorrow's voice. She couldn't stop the tears that streamed down her cheeks. Delara moved away from the archer. Part of the scout felt like crying from the sheer beauty of the words, another from the picture she held of Sorrow's loving face as she spoke them. Mostly she felt like crying because the words made her sad, she doubted anyone would ever love her as much as the Princess loved Danu.
Continued in Part Three
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