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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
The Amazon party packed quickly. Traveling in the dark was more appealing than spending any more time within the Aldernon kingdom.
It was well into the night before Xena felt they were far enough away from the border to order the group to make camp and get a few hours sleep. Everyone's attention had been focused on the Princess and the archer. Gabrielle feared the silence between them was solidifying into a wall that would separate them forever.
"I’ll take first watch." Once camp was set up, Danu volunteered for duty.
"Pardon me?" Sorrow blurted out, shocked by her request.
"I still have responsibilities to the Nation, even if I’m not an Amazon anymore." She didn’t want to start this right now but she couldn’t contain the anger that was building inside her any longer. "That’s if you don’t have something for me to do, master?" She added sarcastically.
Sorrow first thought was to let her walk away and ignore the archer’s attack. Reaching up, her hand went to Danu’s promise necklace on its own accord to reminding her the magnitude of what was at stake. Releasing her wings as she stood, she closed the distance to the archer with sure steps. Picking the small woman up in her arms, ignoring Danu’s insistence that she be put down, she took to the air and flew off.
* * * *
"What do you think you’re doing?" Danu struggled to talk above the wind, as she hung tightly onto Sorrow.
"We need to talk." Sorrow whispered into her ear. "I figured this way we'd have a little privacy."
"We could’ve just went for a walk you know. Isn’t this a bit extreme?" Burying her face into Sorrow’s neck to escape the piercing wind, she almost forgot how angry she was at the Princess. The strong sound of Sorrow’s heartbeat echoed in her ears. She silently thanked Madalene for whatever part she'd played in healing her.
"Hold on for just a little while longer." Sorrow could tell that the archer wasn’t enjoying the brisk wind. Seeing their destination, she made a slow descent to land on the beach.
"Where are we?" Danu looked up at the cliffs behind them, then back to the grinding surf of the ocean. The reflection of starlight off the water softly illuminated the cove.
"Were alone, that’s all that matters." Sorrow answered, happy that the archer hadn’t immediately moved away when she’d put her down.
"I’ve never seen the ocean before. It’s beautiful." The waves distracted her from her anger momentarily.
"Not as beautiful as you." Although she truly meant her words, Sorrow wasn’t sure if this was the time to be saying such things. So much between them was broken. "What can I do to fix this?" She finally asked in a desperate voice.
"I don't know." Danu sighed. "I still love you. I love you more than anything " The archer struggled to express herself.
"But?" She was relieved to hear that the archer still loved her. This relief was short lived as she studied the woman's hurt expression.
"But when I look at you now, I can't help but wonder if that's how you see me, as a possession. Or if this love I'm feeling is just some strange illusion created by the fact you own my soul." Her voice was soft. She couldn't help the doubt she felt. It sprang up from within her strong and it demanded answers. She knew it would be the end of them if she didn't voice all of what she was feeling.
"No matter what I made them believe, I have never and will never see you as a possession. I see you as a gift." By the look on Danu's face, Sorrow knew her attempt to convince the archer wasn't working. Not knowing what else to do she dropped to her knees in the soft white sand. "I, Queen Sorrow, the one true Goddess of the Land of Suffering hereby proclaim that the soul of my one true love, Danu is returned into her possession alone or to whatever force she wishes."
"Feel any different?" A sudden bright sparkle appeared next to Danu, revealing the Goddess of Love standing there with her arms crossed.
"What do you want?" Sorrow asked angrily as she stood up.
"I want to know if she feels any different now that you've given back her soul?" The blond Goddess raised her eyebrow. "Cause I'm willing to bet she doesn't!"
Danu shook her head. She didn't feel one bit different, her doubt and pain still felt as fresh as ever.
"Hey, I'll admit you've got some nifty gifts and an entire realm to yourself but you don't know a thing about souls, do you?" Aphrodite smiled at Sorrow. Seeing the Princess was growing angry she continued. "Souls, particularly souls in love, are my specialty. That's why I'm here. You two are bumming me out with all this hate." Her frown was genuine. Seeing that neither of them was going to ask for her help, she continued. "That little passage you had my brother read from your book didn't tell the whole story."
"That's impossible!" Sorrow laughed at her. "The book writes itself. I somehow doubt that after an eternity it suddenly decided to start editing out things for the fun of it."
"The book can only write down what the book knows." Aphrodite smirked at her, as she began to walk in a circle around the pair. "Did you know that every soul is given a mark when it's created?" She knew neither of them did. "This mark defines the soul and allows other souls to identify it. Each individual soul has its own unique and distinct mark. This rule is only broken in a few rare cases." Aphrodite smiled at them. "In those cases what was to be the distinct marking of each individual soul are combined and the new mark given to both. Two souls with the same marking cannot bear to be apart. These souls will do everything possible or impossible to remain together."
"Well it can't be that rare." Sorrow commented, thinking of the unbreakable bond that existed between her Mother and the warrior princess.
"Not in your family at least." The Goddess of Love smiled at her. "Yes, the souls of your Mother and Xena have an identical mark. So do the souls of a certain Princess and archer." She watched happily as they stared at each other. "That's why when Sorrow apparently gave you back your soul Danu, you didn't feel any different. She couldn't give it back because she never really had it."
"But I pledged it to her that night in the rain." Danu reminded her.
"Your pledge changed nothing." Aphrodite struggled to make them understand. "Neither of you can possess the other because you are the same. As soon as your souls found each other, realized the existence of another soul with the same marking, the issue of one soul possessing the other became irrelevant." Her audience was obviously confused and she was having a hard time explaining herself. "It's just a rule, okay? No one can break it! Two souls with the same marking are bound to each other for all eternity so why in the world would one need to posses the other. All right?" She was glad to see them nod their agreement.
Twirling her fingers, a shaft of sparkling light appeared and began to draw in the sand. First the outlines of two wings with a half circle above them. Above the half circle a diamond was carved into the white sand and beneath the wings three small horizontal parallel lines.
"Aphrodite, I think we both know what the Amazon Protector symbol is." Sorrow commented as she held up her armband to show the Goddess the design. Unconsciously, Danu held out the palm of the armguard to show Sorrow's mark.
"That is so sweet." The Goddess of Love swooned to see them both wearing the marking. "Sorrow, did you ever see the Oracle's original symbol?"
"No, my Father had it destroyed before I was born. Why?"
"This is priceless." The blond Goddess clapped her hands happily. "Then maybe you should know that this is what the Oracle drew before he died."
"I figured as much, I did fulfill the prophecy after all." Sorrow looked at Danu, apologizing with her eyes for Aphrodite's interruption.
"Okay, smarty pants! Did you know the Oracle didn't get a chance to finish the symbol before he died?" Aphrodite question silenced the Princess. "Didn't did you. I think you might find it interesting to see what the completed symbol is." Twirling her fingers again the shaft of light carved a line to connect the two open ends of the half circle. The Goddess' light then created another line. Beginning at the three horizontal lines at the bottom, it extended through the half circle and stopped at the diamond shape.
"That looks like " Danu stared in disbelief.
"That my dear is the symbol on both of your souls" The Goddess giggled with delight.
"Your wings and my bow." Danu looked at Sorrow, hoping the Princess was seeing the same thing.
"Is this not what I've been telling you all along. You're meant to be together." She couldn't believe that after all this these two still weren't running into each other’s arms. Could she be losing her touch? "From the first moment you saw Sorrow in the field, you were bound to each other for all eternity."
"I understand now." Danu whispered, turning to Sorrow. "I couldn't give you my soul because you already had it, just as I have yours." She smiled softly at the idea. A shadow made it's way over her face as her doubts returned. "How could this be the symbol the Oracle intended to draw? Since my soul bears the symbol, wouldn't that mean I could’ve fulfilled his prophecy? I think that’s a little far fetched Aphrodite, but thanks for trying." She took a few steps closer to the water and away from Sorrow.
"You alone couldn't fulfill the prophecy." The Goddess motioned to Sorrow to back off for a moment. She'd straighten out the woman's confusion. "Alone, Sorrow would have died that day in the cave."
Danu turned to speak. She just stood their with her mouth gaped open as her mind raced furiously to understand what she was hearing. If both of their souls bore the marking, but neither of them could have fulfilled the Oracle's prophecy alone, then
"The only reason I was able to anything was because of you." The unknowingly Princess finished Danu's thought for her. "If I'd never seen the love in your eyes that day in the field, Father would've killed me."
"Do you know the headache Xena gave me that day when she barged in on that kiss?" Aphrodite asked, wanting them all to pity her discomfort during the ordeal. "That kiss would have went down in history." Thinking for a moment, she laughed. "Although the one on your death bed made up for it."
"It is only with you in my life that I am capable of anything. Only with your love that am I capable of goodness." Sorrow dropped to her knees again. "Now will you believe that you are everything to me. That I love you more than " Her quivering chin brought her soft words to an end.
"I believe." Danu whispered as she moved to where the Princess knelled. Sorrow grasped her arms around the archer’s legs and buried her head into the Amazon's stomach.
"I would face any horror from this world or my own for the chance to look into your eyes and see love. I'm sorry I hurt you." Danu could feel the rumble of the words and Sorrow sobs against her abdomen. "I'll do anything you ask to make this up to you. Just tell me what to do."
"Ssssh." She clutched the Princess shoulder with one hand as she ran the fingers of the other through the woman's brown mane. "You've already done it, I was just too blind to see." Sliding down through Sorrow's embrace, her knees were stopped short of the ground by the Protector's strong arms. Leaving them nose to nose, staring into each other's eyes. "May I kiss you, my Princess?" She tangled her hands into Sorrow's hair. Not waiting for a response she pulled her soulmate to her.
"Finally! That's what I like to see." Aphrodite smiled as she watched them kiss. Winking at the sky, a multitude of fireworks erupted at the Goddess' command. She was almost disappointed that they didn't pause their embrace to look at the beautiful display. "Guess I still got it!" Waving her arm, she disappeared.
"Is she gone?" Danu whispered without opening her eyes.
"Good." The archer kissed her again.
"Very good." The Princes mumbled as Danu moved lower to kiss her neck.
* * * *
"Gabrielle, you might as well go to sleep. I don't think we’ll see them again tonight." Xena opened her sleepy eyes to see the bard awake and staring at the stars.
"You saw the way they were reacting to each other." She turned to look at the warrior. "What if they can't get past this? Danu was devastated when Sorrow forced her to admit that she'd wanted to die."
"Everything will be fine." Wrapping her arms around the Queen, she knew Gabrielle's concerns wouldn't be quelled that easily. Resolving herself that sleep would have to wait awhile longer she wasn't surprised when the bard's words broke the brief silence.
"I hope so. They love each other so much. Anyone can see that they’re meant to be together. It would kill Sorrow to lose her." The bard sighed. Shifting her head up to look into the warrior's blue eyes, her concern rose a notch. "You don't think she thinks we'll be mad that she was angry at us over Sorrow's death do you?"
"She might." Xena answered honestly. "We'll just make sure that she knows it was natural for her to feel that way and that we don't hold it against her. You should have a talk with her." The warrior hoped she wouldn't need to be involved in that heart to heart. The bard would be much better at expressing how both of them felt. She usually knew how Xena felt before the warrior knew herself.
"I will." Comforted by the decision, she snuggled further into the warrior's arms. She only heard the echo of Xena's heartbeat in her ear for a moment before she drifted off to sleep.
* * * *
"Danu, we should stop." Breathless, Sorrow lifted up to brace herself on her arms over the archer.
"Did I hurt you?" Danu's hands moved to feel the Princess' blushing face.
"No " She leaned her head into the caress. "Your touch could never hurt me." Turning slightly, she kissed the soft flesh of the archer's palm
"It's all right, Sorrow. There isn't another person around for miles." Danu smiled at her hopefully. Her flesh was on fire, she was sure of it. The passion between them had been building for so long that she feared it would consume her if it wasn't released.
"Further than that." The Princess smiled nervously at her. "It's a very isolated spot. I doubt anyone else has ever set foot here."
"Tell me what's wrong then?" Looping her arms around Sorrow's back, she pulled the Protector back down.
"I'm afraid I'll hurt you." Sorrow buried her face into the archer's shoulder. Embarrassed by what she was and how little she knew.
"You won't hurt me." Her mind wondered why Sorrow would come up with such a ridiculous notion. "You've never done this before, have you?" Danu could feel the Princess' stiffen and had her answer. She berated herself for not remembering Sorrow’s inexperience. "I didn't mean to rush you." She placed comforting kisses into Sorrow's hair. "It's all right. How about we just lay here like this for awhile?" She tightly wrapped her arms around the body on top of her.
Trying to relax within the archer's arms, Sorrow knew this wasn't what she wanted. Just laying there was the farthest thing from what she wanted. She knew the mechanics of what her human form ached for, the Amazon scrolls had given her that information. But here, in Danu's arms, with all of these feelings inside of her she was scared. In her short life she had killed many but never before had she made love. The idea of it thrilled her and petrified her at the same time.
"Please teach me how to love you." Lifting herself up a little, she searched the brown eyes before her for an answer.
Danu knew she should ask again, be sure this was what Sorrow really wanted. Being more experienced it was her place to keep a reign on what was happening, but the Princess' simple plea had ignited the fire within her instantly. Keeping herself under moderate control, she slowly arched up to kiss her. She searched within the contact for any indication that this wasn’t what her inexperienced lover wanted. Finding not a shred of hesitation in Sorrow's response, she allowed the passion to consume them.
* * * *
Xena was the first to wake. Stretching out her arms, she relieved the guard on watch. Allowing the tired woman to catch a quick nap before they broke camp. The sun had barely began to break the horizon. She smiled when she noticed the dark object in the sky heading her way. Her senses not reacting, she knew it was Sorrow and Danu returning. Turning back, she stoked up the campfire and put a pot of water on to boil.
"Good morning." Sorrow’s greeted the warrior as she landed. Before she could even think to put the archer down, she was smothered by a kiss. Xena didn’t bother to turn around until she heard Danu’s feet returned to earth.
"You owe me one." Deciding to have a little fun, Xena’s voice was low and intimidating.
"Why?" She asked a little apprehensive of the warrior’s tone. Danu squeezed her hand a little tighter.
"Your Mother was up all night worrying about you two and when she worries I don’t get any sleep." Turning around she kept her blue eyes icy with anger for a moment before letting them off the hook with a bright smile. Seeing the glow on their faces, she didn’t have the heart to cause them discomfort, even in jest.
"I should have sent a message, I wasn’t thinking." She looked at Danu and laughed. "Sorry."
"Yeah, I bet you weren’t thinking." The warrior muttered under her breath. "Either of you want some tea?"
* * * *
Gabrielle had never been so happy to see the village in, well since the last time she’d seen the village after only three candlemarks of sleep in almost three days. She left Xena in the stable to take care of Argo, and went to find Ephiny.
"I missed you so much." She caught Madalene who’d come running at her and jumped into her arms. "I think your getting a little big for the run and jump, honey."
"Sorry." The little girl pulled back from her hug long enough to apologize. "You're not going away again are you?" She mumbled the words into her Mother’s shoulder.
"No. We’re not going anywhere again anytime soon." A soft voice comforted the little Princess’ fears. Knowing that all the trips and unavoidable separation had been very hard on her daughter, she headed back towards the stable. "Let’s go see Mommy. She’ll be jealous that I saw you first."
* * * *
"Come on Sorrow, let’s go!" Danu playfully poked at the body beside her on the bed.
"Go where?" The Princess snuggled into her.
"To your Mother’s house, remember?" Despite knowing they were late already, she gladly surrendered to Sorrow’s embrace. "You’re the one who wanted to explain your miraculous recovery to all of us at once." She surrendered just as quickly when the Princess’ lips pressed against her own to stop her words. "We have to go." She moaned into the kiss when she felt Sorrow’s hand slowly trailing down her stomach.
"They’ll wait!" The Princess growled back.
* * * *
"Gabrielle! Sorrow and Danu will be here anytime." Xena looked up at the woman pinning her to the bed.
"Than you better stop fighting and surrender to my wishes." The bard leaned down to kiss the warrior’s neck.
"No arguments here." Xena moaned in response, as she moved to undress the woman on top of her.
* * * *
"Sorry we’re late." Sorrow offered when they finally arrived.
"That’s all right." Gabrielle response was quick. "We actually just woke up so we didn’t notice." She winked at the Xena.
"Oh, good." Danu said instantly as she exchanged a sly smile with Sorrow.
"I believe you have a story to tell us." The bard sat down beside her warrior and snuggled in.
"Story? Hmmmm." Sorrow looked at them confused as the archer led her over to sit by the fire. "That's Mother's department not mine."
"Sorrow, just tell us what happened." Xena low voice rumbled. Taking a sideways glance at the bard, she secretly wished Gabrielle was the one telling the story. Nothing would suit her more right now then listening to her lover's magnificent voice for awhile.
"So, I got Mother's call " She leaned back into the chair as she started.
* * * *
" When I finally got close enough to see what was happening, I didn't think, I just reacted." She was glad to be at the end finally. Her throat hurt from talking.
"Did you know your wings would stop the arrows?" Danu asked concerned.
"You don't want me to answer that question." Sorrow lowered her eyes from the archer’s stare.
"What am I going to do with you?" All Danu could do was shake her head and hold the hand within her own a little tighter. She was going to have to get used to the idea of Sorrow risking herself without question whenever she was in danger. She didn't like it, but she knew it was a habit Sorrow would never break from.
Xena looked off into the distance. Only Gabrielle could see the slight mist of tears in her eyes.
'She looks like me when she's twenty.' The warrior tried to conjure an image of Madalene from Sorrow's story in her mind.
"Did she say anything other than the road is hard?" Gabrielle had asked endless question during the tale, trying to get as much detail as possible out of her daughter. She'd definitely have to ask Ephiny and some of the others what the fire was like from outside of the flames. This was going to make an unbelievable story.
"No." Sorrow shook her head sadly, realizing her error in not editing some parts out of her recount. "She said she was happy though." She smiled at her Mother.
"Did she explain how she created this crossing?" The warrior questioned. Something in her knew that Madalene's reference to a hard road alluded to problems caused in the future with her power. A power, that at twenty, allowed her to play with the very fabric of time.
"There wasn't time for her to explain." She could tell where Xena's mind had traveled. Her own had gone there just as quickly while she was retelling the story.
* * * *
"Syn, we need to talk." Tearnon's irritated voice whispered when she came up behind the warrior.
"Tearnon, so glad you're home." Turning to smile at the guard, she wasn't surprised by the anger that greeted her. "Why don't we go for a walk?" She waved a quick goodbye to the group of Amazon's she'd been talking to and linked her arm into Tearnon's. "Some unfriendly ears in that group."
"What happened?" The guard was beside herself. "Not only is Sorrow not dead but she's completely healed."
"There were some unexpected complications." Syn lowered her eyes for a second before looking back up to stare Tearnon in the eye. "I'm working on a new plan though, don't give up. She'll pay for all she has done very soon."
"I want to know the new plan." Tearnon forceful grip on Syn's shoulders brought their steps to a halt.
"Oh course." She purred back, soothing the guard’s anger. "I'm glad to see how committed you are to getting Danu back. Otherwise I'd be a little reluctant to be relying on you to complete such a necessary task."
"What task?" Tearnon released her grip, confident that Syn would tell her the truth.
"Why don't we go to my place and discuss it over a drink?" She looped her arm back into the guards and guided her away.
* * * *
"Xena, are you all right?" Gabrielle watched the warrior changing for bed. The sharp intensity of the blue eyes told the bard that something was definitely bothering her.
"I'm fine." She dropped down to lie face up on the bed.
"Really?" The bard remained on her back. Fixing her green eyes to stare at the ceiling. "I can think of at least two things that I expected to be bothering you."
"And what would they be?" Looking out of the corner of her eye, she watched the bard making herself stare upwards.
"Why would I tell you what they are since you claim they're not bothering you? I not risking that you'll start to worry about them once I tell you." Gabrielle baited the warrior to open up.
"I'm fine really." She sighed, knowing her defenses were weakening.
"You keep saying that and I keep not believing a word of it." The bard finally rolled over to look at her.
"All right so Sorrow's vision of Madalene in the future is bothering me a little." Turning over, she met Gabrielle's stare. "And we still have an unknown factor in the Nation planning to make a challenge for your mask."
"Those would be the two things I was thinking of." She whispered softly, placing her hand on Xena's cheek. "The only way to deal with whatever lurks in Madalene's future is to take it day by day. All we can really tell is that this gift we've always worried about is as powerful as Ares hinted it was. There's no way of knowing what the hard road she referred to is."
"I know." Xena shook her head against her lover's hand. The memories of herself at twenty swelled up from the recesses of her mind. She hadn't possessed a power close to Madalene's ability to cross time and look at the destruction she'd brought. She prayed that along with her hair and stature the little Princess hadn't inherited her dark side.
"Xena you can't blame yourself for her power in the future." Moving closer she pulled the warrior close to her. "We both know that has nothing to do with you."
"How can I not feel guilty? If it wasn’t for the horrible things she’s inherited from me we wouldn’t have to be worried about her power in the future." Xena held tightly onto the bard, afraid that Gabrielle might harbour the same resentment she held against herself.
"Xena, listen to me. I won't let you blame yourself for this because it is not your fault." Gabrielle lifted the warrior’s head as she spoke in a soft, authoritative voice. "There is no evidence to point to any of this being your fault."
Holding onto each other closer, they just let the subject rest. The warrior refused to believe that this could be anyone’s fault but her own. It must be some kind of punishment for the wickedness of her past. Gabrielle closed her mind to any thought of where Madalene's strange powers could've come with, she was happy just to ignore the problem and not seek out its cause.
* * * *
"Delara!" Sorrow sat down next to the scout in the dining hall. "Boy, you're hard to find."
"That's my job." She looked up from her lunch and smiled. "What can I do for you, Princess?"
"First of all, kill the Princess title." Sorrow punched her playfully in the arm. "Secondly, I was hoping I could ask a favor from you."
"Hmmm." The scout took a bite of her sandwich. "The Princess " She purposely punctuated the word. "Owing little old me a favor."
"Unless you want to be posted at the far ranges of the territory?" Sorrow commented in a playful tone.
"No thanks, whatever it is I'm game." Delara smiled brightly.
"Good, here's what I need help with " Sorrow leaned in further, not wanting anyone to overhear her plan.
* * * *
Returning to the village after her morning patrol, Danu decided it was time. Despite the fact that Sorrow's parents didn't seem to be mad at her and despite Sorrow's objection that they ever would be. The archer knew she couldn't put off talking to at least the Queen about this any longer. Seeing the guards outside the council chamber, she headed there first.
"Is the Queen in a meeting?" She asked the guard. A small part of her hoping a meeting was going on so that she couldn't interrupt.
"No, the Queen is in there alone." Monka shook her head. "I'll announce you."
Before Danu could think to object, the guard returned and motioned for her to enter.
"Danu." Gabrielle's face lit up when she saw the archer. "How was patrol?"
"Fine. No problems." Danu voice was normal, regardless of the nervousness building inside her. "I was wondering if I could talk to you. If you're busy I can come back later." She motioned back to the door.
"Please come sit. I'll take any excuse to stop what I'm doing." The bard looked over the scroll in front of her. No matter how hard she tried she couldn't seem to get the right wording for how it had looked when the arrows had struck Sorrow's wings. "What's on your mind?" She had a good idea what the archer wanted to talk about, she'd been meaning to bring it up herself.
"I should be saying this to you and Xena." Danu spoke softly as she looked at the floor.
"How about just you and I talk about this?" Gabrielle voice was comforting. "It would be a really short conversation with Xena anyway. She's not mad at you and she understands why you felt the way you did."
"She does?" Danu looked at the Queen surprised. "I thought she'd be angry at me for hating all of you."
"Danu, Xena knows a lot about grief and how it opens your soul to be consumed by hate. She understands more than anyone how it can make you say and do things you would've never dreamed possible." Gabrielle's mind drifted to the horrible day when out of grief the Warrior Princess had dragged her out of the village and to the cliff side. "So, do I." She knew that her warrior was not the only one consumed by grief and hate during those horrible times.
"But I blamed you both for letting her die. How can you forgive me for that?" The archer looked at the Queen praying that her forgiveness was real.
"Because you weren't blaming us for something we weren't already blaming ourselves for." The bard shook her head sadly. "I hated myself for not doing more. I hated myself for being happy that Madalene was safe. It was hard to know that one of my daughters had died to save the other." She sighed heavily.
"Most of the time I didn't really hate you." The archer hung her head, fearing her admission wouldn't be believed. "I cried for you a lot. I knew that out of all of us, your burden was the heaviest. Having first lost her sister and then Sorrow to him."
"She told you about Hope?" Gabrielle's voice cracked.
"She only mentioned her once in passing." Danu met the Queen's sad eyes.
"What did she say?" The bard questioned. The conversation between Sorrow and herself about Hope was non-existent. Gabrielle had always feared asking too many questions less her daughter's evil nature be further confirmed.
"She said she'd never forgive her for all that she'd done to you, but that she would always love her." The archer offered the small shred of insight. "She said a little part of her heart was always hurting over Hope." .
Gabrielle felt a profound sadness at Danu's words. It'd always been easier to assume that Sorrow just hated her sister for having her banished. Hated her, as everyone else did, for all the horrible things she'd done. She'd never stopped to realize, that like herself, Sorrow was stuck between hating Hope for her intrinsically evil nature and loving her because she was family. That day in the barn she'd lost her daughter and Sorrow had lost her twin.
"I really hated myself more than anyone." Danu directed them back to the original conversation. Partly because she wanted to make sure that she'd been forgiven and partly because she'd seen the same look on Sorrow's face at the mention of Hope's name. She knew from experience it would be best to move the conversation along.
"Really Danu, there is nothing for us to forgive." Taking the archer’s head in her hands, Gabrielle spoke for herself and Xena. "If anything it shows me how much you love my daughter. You couldn't have felt that much grief is you didn't love her deeply."
"I love her with everything that I am." Danu spoke the words to herself as she looked down to the symbol on the palm of her armguard.
"Hold on here." Gabrielle took the archer's hand to study the engraving in the leather. "This isn't the Protector's symbol."
"No, it's not." Danu blushed and turned away.
"I have a feeling there's a wonderfully romantic story behind this." The bard's face lit up.
"It's a soul marking." Danu's gaze returned to her palm. "It's the marking on mine and Sorrow's souls to be exact."
Gabrielle knew better than to ask anymore questions, she just leaned back to soak in the tale. The archer's body language told the bard that she'd continue without further encouragement.
* * * *
Stretching her arms over her head, Danu greeted the midday sunlight with a smile. Yawning, she was thankful that she'd been able to sleep late. Smiling even wider, she remembered the wonderful reason why she'd needed to sleep in so late. Her Princess definitely deserved a special thank you for the night before.
"What do we have here?" She rolled over to see a small scroll sitting on Sorrow's pillow. Opening it, she felt tingly at the sight of Sorrow's fluid writing.
* * * *
Good Morning my Love,
I have made a few arrangements for you today. Please don't question Delara about what's going on. She's been sworn to secrecy. Please meet her down by the hot springs once you've awakened. I won't be seeing you until much later today, so I hope what I have planned will keep you occupied while I'm away. Don't have too much fun without me though. Sorrow
* * * *
Danu couldn't help but run her fingers over the scroll. Letting her fingertips linger on their marking, thoughtfully drawn by the Princess under her name.
"Okay Sorrow, what are you up too?" She asked out loud as she dressed. She'd known that the Princess had been up to something but she had no idea what. Shrugging her shoulders she headed to the hot springs.
* * * *
Delara leaned against the large rock and yawned. Sorrow had warned her that Danu wouldn't probably appear until late but the scout couldn't imagine what would make the archer sleep this late. Well, with all the Princess had planned she could imagine but she was doing her best to keep herself from venturing there.
"Delara, what's going on?" Despite Sorrow's warning, she decided to try questioning the scout.
"Sworn to secrecy." The scout motioned to her mouth as if it was locked and she tossed the imaginary key over her shoulder. "Please follow me."
Delara led the archer to the most secluded of the outdoor hot springs. She ran a little ahead to check one more time that everything was perfect. Satisfied that it was she turned to see Danu's reaction to the surprise.
"What are they?" The sweet smell of the exotic flowers had reached the archer before she'd actually seen them.
Delara shrugged her shoulders. She'd never seen flowers like these before in her life. Sorrow had brought them back from some far away place early that morning. It had taken along time to spread the blossoms around the tub, even with the two of them. She wished the Princess was there to see the smile on the archer's face. It definitely made all of their hard work worth it.
"The instructions are " Delara moved to uncover a large tray beside the tub. "For you to have a long relaxing bath and to enjoy a wonderful breakfast." Looking down at the contents of the tray she imagined that Danu was having the same thought that she'd first had. "Sorrow assures me that everything here is edible. She said some of it is little exotic, so see what strikes your fancy."
"What happens after this?" Danu couldn't help but ask. What must Sorrow have planned for the rest of the day? Delara motioned to the lock on her lips again and the discarded key.
"I'll be just around the corner, so if you need anything just let me know." Bowing deeply she walked off.
Undressing, Danu wished her Princess was here to share the bath. Contenting herself to follow Sorrow's instructions, she slipped into the hot water.
* * * *
"Delara, I'm done." Danu felt foolish calling out. Wrapped up in the thick soft linen cloth she'd lying next to the tub, she sat on a nearby rock and waited for the scout to return.
"I'm glad you didn't get dressed." Delara blushed when she saw the archer's raised eyebrow at her comment. "I mean I forgot to tell you not to get dressed before I gave you this." She handed Danu the heavy, silk wrapped bundle.
"And what might this be?" Danu slipped her hand inside the wrapping and the smoothest of leather brushed against her skin. Opening the package up completely, she spread the beautiful light tan leather skirt and shirt across her lap.
"And since the Princess never does anything half way." Delara produced a small box and handed it to her.
"Oh my!" She couldn't believe what she was seeing. Pulling out the shiny metallic hair clip, she was amazed that Sorrow had been able to have it made it such a short time frame. The small, but intricately carved clip was in the shape of their marking.
"Hold on for a moment." Delara couldn't believe she'd forgotten the third package. "Can't forget the matching boots." She handed the last package to Danu. "Now, you get dressed and then we'll go to our next destination. And don't bothering asking where that is, cause I'm not telling." The scout laughed as she walked away.
* * * *
Delara moved quickly to alert the Princess' runner.
"Tell them she'll be arriving at the temple in half a candlemark." Delara instructed the youngster who waited at the entrance to the springs. "And tell Sorrow it's going perfectly."
* * * *
"Delara?" Having changed quickly, Danu wandered toward the entrance of the springs to find the scout.
"Right here. You didn't have to rush." The scout ran back to intercept her.
"No rush. Where too now?"
"We can’t go yet." Delara moved behind her. "Your hair’s still wet."
"Yes?" Danu questioned as she turned. It was obvious that they were on some sort of schedule now.
"Well, you might not know this." The scout smiled at her. "But I am excellent at braiding. Why don’t we go back to the spring and let me do something special with your hair for you?"
"If you insist." She laughed when Delara released the nervous breath she’d been holding.
* * * *
Delara filled the free time before the next surprise, brushing the archer’s long blond hair and making idle conversation. The Princesses present was used to sweep the majority of Danu’s hair back into a long braid.
"Stalled for enough time yet?" Danu questioned when Delara announced she was done.
"Stalling for time, never!" She smiled innocently. "Follow me." Delara couldn't help but give the archer one quick up and down as they walked. The Princess would definitely be the envy of every Amazon in the Nation once they saw Danu. She couldn't help being a little envious herself.
* * * *
"I've been instructed to wait outside while you go in." Delara opened the door to the temple for the archer.
"Let me guess, Sorrow's arranged for Artemis to be here." She walked through the open door laughing. She quickly stopped when she saw the Goddess herself standing beside the altar at the front of the room.
"Yes, she did arrange just that." The Goddess smiled warmly at her.
"Guess you're sworn to secrecy too?" Danu wanted to die when she realized what she was saying. After all this was a Goddess and not just any Goddess, this was Artemis.
"Actually I love a good surprise, so I wouldn't dream of spoiling what the Princess has planned." She moved down from the altar and motioned for Danu to come join her. When the archer approached she took her hand. "I was quite saddened by what happened during the trial. I didn't want you to think that I'd abandoned you. You have always served me well, just as your Mother did." Danu's shivered at the mention of her mother. "You should know that she is very proud of the way you protected your sister that day and even more proud of the woman you've become."
"She is?" The soft stammered question escaped from the stunned archer.
"She is." Artemis nodded gently. "Danu, you have always been an Amazon and will always be an Amazon. Your heart is Amazon and it is this heart that will allow your soul to travel between the Amazon Land of the Dead and Sorrow's realm freely when you die. I wanted you to know that being with Sorrow does not mean you can not be Amazon. You are lucky enough to have the opportunity for both."
"Thank you." The archer raised her hand to wipe away a tear. She didn't know what else to say to the Goddess who had just given her answers to questions she'd never even dared to ask.
"Get going now." Artemis motioned towards the door. "You're on a schedule."
* * * *
"Are you all right?" Delara jumped up from her seat on the temple steps.
"I’ve never been better." Danu smiled as her joyous tears subsided. "What’s next?"
"We have an appointment with the Queen." She motioned for Danu to head to their left.
"But it’s quicker to go that way?" The archer looked to their right.
"Princess' orders. A relaxing stroll through the forest on the way to the Queen’s." She smiled mischievously as she moved in the proper direction.
"Can’t argue with that." Danu laughed.
* * * *
Once they had entered the forest, Delara used her long legs to get a couple of paces ahead of the archer. Waiting until Danu was in the proper position, she whistled.
Danu knew the scout was up to something when she gradually pulled ahead of her. Although they were all doing there best to stay hidden, she counted at least a half dozen Amazons lurking close by. Hearing the signal, she waited.
The fragile creatures, although happy to be released from their confines, were reluctant to move right away. A few of them began a tentative flight upwards, giving the archer her first glimpse of the butterflies.
"Their beautiful!" She remarked at the striking colours of their wings as the handful of them flew by.
"Hold on." A whisper came out of the bushes. Realizing the desired effect wasn't being reached, one of Sorrow’s helpers took it upon herself to startle the rest of them to move.
In an instant the archer found herself surrounded by a multitude of the winged creatures. All around her became a blur of reds, yellows and blues as the beautiful animals hovered on the gentle afternoon breeze. She couldn’t stop her self from twirling around, attempting to take in each of the different species as they passed by her eyes.
"How?" She looked at Delara, who was as wide-eyed at the display as she was.
"She had a big net!" The scout laughed as she looked up into the trees as the creatures departed.
Holding up her arm, Danu studied a large monarch that had landed there. Fearing she would hurt the fragile creature, she didn’t dare to touch it. The brush of its wings against her skin made her giggle. She was sad to see it fly off to follow the others.
"What do you think of the long way now?" Delara questioned with a smile.
"I’m definitely liking the long way." Danu smiled back.
"Sorrow thought you might need a little lift after the temple." The scout hadn’t been instructed to say this, but she thought that Danu should know that the Princess had been worried about her.
"I did." Danu walked towards the scout. "Are we really going to see the Queen?" She questioned the scout’s earlier admission.
"Of course." Side by side they continued through the forest to the Royal house.
* * * *
"In you go!" Delara pointed to the open door.
Nervously Danu walked inside. She reminded herself that all of Sorrow’s surprises so far had been wonderful. There was no logical reason to think that this one would be any different.
"Hello there." Gabrielle was sitting alone in the main room. "Please come and sit."
"Yes, my Queen." Noticing the formality in her voice immediately, the archer moved quickly to fulfill her command.
"I have something very important to discuss with you." She kept her face void of emotion and her voice stern.
"Yes?" Danu shivered.
"Are you enjoying your day so far?" Gabrielle’s mouth curled up into a smile.
"Huh?" The archer was tongue-tied.
"Are you having a nice day?" The bard asked again, emphasizing each word.
"Yes!" Danu blurted out suddenly, her cheeks bright red. "Sorry, you scared me. I thought I’d done something wrong."
"Nothing’s wrong. I just asked Sorrow to schedule me into your day so that we could have an early dinner together." She laughed.
"Schedule you in?" Danu raised an inquisitive eyebrow. "Then the day isn’t over yet?"
"Don’t ask me about anything." Gabrielle put her hands to her ears in jest. "I’m horrible at keeping secrets, so Sorrow wouldn’t tell me anything about what happens later."
"You can try to torture me for information if you think you’re tough enough." Xena appeared in the doorway.
"No, I wouldn’t want to ruin her fun." Danu lied. She really was dying to know what else her devious Princess had planned.
"Good!" The warrior smiled. "My Queen, I’ve been sent to inform you that dinner will be ready in two candlemarks."
"Well if it’s anything like breakfast then we’re in for a treat." The archer smiled at Gabrielle.
"I don’t think you’ll be disappointed." The bard looked at the warrior and winked. "So, tell me about the day so far." She turned back to Danu, who in her exuberance to share the memories of the mornings didn't notice Xena immediate departure.
* * * *
"It was a good idea to leave her to talk with your Mother for awhile." Xena walked into the practice field.
"You think?" Sorrow continued with her exercises.
"Gabrielle can keep her occupied for an eternity with questions about the morning." The warrior smiled. "You really want to work off some of that nervous energy?" She moved her hand back to the hilt of her sword.
"Who said I was nervous?" The Princess bowed, picking up her own sword from it’s resting place in the grass.
"Of course you're nervous." Xena went on the attack. Sorrow blocked the high arcing swing and twirled away. "You're afraid that after what happened at the trial she might not want to marry you."
"Could be." Sorrow leg sweep was unsuccessful and she found herself having to ward off the warrior's sword with her free hand. "Okay, so I'm nervous."
"You shouldn't be." The warrior landed a swift kick to Sorrow's cheast in order to regain control of her sword. "She's positively glowing right now."
"You saw her?" She flipped back onto her hands and then back to stand. Twirling her sword she waiting for Xena to come at her. "Was she wearing the hair clip?"
"Of course." Xena leapt into the air, only to find Sorrow anticipating the move and leaping at her in turn. Realizing the possible danger, each pulled their blows as they curled into neat tucks and landed where the other had been standing. "Delara told me she absolutely loved the butterflies."
"I'm glad." She went full force at the Warrior Princess, executing a series of carefully planned strikes. Xena blocked each one in turn. To anyone it would have looked effortless, but the warrior knew she was struggling. "That makes all the time I spent catching them worth it."
"Nervous still?" Xena signaled her intention to pull back as she asked the question.
"Not quite as bad, thanks." Sorrow smiled at her.
"Good, cause you better go. You wouldn't want this precious schedule of yours screwed up because you weren't ready?" Xena pointed out with a grin. "I'll go see to everything else."
"Thank you." Before the warrior could object, Sorrow embraced her in a bear hug.
* * * *
"There had to be thousands of them." Danu tried to describe the butterflies to Gabrielle. "They were so beautiful."
"It sounds like it." The bard tucked her legs up under her.
"I just can't figure out why Sorrow is doing all of this. It's not my birthday or anything." Danu looked at the Queen hoping to get some sort of hint.
"Does she really need a reason?" Desperately trying not to give away the secret, the bard hoped using Xena's tactic of answering a question with a question would distract the archer.
"No, I guess not." The archer thought for awhile. "I mean from the looks of it she's been flying all over the world collecting stuff. The flowers, the food, the butterflies and this." Her hand went to the clip in her hair. "It's like she showering me with exotic gifts like she's trying to " The idea floated up from some recess of her brain slowly. "Warm me up in order to propose. That's it isn't it?" She stared at the bard.
"No!" Gabrielle managed to keep her reaction calm. "She already proposed to you, remember?"
"Oh, yeah." Danu mumbled. The look on her Queen's face convinced her that her idea was way off. "It's just she hasn't mentioned it since. Us getting married that is. I thought I hoped maybe this was about that."
"Danu, you know she still wants to marry you." Gabrielle felt her resolve weaken when she saw the pitiful look on the archer’s face.
"I know." Looking away, she was glad to see Xena hovering in the doorway.
"I have come to inform you that dinner is being served." The warrior bowed deeply to them. Gabrielle couldn't help but giggle. Sorrow had somehow managed to transfer her happiness and anticipation to everyone in the village and even Xena wasn't immune.
"We better go." The bard jumped up, overcome with anticipation herself. "We don't want to keep everyone waiting."
"Everyone?" Danu picked up on her slip immediately.
"I mean everyone as in the cooks. They've to work extra hard for me and my appetite." Gabrielle patted her stomach.
* * * *
When the crowded courtyard came into view, Danu felt stupid for believing the Queens flimsy cover. She secretly hoped that no one would chose this moment to attack the Nation, because one quick glance told her that almost everyone was gathered in the large open area. On the stage, Ephiny was motioning for everyone to be quite. Beside the Regent, Solari was keeping a watchful eye on Madalene and her friend Thallia. They had allowed the other child up, in the hopes of switching Madalene's focus. The little Princess had grown bored and decided to see how many times in a row she could jump from the stage. Thallia's presence had calmed Madalene down immediately. Solari made a mental note to do something special for the healer's charge for being so helpful.
The wind from the courtyard was scented from the flower garlands strung between the nearby huts and on the stage itself. The garlands were made of the same exotic white and purple blossoms that had adored the hot spring earlier that morning.
"Come on." Gabrielle grabbed the archer’s hand and led her up onto the stage. Looking out into the crowd, it was easy to see everyone was enjoying the festivities and anxiously anticipating Sorrow's next surprise. The wine was already flowing freely, although everyone was keeping themselves in check until the real party began.
On cue, it was Delara who came running through the village toward the stage. Coming up to knell in front of Gabrielle, she held a long, thin silk wrapped bundle in her hands.
"As you have commanded I have been to the ends of the Earth." Delara recited her pre-scripted lines carefully. Sorrow had just wanted her to wing it, but the scout had been afraid she'd forget to say something important. She'd spent the last two nights trying to memorize what she was to say word for word. "I have found an arrow made of the purest gold and forged in the hottest of flames. Legends claims that when you shoot this arrow into the sky, it can only be returned to you by your one true love." She sighed when she finished, relieved that she hadn't screwed up.
Delara hated speaking in public, which was why she was such a good scout, she didn't like to attract attention to herself.
"This is a wondrous thing." The Queen unwrapped the package and held the golden arrow up for everyone to see. "But I have already found my one true love." She looked at Xena lovingly.
"Is there no other within the Nation who deserves such a gift?" Ephiny asked the scripted question, laughing at herself for being part of this little production. She knew deep down she was a romantic and loving every word of it.
"Yes, there is one." Gabrielle turned and held the arrow out to Danu.
The archer had been in a pleasant daze since climbing onto the stage. She'd thought that the rest of her day had been spectacular but Sorrow was going all out.
"I don't have my bow." She commented softly as she took the arrow from Gabrielle.
"Right here." Xena came up from behind and handed Danu her bow.
Closing her eyes, she pulled back and sent the golden arrow, along with a wish into the sky.
* * * *
Sorrow paced back and forth nervously. She almost died as she watched the arrow sail over her head and into the forest behind her. She hadn't anticipated the archer being able to shoot it so far. Scrambling into the trees, she went in search of her prize.
* * * *
Everyone waited patiently for Sorrow to arrive with the arrow. As the moments stretched out, Danu wasn't the only one who was worried. The entire gathering collectively held its breath.
* * * *
"This was not the plan!" Sorrow commented to a nearby squirrel as she hunted through the underbrush for the arrow.
* * * *
"Either the legend was false " Danu's heart sank, she couldn't bear to continue.
"All part of the plan. Be patient." Gabrielle looked frantically at the warrior, who raised an eyebrow at the bard's feeble attempt to control the situation.
* * * *
Holding the arrow in her right hand so tightly that the shaft bent in her grip, Sorrow ran towards the courtyard. She'd planned on walking up to the stage slowly. Using every moment to memorize the look on Danu's face, but with the unexpected delay all of her nervousness had returned. What would she do if the archer had left?
* * * *
Tapping Danu on the shoulder, Xena pointed to the Princess running toward them. Looking up Danu felt her previous fear and doubt dissipate.
"I look for the one who shot this arrow." Sorrow hurried up onto the stage and knelt before the archer.
"It was I." Danu fought the urge to embrace the Princess.
"May I know the name of she who has captured my heart and marked my soul as her own?" Sorrow looked up into loving brown eyes.
"She is Danu." The Queen stood beside the archer. "What business do you have with her?"
"I wish to return this." Sorrow handed the arrow to her mother. "I have studied Amazon customs " She winked at the archer. "And as Queen of the Amazons, I request your blessing to ask Danu to marry me?"
Hearing Ephiny starting to cry, Solari put her arm around the Regent. She really never could believe just how much of a romantic her partner was.
"Then you also know it is custom to offer me tribute to gain this blessing." Gabrielle hadn't liked this part of Sorrow's plan but had gone along when her daughter assured her that all of what she offered would be used for the celebration planned to follow her little surprise.
Sorrow clapped her hands and the members of the Royal Guard emerged from their hiding place behind the stage carrying enough food and drink for everyone and another kingdom beside.
"I find this tribute satisfactory." The Queen smiled. "This joining has my blessing."
The world around Sorrow and Danu disappeared as their eyes locked.
"My love will you marry me?" Sorrow held out her hand.
"Yes." Danu whispered as she laced her fingers into Sorrow's. The Princess rose to her feet and slowly closed the distance between them in order to kiss her finance.
"I challenge this joining!" Tearnon's strong voice came up among the crowd.
"You what?" Sorrow abandoned the kiss and turned to find the voice in the crowd.
"If you'd studied Amazon law then you'd know that I have the right to challenge you." Tearnon pushed her way to the bottom of the stage.
"Think about what you're doing Tearnon." Sorrow dropped off the stage to stand toe to toe with the guard.
"I have. A demon shouldn't be allowed to marry an Amazon. It's an abomination." She spat the words at the Princess. "Are you afraid?"
"I'm the Protector." Sorrow used the reference in an attempt to scare her. "I doubt I'm afraid of you."
"Then accept my challenge." Tearnon baited her. "You don't deserve her."
"Challenge accepted!" The Protector took a step back and nodded to her opponent. Gabrielle tried to object, but Sorrow's words came a heartbeat before she could speak.
"Tearnon, this is madness." Danu injected, hoping maybe she could reason with her. "You can't win a challenge, there's no way you can kill Sorrow."
"I request a special condition." The angry guard looked at Gabrielle. "Since your daughter cannot die, I ask that if I am to land what would be a mortal blow that I be declared the winner and your daughter banished."
"Fine and if you die or I beat you into submission " Sorrow was irate that her engagement was being tarnished. "It is I who will be declared the winner."
"Agreed!" Tearnon pulled her sword and lunged at the Princess. Neither waited for the Queen's approval of the conditions of the challenge.
Being unarmed, Sorrow spun away from the attack and caught the sword that Delara tossed to her. Despite her anger, she really didn't want to kill Tearnon. Especially on today of all days. She knew her stamina would allow her to wear the guard down and force her to submit.
* * * *
"Can't we have one time when somebody didn't raise a challenge?" Solari asked having moved closer to Xena for a better view of the fighting. "Guess she figured Sorrow would be distracted by the proposal and be an easier target. Boy, I never thought Tearnon was this stupid."
Xena's eyes widened. Searching the crowd, she counted a dozen armed Amazons. Not that being armed was unusual for this group, but it wasn't customary to bring bows to a celebration.
"Get ready, it's a distraction!" The warrior sharply whispered back. "They’re going to make an attempt on the Queen's mask."
The warrior's undivided attention went to identifying and tracking those in the crowd who threatened her family. Keeping her hand at her side she signaled numbers and locations to Solari. Out of the corner of her eye, Delara caught the warrior’s signals. She cleared her throat loudly to get Xena's attention and alerted the champion that she was there to help. Moving off the stage, as if to get closer to the fighting, the trio merged into the crowd.
* * * *
"Submit!" Sorrow yelled as she increased the pressure from her hand around Tearnon's throat.
"Never, you'll have to kill me. Demon Princess!" The guard hoarse voice choked out the insult.
Looking over her shoulder to the stage, she could tell by Danu's eyes that the archer didn't want her to kill the guard. Dropping Tearnon to the ground, she took a few steps back and waited for the guard to attack again.
* * * *
From her position at the fringes of the crowd, Syn could see that Tearnon's challenge would soon be over. Raising her fist in the air as she yelled empty support for the guard, she signaled her followers in the crowd to act.
* * * *
Xena had already knocked one of the traitors out and was inches from the second when she realized the order to attack had been given.
'Sorrow's it's a distraction!' Xena's thoughts floated sharply into her mind. Turning her away from her opponent she looked into the crowd. Solari and Delara were working to take down who they could. Xena was also on the move towards another of the archers. Seeing the bows in the crowd being raised to point at the figures on the stage she moved quickly. Backing away from Tearnon, she released her wings and brought them out to full span. She'd have to time this perfectly. Widening the focus of her vision, she waited.
* * * *
Danu heard the whistling. Her mind counted off at least eight arrows headed toward the stage. Without thinking, she pushed her body to close the distance between her and the Queen. She could tell that Gabrielle was too distracted by the fighting to realize what was heading for her. Still looking at the crowd, she was relieved when her view was blocked by a sheet of white that had risen up to protect them.
* * * *
Smacking her fist hard into the side of one of the archer’s head, Xena watched as Sorrow sprang up into the air to shield the stage from the barrage of arrows. Her mind immediately registered that in this position, Sorrow was leaving herself undefended and she wasn't shocked to see one of the arrows strike the Princess.
* * * *
Most of the arrows had slammed uselessly into her wings and crumbled to the ground. Looking down she saw the wooden shaft sticking out of her left shoulder. When her feet returned to the ground, she gave into the momentum and went down to her knees. Tearnon's sword sliced the air above her head. Knowing she couldn’t afford to be distracted, she drove the palm of her hand upward to strike the guard in the sternum. She felt the soft snap as the woman's ribs gave way under her hand. Following through the motion, as if to push through the guards cheast, she drove the shattered bones into the fragile organs they once protected. Dropping down further, she rolled out to her left, escaping Tearnon as she fell dead in the spot Sorrow had just vacated.
* * * *
'Too simple!' Xena's cunning mind snapped to attention. Whoever was behind this would have seen Solari, Delara and herself moving into the crowd. Would have realized that their attack had been anticipated. Seeing those who'd shot the arrows being subdued by the loyal Amazons in the crowd, she scanned around quickly.
'Get to the stage!' Something in her mind screamed at the warrior. Propelling herself up and over the heads of a good portion of the crowd, she landed in front of Gabrielle just in time to catch the arrow headed for the bard's heart. Looking to her left, Xena was glad to see that Ephiny had been able to catch the arrow intended for herself.
* * * *
Coming up off the ground, Sorrow's wings propelled her in the direction of the newest arrows. Fighting the urge to turn and see if anyone on the stage was hurt, she drove off to hunt the enemy. Further back amongst the huts, Syn's followers ran from the approaching Protector. From the air, she subdued the three assassins easily. Leaving them unconscious in the dirt for someone else to collect.
* * * *
"Madalene!" The horrible thought tore through Gabrielle's mind as she twisted around. "Oh no!"
She could see the little Princess struggling to hold Thallia up. Compared to Thallia's small body the arrow sticking out of her cheast looked enormous.
"Madalene, lay her down." Xena's knowing voice softly instructed as she quickly moved towards them.
"I can't." Her words were soft.
When she got to them, the warrior could see now that Madalene had been holding Thallia up because the arrow went straight through her little friend and into the Princess herself.
"Get it out!" She heard Gabrielle's frantic words from beside her.
"Don't touch it!" Oxin firm instruction announced her arrival on the stage. "We have to know what we're dealing with first." Xena held them up as Oxin examined their wounds.
"It didn't go very far into the Princess." The healer reported as she continued her examination. "Just far enough to lodge between two of her ribs. I don't feel any internal damage."
"I'm fine." Madalene looked at the warrior with pleading eyes. "Please don't let her die."
"We won't honey." She kissed her daughter's forehead.
"Can you carry them to the infirmary?" Oxin narrowed her eyes. Not bothering to answer, Xena lifted them up carefully and moved quickly off the stage.
* * * *
"What's going on?" Sorrow flew back to the stage, hovering at eye level with the archer who stood near the edge.
"Come down." Danu reached out her hand and led the Princess to stand on the stage with her.
"What's wrong?" Sorrow eyes darted around the now deserted stage. The shaking hand within her own told her something very bad had happened.
"It's Madalene and Thallia." She whispered.
"How could she be hurt?" Sorrow projected her mind to find her sister. The waves of pain and fear came softly at first. Building with a sudden intensity to a deafening pitch. "What's happened?" The feeling's being sent from Madalene gave her no indication.
"One of the arrows was intended for Madalene." Danu replayed the events on the stage in her mind. Angry with herself for not protecting the little Princess. "Thallia must have stepped in front of her. It went through her and partly into your sister." She pointed to where the arrow had struck the girls. Just left and slightly above their hearts. Not knowing what else to do she wrapped her arms around her fiancée. "Oxin doesn't think that Madalene has any internal damage. Xena carried them to the infirmary."
Sorrow didn't know what to do. She held desperately onto Danu, not able to understand how all of this could've happen. Why hadn't Madalene warned her that the arrow was coming? Why had she felt nothing when it struck her sister? Why suddenly had the connection between them been broken at a time when the need for it was the greatest?
"Come on. Xena and your Mother are there already." Danu pulled back when she felt Sorrow's grip release slightly. Taking the stunned woman by the hand she led her off the stage.
* * * *
"Is she all right?" Half way to the infirmary, Sorrow had broken into a run and despite the objections of the guard posted at the door, burst into the room.
"They don't know yet." Gabrielle intercepted her before she could reach where Oxin and Xena worked on the injured children. The urgency of the situation and her own inability to be of much help, had brought an agitated calm over the bard.
"I want to see her." Sorrow took another step towards her sister.
"No!" She placed her hands on her daughter’s shoulder's to stop her approach. "They need space to work." Staring into Sorrow's eyes with the command, she hadn't seen that Madalene wasn't the only one of her daughter's wounded. Feeling the familiar stickiness of blood in her hand she finally became aware of the arrow that still stuck out of Sorrow's shoulder.
"It's nothing." The Princess shrugged it off. She'd forgotten about the offending object in all of the excitement.
"It's not nothing. You're bleeding all over the place." Gabrielle glanced behind to see Danu standing in the doorway. "Here take these." She picked up a bundle of fresh bandages and handed them to Sorrow. "Go outside and let Danu clean that up."
"I don't care about this." Sorrow's angry voice responded as she motioned to the arrow. "I'm not leaving her."
"Go outside and calm down!" The Queen's voice was stern and commanding. "You're not doing her any good standing here bleeding." She softened her tone when she saw the hurt look come over her daughter. "Please?"
"Yes, Mother." Sorrow lowered her head and left.
Gabrielle hated being the cause of more pain. But the last thing anyone needed at that moment was Sorrow getting in the way. Moving closer to Xena, she silently watched them working.
"Her pulse is very weak. I don't like it but we have no other choice." The warrior removed her hand from Thallia neck. "Gabrielle?" She stood up and turned to look at the bard.
"Yes?" Her voice was flat.
"We're going to pull the arrow out of Madalene." She locked the bard's green eyes into hers. "When we do I need you to take her and deal with the bleeding. Both Oxin and I will need to focus our attention on Thallia."
"Bleeding?" She asked the frightened question before she could stop herself.
"Yes, but only a little." Xena waited for her to nod that she understood before returning to her position by the bed.
"On my mark." Oxin rolled Thallia over slightly as Xena lifted Madalene up to compensate for change in position. "Now!"
Not letting herself think, the warrior pulled Madalene back towards her. The slight sucking sound produced by the arrowhead as it left Madalene's skin echoed through her head even louder than her daughter’s screams. Quickly she handed the wailing Princess to Gabrielle and focused back on Thallia.
"It's all right now honey." Gabrielle held the precious child close to her as she moved her to another bed. "Try to relax." She stroked Madalene's head as she applied a clean bandage and pressure to the bleeding wound. Hearing Oxin speak she snapped her head to look at the healer.
"It hit an artery." She frantically tried to wipe some of the blood away so she could see the wound better. "The movement opened up the wound here in the front."
"I can cut off the blood flow for a few moments." Xena dreaded doing this. If the healer couldn't find the artery and close it quickly enough, using the pressure points would kill the little girl. "How long will it take you to fix it?"
"No time at all, if you can stop the bleeding!" Oxin had heard many things about the Warrior Princess. She hoped the claims of her skills as a healer were not the ones being exaggerated. "First, we get the arrow out." With sure hands she snapped the feathered end of the shaft off and pushed the arrow completely through the small body. Trying to judge the pressure needed, Xena executed the sharp strikes to Thallia's neck and chest.
"Move, you don't have much time." She barked at the frozen healer. Oxin moved quickly to open the wound up further and repair the torn artery.
"Done." Oxin looked up at the warrior, who promptly released the pressure points. To both of their horror the bleeding didn't stop. It came with such a fury that it took both of them burying their hands deep into the small child in order to slow it down. "She's going to bleed out before we can do anything."
* * * *
"Come on and sit down so I can take a look at that." Danu led her over to the bench in front of the infirmary. Her heart ached for her fiancée. The sad look on her face had been made even worse by her Mother’s stern command that there was nothing she could do. She knew that nothing bothered Sorrow more than feeling helpless.
"It’s nothing really." She stared down at her feet. "Ouch." She jumped when the archer purposely poked her shoulder close to the arrow. "Okay, maybe it’s a little something."
"Sit up straight and let me take a look." Danu leaned in to examine her injury. "Sorry love, but this might hurt a bit." She pushed her fingers into the wound. Moving to take Sorrow’s head in her hands, she smiled. "You’re going to live!"
"Very funny." The Princess gave her a weak smile.
"Sorry." The archer gave her a quick kiss before turning her attention to the arrow again. "It’s not in very far."
"Just rip it out." Sorrow stared off blankly. Her mind a million miles away from caring about herself as she heard Madalene scream from within the infirmary.
"Brace yourself!" Danu braced her leg against the bench for leverage. "One, two " She pulled on two, surprising the Princess.
"What happened to three?" Sorrow questioned as Danu moved to bandage her shoulder.
"Three." Danu kissed her forehead. "The area is already hot to the touch. You should be healed in no time." She sat down on the bench and took her lovers hand. "I know it's hard, but we just have to be patient. Oxin and Xena will take good care of both of them."
* * * *
"I can stop it." Madalene's weak voice called both women's attention to the end of the bed.
"Gabrielle, get her away." Xena called to the bard who stood pale faced behind her daughter.
"I believe her Xena. Let her try." She didn't know why but something told her this was the little girl's only chance.
"I need Sorrow to help me." Madalene's stare became blank as she started to run her hands together in front of her. Having already sent the mental call to her sister, Sorrow walked in as if cued. The frightened archer followed close behind. In min sentence her Princess had stopped talking and her eyes changed to possess the same visionless stare as her sister. "Kneel here." She pointed to a spot beside the warrior as she crawled up onto the bed. Reaching out she placed her hand on her sister's forehead and held the other hand out staring into her own palm. A single spark of light appeared, throbbing as the energy within it increased and a ball of white light filled Madalene's small hand. Cupping her fingers around the light she lifted the energy upwards and then downwards into Thallia's limp body.
The force of it drove Xena and Oxin backward away from the bed. As the shock cleared from the room, both of the Princesses collapsed unconscious. Sorrow falling sideways onto the floor and Madalene forward to rest beside Thallia. Gabrielle, being the only one left on her feet, scrambled to the bed. Relieved to feel that both her daughter and the once mortally wounded little girl had strong steady pulses.
"Okay, what hit me?" Sorrow eyes opened as she lifted her hands to her head. She was releived when Danu's legs came under her head for support.
"What in Tartarus was that?" A loud voice broke out of the warrior and demanded answers.
"What in Tartarus was what?" Sorrow looked at her confused. "How did I get in here?" Her cloudy thoughts seemed to have a very large gap.
"You suddenly tuned out on me and walked in." Danu tried to fill in her memory loss.
"Madalene, honey wake up." Ignoring everything else, Gabrielle ran her hand over the little Princess' face.
"Hi." Through heavy lidded eyes she responded to her Mother's gentle touch. "I need to sleep now. Is that all right?" Madalene barely finished the words before she drifted off.
"You go to sleep honey. I'll be right here when you wake up." Gabrielle whispered and kissed her forehead. "How is she?" She looked to Oxin who was busy examining the status of her small charge.
"I can't believe it." The healer examined the area in disbelief. "All of the internal damage is healed. It's only a superficial flesh wound on both sides now."
"That's impossible." Xena moved to take a look for herself. "How did she do it?" Seeing that Oxin was telling the truth, she asked Sorrow for answers.
"How did she do what?" The pounding in her head was making her very sleepy. Sorrow couldn't remember what they were talking about.
"Heal her, Sorrow. How did she make that light appear and heal her?" Xena bent down over her and lowered the urgency in her voice. Seeing the erratic movement of her daughter's eyes as they tracked over her face, the warrior knew it was useless to ask her anything. "We better get her home."
* * * *
"And where do you think you're going?" Delara stood in the doorway of the hut watching Syn pack for a moment before she spoke. Having first made sure that Solari and the rest of the Royal guard had rounded up those involved in the day's attack. Delara had decided to follow up a hunch she'd been having for some time.
"I'm not going anywhere. Why would you think I was going somewhere?" The nervous warrior moved closer to the desk and her sword.
"Maybe because your little plot to kill most of the Royal family and take the Queen's mask for your own failed miserably." Delara shifted her weight onto her back leg in anticipation. "And because you don't want to stand trial for treason."
"Who talked?" Syn hissed as she grabbed for her weapon.
"You!" Delara pulled her own sword and backed out of the doorway. "I figured you were the only one in the village with any connection to the tribe that assassin came from. It was only a hunch until now."
"You should learn to keep your hunches to yourself." Syn charged at the scout, who deflected the rampant blow.
"Well, I've taken a real liking to our Royal family and I don't intend to let scum like you hurt them." Her thrust was deflected as the guard sidestepped away.
"The demon's lackey." Syn spat the intended insult as she landed a stinging kick to the scout’s thigh. "I always though you were better than that."
"I am." Delara fist shot out to catch the warrior across the face. "That's why I'd gladly give my life protecting them and stopping the likes of you." Blocking Syn's sword she braced herself and thrust her own sword deep into the Amazon's cheast. "Hope you like Tatarus." She pulled the weapon back out and watched Syn fall dead to the ground.
* * * *
A candlemark later, Gabrielle was keeping a vigil over the children. Danu had managed to half lead, half carry a very disoriented Sorrow back to their hut. The very angry Warrior Princess had gone in search of answers. Oxin was in the back room mixing a salve for Madalene’s wound.
"Hello there." Gabrielle voice was soft as she watched Thallia struggling to open her eyes.
"Hello your Majesty." The little girl responded quickly as she turned to Madalene, who was still asleep beside her. "Is Mads all right?" The fear in her small voice was easy to hear.
"Mads?" She was puzzled for a second having never heard the nickname before. "She’s going to be just fine." The bard was touched by the immense concern Thallia had for her daughter.
"I’m glad." Turning herself a little, Thallia winced from the pain in her cheast.
"You're a very brave little girl." Gabrielle brushed a stray brown hair off her pale face.
"Not really. Mads always protects me, I couldn’t let her get hurt." She smiled as she stared at the sleepy Princess.
"Well I’m the Queen and I say you were very brave." She laughed at her humbleness. "Madalene is very lucky to have a friend like you."
"No, I’m the lucky one." Thallia laced her small fingers into Madalene's. "I shouldn’t have let her get hurt at all." She frowned at the bandage on the Princess’ shoulder. "She never lets me get even a scratch."
"Madalene was more worried about you." Noticing the little girl shiver, she grabbed a nearby blanket and wrapped it around you.
"I know." Thallia looked up at her. "I saw the arrow coming and I just knew it was meant for Mads. I stepped in front of her." Scrunching up her nose at the memory she continued. "It didn’t hurt that much because Mads voice kept singing in my head and telling me I would be okay. She kept telling me that she’d keep me safe, that she wouldn’t let anyone take me from her."
"Thallia, do you remember anything after that? Other that what Madalene was telling you in your head." Gabrielle looked at her hopefully.
"I could hear Oxin and Xena talking. Madalene kept telling me not to listen to them, what they were saying didn’t matter." She closed her eyes for an instant trying to remember. "Then suddenly she wasn’t behind me anymore and her voice got really hard to hear. It was like she was a long way away and all I could hear was water rushing around me." Gabrielle felt her eyes welling up at the realization that Thallia was describing her own near death. "I was trying to listen really hard, trying to hear what she was telling me. Then suddenly her voice was easy to hear but it didn’t sound right. Like when she has those spells of hers. She told me I would go to sleep and when I woke up I’d be almost better. So I relaxed and then I woke up to see you."
The bard found she couldn’t speak. After hearing the little girl’s account of being pulled back from death itself, she was both thankful that her daughter had such a wonderful power and upset at the ramifications that power entailed.
"Try to sleep now." Gabrielle tucked the blanket around the both of them. "You need to get some rest."
"Will you still be here?" Thallia looked up at her hoping she would.
"Yes, honey." She kissed her forehead. "I won’t move a muscle."
* * * *
"Delara, where did you disappear too?" Ephiny questioned the scout when she entered the council chamber.
"Had to take care of a hunch." She smiled at Xena slyly.
"I have a feeling I might enjoy how this hunch turned out." The warrior folded her arms across her cheast and waited.
"The ring leader was Syn." The scout dropped the missing piece of information bluntly. "And unfortunately, she wasn’t very cooperative." She winked at Xena. "So you won’t have to worry about her anymore."
"Well that’s helpful, because so far no one in the holding cell was talking." Ephiny breathed a sigh of relief. Not that having to still deal with over a dozen rebellious Amazons wasn’t making her very tense. But it was always worse when the organizer was left undiscovered, because they always just re-grouped and tried again.
"They would've talked." Xena narrowed her eyes at the idea. "And a few of them still will. I want to know how Syn was getting information out of the Nation to Queen Delany."
"How are the children doing?" Delara questioned.
"Madalene just has a flesh wound. Thallia is going to be just fine as well."
"She is?" Delara was shocked. When all Xena could manage was a stiff nod, the scout knew better than to press for answers. Allowing the Regent a chance to change the conversation back to the problems at hand.
* * * *
"Sorrow! Sorrow! Wake up, honey." The archer pleaded from within the sleeping Princesses tight grip.
"I won’t let her go. I promise I won’t let her go." Sorrow mumbled as Danu’s voice brought her back to consciousness. Realizing the painful nature of the embrace she held her fiancée in, she relaxed her tense arms. "Sorry, I was having the most strange dream."
"No harm done." Content with the new softer arrangement, Danu snuggled into her further. "Who do you promise not to let go?"
"You of course." Sorrow kissed her.
"Really?" The archer excepted the affection happily, but knew it wasn’t the real answer.
"No, but I do promise never to let you go." She planted another quick kiss before continuing. "I’m not really sure." She tried to piece together the fading threads of the dream. "Hey, wait a minute. How did we get here?" She tensed at the obvious hole in her memory.
"We came here from the infirmary." Seeing no recognition in Sorrow’s eyes, Danu started to worry. "What’s the last thing you remember?"
"You’d just agreed to marry me." Sorrow’s face beamed as she answered. "And that I was going to kiss you, just like this." She bent her head down slowly.
"Hold on." Danu stayed her approach with a gentle hand. "You don’t remember anything between then and now? Nothing at all?"
"No." Realizing how odd that was, a deep dread came over her. "What happened?"
"First, Madalene and Thallia are both fine " Danu thought this the best place to start as she recounted the missing events.
The end for now
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