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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
"Queen Gabrielle, you are ready to begin your defense?" Henrik asked strained. The unexpected delay had played havoc with his already shaky nerves. Although he didn't want the archer to be executed, a part of him just wanted this over. He planned on retiring after this case.
"Yes I am." Gabrielle rose from her chair and walked closer to the judge’s desk. "I would like to recall Lord Dunlop to the stand."
Dunlop moved swiftly to fill the witness chair. Although he dreaded the idea of having to answer any more questions, he had a feeling that the Amazon Queen would be easier to cope with than his own.
"Lord Dunlop, when did you become aware of the King's plan to kill Xena and my daughter?" Steadying her nerves she began.
"He announced his plans the day after his father's death." Dunlop would never forget that day.
"Would you kindly explain what he told you that day?"
"He said that the God of War had revealed to him the existence of a great power and that with this power he could rule the world." He replayed the event in his mind. Editing out a good deal of the Rike's unimportant ranting. "He informed us that you, the Amazon Queen, were in possession of that power and that he would lure you to Aldernon in order to take it from you."
"Did he tell you at that time what this power was?"
"No, that's why when you introduced me to your daughter I was surprised. King Rike hadn't mentioned that you had a daughter." Dunlop wiped the sweat from his brow. "When I returned to Aldernon and informed him that you had accepted his invitation, I also told him about Princess Sorrow. He laughed at me. It was then that he explained that she was the power."
"Was he aware that Sorrow was the Protector?" Gabrielle questioned further.
"No, all he ever said was that she possessed a great power and that Ares had given him the means to take it from her." Dunlop voice was confident. "He always rambled about the great power possessed by a virgin Amazon Princess. He never mentioned anything about the Protector."
'Interesting!' Gabrielle thought. 'Rike didn't know that Sorrow was the Protector. I wonder why Ares wouldn't have warned him who he was going against?'
"Did anyone disagree with what he wanted to do?"
"Yes, many in the court though it was madness. The idea of luring you to Aldernon and then killing Xena and the Princess wasn't a popular one." He wiped his forehead again.
"How did Rike deal with those who disagreed with him?" The bard was sure she could guess the answer.
"He called the court to vote. Everyone who voted against his plan was taken behind the palace and murdered!" Dunlop voice was frightened and he stared into the floor. He could feel Queen Delany's eyes burning into him.
"Lord Dunlop, I know these are difficult memories to relieve but how many did he murder?" She kept her voice soft and she was pleased when the man responded to her gentleness by looking her in the eye.
"Seventeen were dead by the time it ended. When the executions started a handful of soldiers tried to revolt against the King. They too were killed." Looking into the Amazon Queen's beautiful eyes, the memory of the day's horror seemed all the more tragic. Moving his stare to look at the archer, he hated that another innocent life would be lost to Rike's madness.
"Did King Rike ever say why Ares had revealed the existence of this power to him?" She asked, hoping to gain some insight into Ares motivation.
"The King said it was his destiny to possess the power." The man knew that the woman had been hoping for something more, but he had no insight to give her.
"You're absolutely sure the King had no idea the my daughter was the Protector?" Gabrielle needed this point to be indisputable.
"I am sure he didn't." Dunlop voice was steady. "I was with him just before the coronation. He was laughing about how sweet and innocent your daughter was. He commented on how he didn't think it was necessary to poison the Princess, but that he'd do as Ares asked regardless. He said it would be fun to watch your suffering when both the Princess and Xena dropped after the toast."
"Thank you, Lord Dunlop." She nodded at him and watched his hasty retreat back to his Queen. "I call Danu to testify." Gabrielle turned to face the archer as she walked towards the dreaded witness chair.
"I trust in your judgment, my Queen." Danu whispered as she passed. Offering the words both in support and as permission for the bard to ask her anything she deemed necessary.
"Danu," She decided to dive headlong and start with the issue of Danu's motivation. "Queen Delany has claimed that the reason you killed King Rike is because you were jealous of Sorrow's affections for him. Is that true?"
"No!" The archer response was firm.
"Then are you denying you confronted Sorrow about her interaction with the King?"
"No, I go to her room and confront her." Her voice lowered as she remembered her terrible words.
"Were you angry with her at that time? Did you call her the village whore, as Queen Delany claims?" Gabrielle hated to ask these questions, but they were vital to her argument.
"Yes, I was angry." The archer swallowed hard. "And regretfully, I did call her that."
"When you went to confront her, you were feeling angry and jealous?"
"Were you feeling the same at the end of the conversation?" She could see the agony on Danu's face and was glad to have a question that would allow the archer to redeem herself.
"Not at all." Danu remembered the sweet revelations discovered during the argument.
"Why?" Gabrielle smiled as she spoke.
"It was during that argument that Sorrow told me, for the first time, that she loved me." Danu's heart held tightly onto the unforgettable memory. "That she would always love me."
"Then why would you have been in such a jealous rage that you would plot to kill the King?" Gabrielle held up her hand as an indication that Danu didn't have to answer the rhetorical question. She turned to look into Delany's icy glare. "I mean if you'd just found out that the woman you loved, loved you back what possible reason could you have to be jealous?"
Confident strides carried the Amazon Queen back to her chair. After a drink of water she continued her questions. "'Danu, would you lay down your life for my daughter?"
"Without hesitation.!" The answer came instantly.
"How much do you love her?"
"With all my heart. I want to spend the rest of my life with her." Danu thoughts were of the Princess as she spoke.
"I know you were hoping to keep this a secret." Gabrielle eyes looked for the archer's unspoken approval before she continued. "Would you please tell the court what is planned when you return to her?"
"We're to be married." Just speaking the words made her smile. Momentarily she let herself ignore the fact that their marriage was unlikely since Queen Delany was determined to have her executed. Looking around the room the smiling faces of her fellow Amazons beamed back at her. The smile on Solari's face alone was enough to light up the room. Near the back she found the only angry Amazon response to the news. The look on Tearnon's face was true, unbridled rage. For a moment, she expected the guard to cause a scene. She was grateful that the woman kept herself in check and chose instead to walk silently out of the hall.
"Why did you fire the arrow?" Gabrielle switched the focus of the conversation, knowing the archer's answer would come quickly and honestly. On top of that, she knew the judge would see finally Danu's real motivation for killing the King.
"I heard the fighting and I was worried that Xena wouldn't be able to protect Sorrow. When I reached the doorway I saw her battling Ares and King Rike with a dagger raised over Sorrow's heart. I fired the arrow to stop the King from killing her." Danu's attempted to explain why she'd released the fatal shot.
"You believed that if he stabbed her, she would die?" The pace of the bard's questions quickened.
"Why? She's the Protector. She's battled armies and survived. What would make you think a simple dagger would kill her?" Gabrielle pushed Danu to convince the court that she'd been afraid for Sorrow's life.
"When I came into the throne room and saw you cradling her in your arms, I knew then something extraordinary had been done to her." Mentioning the scene cause it to spring into her head. "Yes, I have watched her battle armies and emerge without a scratch. That's why seeing her fall scared me so much. How terrible must things be if the Protector has been taken down by a single goblet of poison."
"Was there anything else that led you to believe Rike had the power to kill her?" The bard probed further.
"Yes, the way he spoke about her power." She'd never thought of this before and silently applauded the Queen for helping her see it. "He was going to sacrifice her to get it. Once I saw Ares in the antechamber with him, I realized he'd been telling the truth. With Ares help, he surely must have had the means to kill her and I had to stop him."
"The moment you released the arrow, what were you thinking?"
"That I had to save her."
"Nothing else?" Gabrielle asked, truly hoping there was nothing else.
"Only that thought."
"Your Honour," Queen Delany annoyed voice raised over the humming crowd. "I'm failing to see the relevance of any of this."
"You fail to see the relevance?" Gabrielle turned to address her. "Was it not you who pointed out the importance of Danu's motivation in the assessment of her guilt?"
"Her motivation doesn't matter!" Delany stood and squared her shoulders to confront the small Amazon Queen. "All you're doing is stalling for time. You're only delaying the inevitable."
"On the contrary, I believe it was you who were stalling for time." The bard's eyes cut into her. "Yesterday you found it quite relevant to discuss Danu's motivation, at great length I might add. Why would you suddenly feel that her motivation is unimportant? Have you finally seen the innate error in the law being used to prosecute my warrior? Or is this diversion no longer necessary?"
"This is not a diversion!" Delany became infuriated and fought to restrain herself. "My brother is dead and his murder will not go unpunished. Nothing else is more important than that!"
"Nothing?" Gabrielle took a step closer to Delany. Purposely invading the precious buffer between them. "If your brother was so important to you, why were you in Rome and not at his coronation?"
"If I’d of known I would’ve been there. How dare you doubt my love for my brother?" She took a step closer to the Amazon, hoping to intimidate her.
"You didn’t know your brother was about to take possession of the crown?" Gabrielle was shocked by the admission. Refusing to be intimidated the Amazon Queen took another step closer.
"What does that have to do with anything?" Delany attempted to dodge answering.
"It would raise one very startling question. How fast would a messenger need to travel to get to Rome and inform you of your brother's death, but still allow you time to return to Aldernon and amass this army in just a few short days? If I didn’t know better I’d say you had a little help from the Gods." Gabrielle looked at her in mock confusion.
"Who I receive assistance from is none of your concern!" The Aldernon Queen spoke the forceful words slowly.
Exchanging a knowing look with Xena, she was thankful to have at least one of their suspicions confirmed. Delany was getting help from a greater power and the natural choice was Ares.
"I bet that assistance came with a price!" Gabrielle moved closer to where the Warrior Princess was sitting. Momentarily returning a safety buffer between and Delany. Choosing to mount an even harsher attack with her words. "I’m sure your benefactor won’t be pleased to hear that you have failed to hold up your end of the bargain."
"I knew that scout was carrying another message!" Delany shook her fist in Delara's direction. "You're precious demon daughter will run out of luck one of these days."
"Firstly, my daughter is not a demon." The Queen voice was strong as she took three quick steps toward her opponent. "Secondly, what does this have to do with Sorrow being lucky?"
"The real message, we both know what it is was." Delany's words were much softer as her brain realized the trap she had fallen into. Gaining confidence in the knowledge that the failed assassination was more of a disappointment than a failure, she taunted Gabrielle. "No matter, she'll be dealt with one way or another. My benefactor, as you call him, has planned for even this small set back."
Gabrielle turned to see Xena wink at her. The warrior was pleased with her success so far. She winked back.
"To show you I am not as cold hearted as you think," Delany spoke, regaining the bard's attention. "I have a warning for you."
"Do whatever is in your power to keep your daughter away from this place. For if she sets one foot on Aldernon soil again she is destined to die." The dark haired Queen dropped her voice low. Gabrielle shuddered from its tone and her prophecy of the future.
"Isn't that the real reason for all of this?" The bard motioned around the room. "Is all of this not to ensure that she will again step onto Aldernon soil? You realize he planned for things to work out this way?"
"What?" Delany asked puzzled.
"Do you think my daughter would risk certain death for anyone other than Danu?" Gabrielle questioned, intending on bringing the intended revelation to Delany slowly.
"She's the Amazon Protector. She'd sworn to risk her life for any of you." Delany countered her question.
"True!" The bard nodded, deep in thought. "It's strange though, you said it yourself. Why would a lowly archer stay behind to help Xena? Her limited skills would be useless against the King's soldiers." Keeping the thoughtful look on her face she continued. "One thing puzzles me. With all of his great powers, why wasn't Ares able to stop Danu's arrow?" Staring into Delany's eyes she could almost see the woman's mind racing with the question.
"Are you saying that Ares planned for my brother to die?" Delany small voice finally asked.
"Looking at this big plan you alluded to, I'd say yes!" Gabrielle's voice was genuinely sad for the Aldernon Queen. "He knew that if your brother was killed, you'd want revenge. Who other than Danu would assure Sorrow's involvement? For who else would she stand against an army, even in her weakened condition?"
Delany turned and retreated to her throne. Sitting down, out of fear that her legs would collapse. She struggled to keep her faith in the God of War. Faith that her revenge against Danu was just and righteous. Pushing the doubt to the back of her mind she focused on the one thing that remained true, her brother was dead and it was the archer that killed him.
"Judge Henrik I demand you bring this woman’s useless rambling to an end!" Delany walked up to stand in front of the judge. "I demand that you render your verdict." Her voice loud, she slammed her fist against the table.
"Queen Gabrielle, I have listened very carefully to the evidence that you've presented and although I am convinced that Danu’s motivation was not jealousy or anger. I am hard pressed to see how any of this changes the fact that by her own admission she has broke the law." Henrik looked at her sadly. He’d seen that look in Delany’s eye before, if he didn’t act quickly he’d end up dead as well.
"Your Honour, the issue is much bigger than the death of one man." Gabrielle walked to stand beside Queen Delany near the judge. "I believe the very nature of Aldernon law should be under consideration here. Is any man, even the King, not responsible for his own actions? If Rike had been a solider none of us would be here. Danu's actions would have been in defense of her Princess and no one would have even entertained the idea of charging her with murder."
"Sadly, as I have informed you already, the Queen is the only one with the power to change the law." Henrik furrowed his brow. "My Queen?"
As Delany turned to face Danu in the witness chair, Gabrielle hoped her words had cracked the woman's vengeful shell and given her pause for thought.
"None of us can claim to understand the grief you feel over your brother's death, but will more death offer relief to the pain within your heart?" The bard whispered so only Delany could hear.
"It'll be a start," Delany whispered in response before turning to look at Henrik. "I have no reason or desire to change the law. What is your verdict?"
"As she has freely admitted that it was her arrow that killed the King, I have no other choice but to find Danu " He adverted his eyes to look at the wooden desk under his shaking hands. "Guilty of murder and at the request of the Queen of Aldernon " He stammered the difficult words. "She is to be publicly executed today at dusk." At the last moment his heart convinced his mind to give the archer a few more moments of life.
The crowd was silent.
"I wish to speak." The archer's strong voice broke the air. Standing, she avoided looking any of them in the eye. "I accept the punishment of the court with only one last request."
"Yes?" Delany was shocked by the archer's strength.
"I wish to choose the method of my execution." Danu finally found the courage to look at Gabrielle. The bard's eyes were wild, unable to understand what she was doing.
"The choice is yours." The Aldernon Queen agreed easily to the request.
"I have lived by the bow and I wish to die by the bow." Danu pushed the words through her clamped jaw. Almost wavering in her decision as she saw tears well in her Queen's eyes.
"As you wish." Delany head bowed slightly to the archer. Turning to look at Gabrielle her mouth curled into a wicked smile. "Till dusk then!"
Danu bowed her head to the judge. Her attempt to relieve the man of his guilt for her sentence, only added to his own self-hatred. With sure, steady steps she walked through the stunned crowd and out of the hall. Gabrielle, Xena and the others followed her lead back to the Amazon encampment.
* * * *
Danu’s footsteps took her straight to the Queen’s tent. She entered without permission, knowing this is where they would all gather eventually to discuss what had happened. She took a seat at the large table and waited. She was surprised when none of them came. It was unnerving to be left alone in the tent, waiting for them to arrive, waiting to answer the questions they would have. Wrapping her arms tightly around herself she began to cry.
* * * *
"Gabrielle, where are you going?" Xena asked concerned when she saw the bard stray from Danu’s path.
"I just need a minute alone." She grasped the warrior’s hand tightly as she spoke. "Please go be with her until I get there. Don’t let her be alone, not now." Xena nodded that she understood and reluctantly released the bard’s shaking hand. Gabrielle fought to keep her heart from breaking as she walked away from the Amazon encampment toward a large empty field to the north. Standing in the open, she felt the crisp breeze remind her of the tears that flowed unchecked from her eyes. Closing her vision from the serene meadow she thought of her daughter. Thought of the love Sorrow had for Danu. Thought of the happiness she’d seen on both their faces when they'd announced their engagement. She willed her mind to open up and stretch out in search of the Protector.
‘Sorrow?’ Her thoughts asked for confirmation that they were being heard.
‘The verdict is guilty. You have until dusk.’ She sent the horrible words to her daughter.
‘I’m coming. Tell her I love her.’
Gabrielle felt her mind close up with the last of Sorrow’s words. The connection between them broken now, she turned and walked back to her tent.
* * * *
Driven out of sleep, Sorrow hoped for a moment that the words had been a nightmare. The echo of them through her head told her they weren't. Commanding herself to stand, she awkwardly walked into the main room. Ephiny was sitting on the couch telling Madalene a story. The Regent didn’t dare speak, as she watched Sorrow lumber over to the fireplace and lean herself against the mantle.
"They’ve found her guilty. The execution is at dusk." Sorrow’s words were raspy. Both from her weak condition and the tears she desperately tried to swallow down.
"Fire and Flesh! Flesh and Fire!" Madalene was standing now, her eyes glazed over, pointing at the small fire in the hearth.
"Little one, I don’t know what you’re trying to tell me." Sorrow looked from her visionless sister back to the fire. A moment of clarity came to her. Reaching down, she put her scarred hand amongst the small flames. As in Ares’ underground temple the flames shot up and drove into her palm.
"Ephiny, I need you to do something quickly." Sorrow asked, her breathing a little less labored.
"What?" She asked startled by the display. She'd almost swear that she'd heard the fire speak just before it leapt into Sorrow.
"I need you to build the biggest fire you can!" She moved over to gather the little Princess into her arms. Seeing the confused look on the Regents face, she tried to explain. "I need the fire. The fire will heal the flesh. That’s what Madalene’s message has been all along. If I can take enough fire into my flesh I'll fly again and be able to save her."
"Then it’s fire you’ll have." Ephiny moved quickly to enlisting the guards at the front door. In a race against time, the Regent soon had ever able-bodied Amazon hauling wood to the main courtyard. She prayed they would be able to build a big enough fire to heal the Protector.
* * * *
Sitting at the table holding the doomed archer, was one of the rare times that the Warrior Princess felt inept. She understood that no words she could utter would give Danu any consolation at this moment. The feeling of uselessness was so profound that her heart wavered in its conviction to call Sorrow. She knew the bard’s request for her to stay with the archer had been an attempt to sway her from her promise. The warrior resolved herself that as soon as Gabrielle returned she’d leave and call Sorrow.
"I have something to tell." Gabrielle had entered the tent unnoticed. Seeing Danu’s tear streaked face looking up at her and the warrior’s stone like mask, she knew they hadn’t heard. "I called her."
The simple words turned the sadness in Danu’s heart to utter torment. Pulling herself away from Xena, she looked at her Queen unable to let herself fully comprehend what was about to happen.
"You did what?" Xena stood and quickly closed the distance between them.
"I said, I called her." She closed her eyes as she answered. Unable to look at the warrior, fearing the expression her face would hold. Gabrielle didn’t expect the warm arms that engulfed her, melting into them she sighed.
"Why?" Xena rocked the precious woman in her arms as she struggled to understand. "You didn’t have to take this responsibility. I didn’t want you to carry this burden."
"You have too much pain and anguish on your shoulders already." She looked up into misty blue eyes. "This should've been my burden from the beginning. I’d rather have Danu hate me than you."
"I don’t hate you." Danu hadn’t really heard the bard’s words. She’d just known somehow what they were. "I’m sorry I’ve made all of this harder than it already is. You had no choice but to call her, I understand."
"She asked me to tell you something." Leaving the safety of the warrior’s arms she moved over to crouch down in front of the archer. "She wanted me to tell you that she loves you."
"So much that she'll die for me." Danu's whisper was barely audible as she buried her head in her hands.
* * * *
"Are you crazy?" Monka threw another armful of wood on the enormous fire.
"It needs to be bigger!" Ephiny stopped to stare for a moment at the inferno before her.
"Bigger? If the wind shifts the whole village will go up. Any bigger and we risk setting a forest fire big enough to reach Athens!" The warrior silently believed that the Regent had lost her mind.
"She's right, Ephiny." Sorrow limped up to where they stood. Madalene hid from the intense heat behind her sister's legs. The Regent appraised the short black leather skirt and backless top that the Princess now wore. Seeing the Protector's armband, she knew Sorrow was ready for war. For most warriors the outfit would've been lacking in armor, but for Sorrow it allowed for quick, uninhibited transformation into whatever degree of demon that she chose. "You can't risk burning everything to the ground. This will have to do. It will be dusk shortly, we're running out of time." Turning her back to the fire she picked up her sister. "You be a good girl and remember that I love you, always." Sorrow hugged her tightly before handing the child to Ephiny. "Get everyone back, I don't want anyone getting hurt if I can't control this."
"Good luck." Ephiny hugged her quickly before moving away from the fire. She joined the rest of the village, who encircled the inferno a safe distance away.
Turning, Sorrow stared into the fire. Taking deep breaths she fed off the heat that seared her skin. She could feel it caressing her. Loving her. It wanted nothing more than to heal her.
The colours danced before her. Each distinct hue presenting itself one at a time for her approval. Feeding from her presence the fire grew even larger. Flames shot into the sky, licking at the clouds above.
"Do you know me?" Sorrow voice was confident and commanding.
"You are the one, true Goddess!" The flames response came as a slow hiss. Everyone gathered heard the words. Despite the unbearable heat, the sound of it chilled them all to the bone.
"Will you obey me?" She moved to the edge of the fire.
"We obey only the Goddess!" The slow hiss answered. "You need only command and we will do."
"Heal me!" Sorrow's voice boomed over the sound of the fire, through the forest and up into the heavens.
Ephiny was mesmerized as she watched the spectacle before her. At Sorrow's command the flames began to swirl, whipping into a cyclonic frenzy above the wood. A hard, hot wind developed from the motion, She tightened her grip on Madalene, fearful that the small child might be blown out of her arms. With a painful moan the fire removed itself from its fuel. Each rotation furthered its transformation. Before them all, floating in front of the Princess, the fire took the form of an enormous serpent. The creature swayed before Sorrow for a moment, then with a strong lurch backwards, its head snapped forward and drove itself into her cheast.
Sorrow drew a quick breath, before the crushing force of the fire snake plunged into her. Her head hung back and her arms raised, she braced herself against the assault. Instinctually, her wings emerged from within her back and spread out behind her.
"Goddess, you are so beautiful!" A large portion of the flames surrounded her now, losing the snake like form as it swirled around her. Through no action of her own, Sorrow taunt body was lifted up and floated several feet off the ground. Her cheast arched toward the sky as bursts of flame broke off and drove into her.
Blinking her eyes hard, she realized she couldn't see anymore. Her vision turned inward as she listened to the hypnotic hissing voice as it worshipped her.
* * * *
"Sorrow!" It was Madalene's voice that spoke to her now. "You seek answers?"
"Madalene, how?" Her vision cleared to see a young woman standing before her. Her little sister was as tall as Xena, her silky black hair hanging down to her waist. The rational part of her mind told her this couldn't be true. Madalene was just short of four, not the woman she was looking at.
"As you protect me, I protect you." She moved to take Sorrow's hand. "One day in the future you will see me as you do now. This is who I at twenty."
"How are you doing this?" Sorrow asked looking down at her hand. Through the simple touch, she could feel Madalene healing her.
"You must not think of time as a line, but as a circle." With her other hand Madalene reached up to wipe a tear from her sister's face. "At this moment I have brought two points of the circle together. Me at my strongest and you at your weakest." The serenity on her face was breathtaking. Sorrow feared she would perish from the sheer beauty and power that Madalene possessed.
"I love you, always." She said the words needing for her sister to hear them.
"As I love you." Madalene smiled at her. Seeing the confusion on her sister's face she took her other hand as she laughed. "You're not dying, silly. I wouldn't let that happen."
"I'm not?" Sorrow asked the question absently, distracted by the light gathering around them.
"You're almost healed, the crossing will be broken soon. There are many things I must show you." Smiling again, she sent the visions into the Protector's head without visible effort. "Do you understand?"
"Yes!" Sorrow's heart leapt. "This is what you saw isn't it?"
Madalene nodded, she'd been far to young to understand the vision the first time it had presented itself.
"Are you happy?" Sorrow asked the question fearfully. Distracted by a sadness that lurked behind the brilliance of Madalene's green eyes.
"The road to this time is hard for everyone. But yes, I am happy." She smiled back at her. Looking past Sorrow, her eyes glazed over. "It's time for you to return."
"I have to wait sixteen years to see you again." Sorrow was saddened by the idea.
"It's only a heartbeat away, though I'll miss you enough for an entire lifetime." Madalene hugged her tightly. "Go and save her."
* * * *
Sorrow raised her hand to where her sister's soft lips had brushed her cheek. Blinking again, her vision revealed the sky above the village. She watched as the last of the flames disappeared into her and she was gently returned earth. Slowly she turned, focusing in on little Madalene hugging tightly to Ephiny. Feeling stronger than ever before, she walked over to them.
"Thank you little one." She gathered the Princess into her arms. "You are amazing."
She gazed into bright green eyes.
"Time to go." Her little voice returned Sorrow's thoughts to the present. Returning Madalene to the Regent, she opened her wings up fully. Winking at Ephiny, she rose up and flew into the northern horizon.
* * * *
"It's time." Solari entered the tent with her head down.
Xena was the first to stand. Danu, taking her strength from some unseen place inside, stood next. Gabrielle found it hard to make her legs work. With a gentle sigh at the futility of their predicament, she finally rose as well.
"It would be better if I did this alone." The archer had waited until the last moment before expressing this thought. "You don't need to see this."
The bard didn't answer, linking her arm into Danu's she led her from the tent. The tense Warrior Princess followed closely behind.
* * * *
Everyone was gathered in the open meadow to the North of the compound. Delany paced as impatiently waited for the arrival of the condemned Amazon. Standing close to the Queen, six hooded men nervously inspected their bows. None of them had realized why they'd been called back from border duty until Lord Dunlop had handed out the executioner's hoods and blankly told them what their new orders were.
Walking into the meadow, the mind of the Warrior Princess desperately searched for a plan. No contact had been made with Sorrow since Gabrielle's initial call and the brief conversation had given the bard no indication if the Protector was healed. The logical assumption was that not enough time had passed. It had taken her almost four seasons to heal after battling Dahak. They couldn't expect her body to repair itself after mere days, could they?
As the sun began it's decent into the horizon, a small detachment of soldiers lit torches. These men arranged themselves in two opposing lines, about twenty paces apart. Delany's archers stood in a line at one end of this illuminated corridor. The other end waited for Danu. Taking a deep breath, Danu began to walk away from them but was stopped by Xena's hand on her shoulder.
"Why?" The warrior asked the archer suddenly, unable to understand her choice.
"If their aim is true, it'll be over quickly." She looked sadly at the warrior. Knowing Xena could never comprehend her reasons. The warrior didn't know the path her small feet had been set upon when she picked up the bow that day so long ago. It only seemed fitting to her that she should die by the same means with which she herself had brought so much death.
"And if their aim isn't true? Do you know how long you'll suffer?" The warrior feared what she'd do if this happened. Watching Danu withering in pain was too hard to think about.
"Then Solari will finish it." She bowed her head. Xena realized now that the tall archer had distanced herself from all of them since the verdict had been brought down. Solari stood alone, near Delany's archers, with Danu's bow slung over her shoulder. "Please don't stop her Xena. She volunteered when she knew what I wanted. Make sure Sorrow realizes that she isn't killing me, she's only setting me free."
"I'm sorry, but it's time." Lord Dunlop approached them. He seen the glint growing in his Queen's eyes and decided to set this tragic event in motion before she could choose to add more pain to the Amazon's torment.
"I'm ready." Danu voice was strong. Sometime, though she wasn't sure when, she'd resolved herself to doing this without tears and without fear. With sure steps she walked away from the warrior and took her place.
Gabrielle hadn't realized that it would start so quickly once they entered the meadow. Seeing the archer now, isolated and alone, she couldn't believe what was happening. Looking at her warrior, she knew the conflicted woman would be forced to remain motionless. Any action by her to stop this horrid event would mean a death sentence for them all. She thought of calling out to Sorrow. Could she stand to know that her daughter wasn't coming? Or worse than that could she bear to know, that in her broken state, she was?
"May the Gods have mercy on your soul." Judge Henrik's words broke the spell of her internal ramblings.
Gabrielle tried to will time to stop. Each of her continuing heartbeats told her the effort was useless. She watched helplessly as the archers lifted their bows and took aim at the small figure before them.
* * * *
"I love you, Sorrow." Danu whispered the words as she closed her eyes. She didn't need to see the arrows coming, she'd easily hear them. Know by the whistle of the wind where each one would strike her. Standing tall, she braced herself.
* * * *
Despite wanting them too, Gabrielle's eyes wouldn't close. Focusing in, as Xena had taught her, she watched the arrows as they cut through the air toward Danu. She watched as they struck into the glimmering white barrier that now engulfed the archer. She stared breathless as the metal of each of the arrowheads gave way on impact, mushrooming the once sharp tips into harmless blunt tops. She bore witness to the event in the most intricate of details. For the longest time her mind didn't even register that Sorrow had arrived.
* * * *
Danu had never imagined that dying would feel so good. It was exactly like being wrapped up in Sorrow's strong arms. Melting into the embrace, she hoped this was what the rest of eternity would be like.
* * * *
"Are you all right?" Sorrow leaned her head down to whisper in the archer's ear. Hidden within the cocoon of her wings she cherished the moment alone with her love. The reverberation of the Princess' voice in her ear told something deep inside Danu that this wasn't the afterlife.
"Yes." She whispered, pulling back enough to look up into Sorrow's smiling face. "How?" She brushed her hand over one of the Princess' rosy cheeks. Suddenly not caring what force had enabled the Protector's recovery, her body moved to fulfill its only want. With the greatest of care she kissed her Princess and with the greatest of care her Princess kissed her back.
* * * *
Xena had been the only one to see Sorrow coming. See her drop dangerously out of the sky, reaching Danu just before the arrows were to strike. When she realized that the Princess had no intention of dodging the arrows but merely planned to stand between them and the archer, she readied herself for the aftermath. Seeing the arrows crumble against the Protector's wings her breath caught in her throat. Before she managed to draw another, she moved closer to the Amazon Queen, preparing herself.
* * * *
"How?" Danu finally asked again, as she placed feather kisses on the Protector's lips.
"Madalene." The one word answer would have to be sufficient. Outside of the safety of her wings, she could hear the stunned crowd coming back to life. She needed to gain control of the situation quickly. "Do you trust me?" She asked scared of the task ahead of her. Danu nodded that she did. "I love you." Sorrow embraced her so hard the archer almost couldn't breath. Not that she cared, she would have happily suffocated if it meant dying in those arms.
"Who dares to threaten this life?" Sorrow asked loudly as she retracted her wings from around them and brought them back to span out behind her. She held tightly onto the archer's hand.
"I do!" Delany stepped forward. "Who dares to interfere?"
"Mother, would you do the honour of introducing me?" Her words broke Gabrielle's spell. Staring at her daughter, she knew in a heartbeat that Sorrow was really healed. This wasn't a show for the enemy.
"Queen Delany, this is my daughter, Princess Sorrow." Gabrielle proud words brought a smile to her face and a frown to the Aldernon Queen.
"What gives you the right to condemn her to death?" Sorrow, with Danu by her side, moved closer to the enraged Queen.
"A court has found her guilty of murdering my brother, the King. You might remember that she killed him to save your sorry life." Delany spat the words at her.
"By what means do the laws of your court apply to her?" She scanned the crowd. "Who here sat as judge at this mockery of a trial?"
"It was I." A man's scared voice answered her as he moved forward to stand by Delany. "I am Judge Henrik."
"Well then it is to you I must speak." Sorrow bowed her head slightly in respect for his title. "I have important evidence to present that will force a reconsideration of your decision." Slowly, letting them all stare wide eyed, she allowed her wings to recede into her back.
"No!" The Aldernon Queen stamped her foot in protest. "The decision has been made. Do not interfere or I promise the consequences will be deadly!"
"If she has new evidence, my Queen, then I must allow her to speak." Henrik's voice shook as he spoke. He couldn't believe that he was opposing Delany.
"Fine!" She threw her hands up in defeat. Although she was all for simply ordering her army to kill this demon, her agreement with Ares required her to follow the law. If the Judge would allow Sorrow to speak, then the archer's execution would have to wait a few candlemarks longer. "Everyone back to the hall!" Turning sharply on her heels, she stalked off towards the building.
"What new evidence do you have?" Danu questioned her once Delany was out of earshot.
"I wish there was time to explain." Sorrow whispered softly, taking the archer into her arms. "I just hope you can forgive me for what I have to do." She released her hold, feeling too ashamed of herself.
"I know you won't do anything you don't have to." Danu whispered back, griping her tightly when she felt the Princess' arms retract. Reaching up, she pulled Sorrow's face down to brand it with a searing kiss.
"We better get going." The warrior's voice dragged them back to reality. Seeing the confused look on the bard's face, she grasped onto her hand. "We'll get an explanation later. Come on." Xena walked toward the hall with Gabrielle close by. Sorrow and Danu, followed hand in hand, behind them.
* * * *
"Princess Sorrow, I do hope you aren't wasting the courts time." Henrik questioned her once she entered the hall. He'd already taken his seat at the large desk. "I hope this new evidence you speak of is relevant."
"I believe it is of more relevance than anything else presented to you so far." She looked at Delany confidently.
"Then the floor is yours. Please begin." He nodded to her and waited.
"I wish to clarify something first." Sorrow escorted Danu to her seat next to Gabrielle and Xena. Turning back to face the judge, she continued. "Why is it that an Amazon is being charged under the laws of this kingdom?"
"Your Mother has freely admitted to signing a treaty with King Rike that allows for this." Henrik looked at her confused.
"Actually I was there, so I don't dispute that she willing entered into the agreement." Sorrow turned to face Delany. Feeling the Queen's eyes boring into her back for long enough, she met the woman's stare. "I am here to argue that regardless of a treaty between the Amazon Nation and Aldernon, Danu cannot be charged with this crime." Putting a finger to her lips, she indicated for Delany to remain quite and hold her objection. "I will prove that the jurisdiction of this treaty does not apply to the accused and by proving that you'll be forced to let her go free."
"Although I fail to see how you could possibly prove that an Amazon doesn't fall under the jurisdiction of an Amazon treaty. I must agree that if such a fact could be proven, Danu would be free to go." Henrik shook his head in disbelief as he looked at Sorrow. He hoped she'd be able to prove her claim, he'd like nothing more than to set the archer free.
"I call my Mother, Queen of the Amazon, to testify." Sorrow voice was gentle. She waited for the bard to give her a sign that she was ready. Once seated, Gabrielle nodded and her daughter began. "Mother, as Queen and a world renown storyteller, " She couldn't help but add the title and was pleased to see her mother smile. "You know all Amazon traditions and more specifically you are aware of the Amazon belief's regarding what happens to their souls after death."
Gabrielle nodded that she did. Her mind working feverishly to figure out what it was that Sorrow intended to argue.
"Then I ask you, if the moment before Danu released the arrow that killed King Rike, she'd have fallen down dead, where would her soul have gone?" Sorrow kept her face blank. She could see her mother was struggling to understand what she intended to prove. From now on she would have to detach herself and focus on leading everyone to the moment of revelation that would make her intentions clear.
"After her body had been properly anointed and cremated, her soul would have went to the Amazon Land of the Dead and then crossed over into Eternity." The Queen waited patiently for Sorrow to ask her next question.
"Since Danu was borne an Amazon and has lived as a Amazon all her life, this is what you would expect to happen without question?"
"Yes. The Goddess Artemis has promised this to all who live under her rule as Amazons."
"Thank you, Mother." Sorrow walked closer and offered her hand to Gabrielle. Feeling the loving touch of her mother's hand she thanked Madalene again for healing her. She waited until the bard was sitting before she spoke. She knew what she said next would shock them all. "I humbly ask the Goddess Artemis to join us to testify."
She didn't look at the witness chair. Choosing to wait until she heard the various gasps from the crowd to realize that the Goddess had arrived.
"Yes, little one, how can I assist you?" Artemis sat with her legs crossed in the chair.
"Are you aware of purpose of this trial?" Sorrow inquired, hoping she wouldn't have to explain what was going on.
"Of course. My chosen one is involved. I am aware of everything that effects her life." Artemis smiled at Gabrielle.
"Good." Sorrow cleared her throat. "I have one simple question. If Danu had died the moment before she killed King Rike would her soul have traveled the path promised by you to all Amazons?"
"Sorrow, you know it wouldn't have." Artemis studied the Protector's face. "Her soul is no longer under my command or protection."
"Are you saying that Danu is not an Amazon?"
"Her soul is no longer under my care." Artemis chose her words carefully. Seeing Sorrow's furrowed brow she knew she would have to say the words. "Danu is no longer an Amazon."
"Thank you, Artemis." Sorrow smiled and watched as the Goddess disappeared. "By the words of a Goddess, I have proven that Danu is no longer an Amazon. By that fact the treaty between Aldernon and the Amazon Nation does not apply to her. She cannot be charged with this crime and I ask that you let her go." She looked hopefully at Henrik.
"If she isn't Amazon that what is she?" Delany rose from her throne to confront Sorrow. "You cannot fully claim that she isn't Amazon until you prove what she is instead?"
'Damn!' The Princess silently cursed the Aldernon Queen. She'd hoped that Artemis' testimony alone would give Danu her freedom.
"Fine." Sorrow resolved herself to the task. Ignoring Delany, she called her next witness. "I humbly ask Hades, God of the Underworld to testify."
Delany almost laughed when she heard Sorrow's request. Seeing that the Amazon Queen was in the room, a request for Artemis to appear hadn't seemed that unreasonable. But now she was calling Hades, who did this woman think she was?
"I'm a busy man. What do you want Sorrow?" Removing his helmet, Hades materialized in the witness chair.
She heard Delany's breath stop at Hades' words, and waited until the startled woman retreated to her throne before she approached him.
"I am attempting to prove who owns her soul." Sorrow pointed Danu out to him. "If she had died the moment before she killed King Rike, would her soul have come to you for judgment?"
"Her?" Hades studied the archer for a minute. A shocked look crossed his face when the mark upon her soul suddenly made sense to him. "Not likely, she'd go to
"Please, I'm leading up to that." She cut him off. "You're sure she wouldn't come to you?"
"I have no doubt, her soul would never come to me." He shook his head. "Is that all?" He looked at her impatiently.
"Yes, thank you." She barely finished the words when he replaced his helmet and disappeared. Unable to look at Danu, she kept her eyes focused on the empty chair. "Ares, I demand your presence!"
"You demand do you?" He appeared in the vacant seat. "Why do I get a demand when everyone else got a respectful invitation?"
"Obviously because I don't respect you." Sorrow glare bored into him, as she fought the urge to wipe the smug smile off his face.
"You're looking much better than the last time I saw you." He continued to smile, knowing the action would increase her anger. "I think leather suits you." He made an exaggerated show of licking his lips at her.
"As the God of War, you often have warrior's pledge their souls to you, right?" She ignored his comment and began her questioning.
"Yes, they think it gains my favor." He smiled at Delany.
"Does this give you possession of their soul?"
"I don’t deal in souls." He laughed at her. "Living warrior's are the only ones who are of any use to me."
"Just to clarify then. Even being a warrior, if Danu had died before she killed Rike you wouldn't have had power over her soul?" Sorrow's eyes dared him to lie. If he would only give her a reason to start this war, she'd make sure he was the first casualty.
"Danu's soul?" He thought for a minute. "I couldn't touch her precious soul if I tried. You know that."
"Ares, you were witness to the events in your underground temple the day Madalene was born, were you not?" She switched gears on him.
"Yes." He felt the power shift immediately. He smiled a little seeing that Dahak's prodigal daughter might actually be a bit more like her Father than he'd ever imagine.
"Did you witness my Father's death?"
"Yes, I saw you kill him." His voice lacked inflection as he attempted to resist her.
"Did you see me take possession of his soul?" Sorrow's hands were balled up into fists at her sides.
"Yes, Sorrow I saw you take his life, his soul and his power." His sing song tone taunted her. Ares was very curious to see how much of her Father's power she really possessed.
"How dare you address me in that manner?" Her voice was commanding. "You will address me by my proper title. I'm sure you know it."
"I might agree to acknowledge that you are now Queen of his realm but I refuse to use the title you desire." He locked his jaw at her and stared.
"Ares " Grabbing him by the throat, her eyes locked into his. "You once pledged yourself to my Father because you feared his wrath. I was powerful enough to kill the one creature you feared. Are you foolish enough to tempt my wrath now?"
"You are " With his compliance she released her grip. "You are Queen Sorrow. The One, True Goddess of " The last of his words was indistinguishable, spoken in Dahak's strange tongue. Everyone stared at him confused. He did his best to translate the realm's name for the pitiful mortals. "One, True Goddess of the Land of Suffering."
"Now was that so hard?" She backed away from him slowly. Taking the moment to try and calm the anger growing inside her. The rage that Dahak had so carefully nurtured within her was fighting for freedom.
'It would be so easy!' The rapid thick voice of that rage rambled in her head. 'First him. He deserves to die more than any of them. You'd kill the rest of course. It won't be hard. You can have them all if you want. You are the one, you are the only, you are the Goddess.'
Shaking her head, she turned to look at her mother. Despite the obvious confusion and fear on Gabrielle's face, she could still see the love. Yes, love for her. Love for the demon. She didn't need the rage. Didn't need to kill anybody. The Olympian Gods were of no concern.
Gabrielle could see the struggle within Sorrow play across her face just as she seen so many times on the face of the Warrior Princess. Her dark side was welling up, struggling for control. Not knowing how else to help her, she grabbed a cup of water and quickly moved to bring it to Sorrow.
"I love you." She whispered the words softly as Sorrow took the water. A simple blink and the Protector's vision cleared again. Gabrielle was amazed that her simple words could quell a rage powerful enough to destroy the world. Taking the empty cup, she returned to her seat.
"Are we done?" Ares cursed himself for asking. He was the God of War, he didn't need her permission to leave. Did he?
"Yes." Sorrow absently waved her hand in his direction, dismissing him. Taking a deep breath, she looked at Danu for the first time in what seemed like an eternity. The archer's face didn't reveal any clue that she knew what Sorrow was doing. "Danu, will you testify, please?" Her voice was weak. It would be so much easier to give into the rage then to subject her love to this.
"Of course." Danu snapped out of her trance and walked toward her. She'd been watching the events before her with a detached fascination. This was not her Sorrow she was watching. No, this was a creature that even the God of War was afraid to anger. Then with Gabrielle's words, her Sorrow had returned and it was her Princess that was speaking now. Before she could talk herself out of it, she stopped and kissed Sorrow softly.
"I love you." She whispered the words as she backed towards the witness chair. She was disturbed when Sorrow didn't return her affection. The archer braced herself for whatever was about to happen.
"Danu, could you tell me what you did on the first anniversary of my death?" With her back to Danu, Sorrow asked the question in a monotone voice. The archer's gentle kiss and powerful words had made this even harder then she imagined.
"Why do you want to know that?" Danu asked scared, as the purpose to Sorrow's parade of Gods became clear with the one question.
"I need to prove who owns your soul." Sorrow's knees almost buckled from the strain of admitting her plan.
"Don't do this." She pleaded. "Isn't it enough that I want to marry you? Doesn't that show them all that I'm yours?"
"What happened that night?" The Princess decided she'd never forgive herself for what she was doing. Never forgive herself for bringing this much pain to the woman she loved.
"On the first anniversary of your death " Danu choked on the words. "I went alone to the field where you slaughtered the army." She shuddered from the memory. The feeling of emptiness and despair washed over her again. "It was raining hard, so I knew there would be no one to interfere with what I wanted to do."
"What did you want to do, Danu?" She prompted her when the silence stretched out for too long.
"The sadness was too much. I couldn't take it anymore. Every night I dreamed of you. Dreamed of you flying off to die. Leaving me alone." The intensity of the archer's voice raised slightly. "Every night I dreamed of you dying. Every single night!" She slammed her hand onto the arm of the chair. "I didn't know you were still alive. I never dared hope that one day you'd return to me." She looked over to Xena and her Queen. She could see the disappointment on their faces.
"What did you want to do?" Sorrow's voice was forceful. She had to get this over with as quickly as possible. The risk of her giving into the rage increased with each heartbeat.
"I wanted to kill myself!" She screamed the words at her. Unable to believe that she needed to admit this in front of everyone. "I wanted to be with you, even if it meant dying." Sorrow’s silence forced her to continue. "What do you want to know? How I knelt down in the wet grass screaming your name? How I hated your Mother and Xena for not saving you? That I hated little Madalene because you loved her more than me?" She wielded her words like knifes. Cutting up her own heart and Sorrow’s to ribbons with each new admission.
"What did you say?" The pain within Sorrow was driving her mad. Not realizing the intensity of her voice as she repeated the question. "On your knees, in the rain, crying what words did you scream at the heavens?"
"I cursed everyone that I hated. Mostly because I hated myself the most. If I'd only been good enough then you'd have never left me." The forced intensity of her words scared the archer. She wished her voice was softer. She'd much rather be whispering her memories that barking them out. "I was blind with grief, I just wanted the pain to stop. I hoped that by cursing Artemis, she would free me from my torment. I didn’t want to be an Amazon anymore, I didn’t want to exist if it meant not being with you."
"By your own words you renounced Artemis and the Amazon way." Sorrow barked the words back at her. Forced to meet the intensity of Danu's emotions in an attempt to reach the admission she needed most. "That wasn't all that you said. You pledged something that night. What was it?"
"I pledged myself to you." She stared at Sorrow, hoping these words would be enough, but knowing better. Slumping down in the chair, her energy was spent. She didn't want to be there anymore. Didn't even care that Sorrow was doing this to save her. Deciding she would say it all, say it quickly in order to end the pain, she began. "I pledged my mind , my body, my heart and my soul to the daughter of Dahak. To you! I knew Dahak had the power to take possession of people’s souls and I hoped you could do the same. I prayed that once I was dead you’d take my soul and that we could be together. I only wanted to be with you, I didn’t care what I had to give up to do it." Tears welled up in her eyes. "I’d brought a knife with me. I figured it would be easy. I couldn’t do it."
"So I now own your soul?" Sorrow looked away as she asked the question. To look at Danu now would destroy the small shred of control remaining inside of her.
"Yes, my soul is yours." Danu's small whisper came through the swells of her tears. She couldn’t believe her Princess was referring to her soul as one might refer to an object. In terms of property and ownership.
"Ares, I know you’re still here. Show yourself!" Sorrow commanded and the God of War appeared beside her.
"Yes?" He drew the word out, knowing that she needed him to give validity to Danu’s claims.
"Do I own her soul?" Still unable to look at the archer, she stared into the ground near her feet.
"It is your property, yes!" He chose his words carefully, hoping to damage her relationship with the archer even further. "You own her as one might own a head of livestock." The loud sob from the archer told him his choice had been impeccable.
"I have one last thing I need you to do." Sorrow voice was distant as she concentrated. Ares struggled to catch the large leather book that appeared before him. "Please read the last page."
"It says " He cleared his throat, glaring at her for a moment in protest. A twitch of her upper lip told him to follow her request without any further delay. "With the death of Dahak a new order came to the Land of Suffering. Claiming all that was promised to her at birth, Sorrow ascended to the rank of Queen. With the addition of her father’s weak soul to the multitude of servants below her, Queen Sorrow fulfilled the prophecy promised by the Oracle " Ares starred at the text. "Okay, this guy's name is untranslatable" He looked up to the Princess and shrugged his shoulders.
"For the sake of argument the true pronunciation of his name is " Sorrow allowed her fangs to descend in order to get the proper vocalization. Watching everyone cover their ears at the sound of the word, she lowered the inflection to remove the high grating notes similar to the scraping of metal on metal. The fangs retreated immediately, she hated the feel of them against her lips.
"Anyway," Ares continued. "Rising from an ocean of blood, the Oracle opposed the reign of Dahak. Proclaiming as he died, that one would come to destroy the Evil God. Having no tongue left with which to voice his vision, the Oracle revealed his prediction by the only means available to him. In his own blood he wrote the one word that would distinguish the one who was to fulfill the prophecy from all impostors. The meaning of the Oracle's word was unknown to all in the Land of Suffering. For an eternity the riddle of the word remained, until in his greed Dahak made an attempt on the realm of Earth. It was only then that the Oracle's word was given meaning and the prophecy realized. Fulfilling the prophecy first within the Earthly plane, Sorrow returned to confront her Father. As predicted by I don't think any of us need to hear his name again the Protector descended upon Dahak and the Evil God was destroyed. Fulfilling the Oracle’s prophecy in the Land of Suffering, the power of the Protector was acknowledged by the proclamation of Sorrow at the One, True Goddess."
"Read the last part!" The lack of colour on the God of War’s face told her that the man was finally beginning to see just how dangerous she could be to him.
"The word of the Goddess is law. The Goddess is the law. Death to all who oppose the Goddess." Ares’ voice remained confident as he translated the passage, he refused to show her the worry that built within him.
"Thank you." Clapping her hands loudly the book disappeared again. "Judge Henrik, are you satisfied?" Completely drained she poised the question hoping desperately that he would be.
"Yes, quite satisfied." He smiled at her sadly. "It is the opinion of this court that the soul of Danu is the undisputed property of the Goddess Sorrow, Queen of the Land of Suffering and by that account cannot be charged under Aldernon law. You are free to go." He bowed his head at the archer and made a hasty retreat out of the room.
"Ares, are you satisfied?" She turned on the God of War now.
"For now, yes." He flashed a bright smile at her before turning to Delany. "You have failed to honour our agreement. For that you will pay dearly."
"I failed? You promised me that I would have revenge!" Delany was wild eyed as she realized that Danu was not only being set free but that Ares intended to do nothing about it. "Who needs you! I have an entire army at my disposal. You're all going to die!"
"Not with my army!" Ares waved his hand and every soldier in the room disappeared. With this display the rest of the spectators fled the building, leaving Delany alone with only Lord Dunlop behind her. "Easy come, easy go." He mocked her.
"Then I’ll kill her myself." The Aldernon Queen drew her sword and headed towards Danu.
"I don’t think so!" Xena moved to intercept Delany. A roundhouse kick landed square in the Queen’s cheast and sent the stunned woman toppling in the benches. Moving up onto the balls of her feet, the warrior drew her sword and waited for Delany to get up.
Delany, to Xena’s surprise, was an accomplished swordswoman. The warrior princess found herself having to work to deflect the swift blade strikes directed at her. Narrowing her eyes she remained on the defensive, studying her opponents motions for a weakness. One soon presented itself. Blocking one last strike, she advanced quickly and locked up Delany’s sword arm with her own. A brutal wretch upwards caused the Queen to release her grip on the sword. A quick blow to the face sent the Queen crumpling downwards. Stepping back, Xena waited to see if the woman would be foolish enough to attack again.
"Is that all you’ve got?" Delany wiped the blood draining from her nose and scrambled to her feet. Abandoning her sword she hurtled herself at Xena, who sidestepped the attack. Delany found herself smashing headlong into her throne. Unwilling to give up she rose again, pulling her brother’s dagger from the sheath on her arm. "Why don’t you just kill me? I doubt the demon will be able to claim your soul as her property to set you free."
"She’s right Xena." Ares openly laughed at them. "You kill her and this starts all over again"
"I don’t think we’ll have to worry about that." During the fighting, Danu had moved to the back of the room and retrieved her bow form Solari. An arrow now aimed at Delany’s heart. "I suggest you don’t give me a reason!"
Screaming, Delany lunged at Xena. Danu’s arrow found its mark before the woman completed her second step.
"Send my regards to your brother." The archer whispered lowering her bow.
"This isn’t over." The God of War glared at them as he disappeared.
"Yes it is." Lord Dunlop voice responded. "She was the last of the Royal Aldernon bloodline. There is no one left to continue this legacy of revenge." He smiled at Gabrielle. "I would be honoured to escort you to the border, I’m sure you're anxious to return home."
Continued in Part Four
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