Author: Chris Cook
Willow woke to Tara lightly stroking her cheek. She smiled, tilted her head towards her hand, and stretched, feeling Tara's legs against the backs of hers.
"'Ello," she mumbled.
"Willow," Tara murmured in reply. Willow shifted slightly and lay on her back, grinning up at Tara, who propped up her head with her hand and watched her.
"First time in a while I've woken up without you feeling me up," Willow joked. Tara bit her bottom lip and gave her a suggestive wiggle of her eyebrows.
"Well, I was when I woke up," she admitted, "but I thought I'd let you sleep in. I got breakfast," she added, reaching behind herself. Her hand returned with a bread roll, already filled with cheese and tomatoes, with little raising peeking out of the crust. She offered the tip to Willow, who obediently bit into it.
"Mmm, s'good," she chewed, "'ow 'ong ev... 'ait a 'o-ent," she swallowed. "How long have you been up?" she tried again.
"Not long," Tara said, tickling Willow's nose with the bread roll before offering her another bite, "but breakfast happened early. Most of the emissaries are busy packing their gear, and Tryptin's downstairs with the caravan master getting everything ready to move."
"'O 'e," she paused and finished the mouthful, "do we have to hurry?"
"Not for a little while," Tara smiled, "Melcan offered to get everything onto our wagon, so there's only our clothes and your books still up here."
"Aw," Willow groaned, "that was a really nice waking-up. Seems like a pity not to take advantage of it."
"Yeah," Tara blushed. "D-do you think you prefer cheek-stroking, or breast-holding to wake up with?"
"Tricky," Willow frowned in thought, "there's point in favour of both... you know, I think I'll just vote for you touching me in general, and leave the details up to you."
"Thank you Willow," Tara said quietly, with a dazzling smile.
"Thank you," Willow insisted, "you... You know, I was dreaming, and I could hear her voice. Shadai, I mean, laughing like I heard in the court." Tara immediately lay closer to Willow, one arm resting over her chest, her hand on Willow's shoulder, and her leg lying over Willow's thighs. "But it was okay," Willow went on, "because I could hear you too, your song. You know, the one you sang to me last night... I heard it, and it kept me safe. You kept me safe. Just like you promised."
"I'll always protect you, Willow," Tara said.
"I know," Willow smiled, "I love you so much."
"I'll never get tired of hearing that," Tara promised.
"I'll never get tired of saying it," Willow replied with a pleased grin.
"I love you, my wonderful sorceress," Tara murmured.
"My lovely Amazon. Oh, I wish we didn't have to get up," Willow moaned.
"Me too," Tara said, "how are you feeling? About yesterday, I mean?"
"It's like my dream," Willow said slowly, "I... it happened, and it was bad. But you're here, so I feel safe. It's just a memory now. I-I'm glad I cried, last night... you know, I never did until then, not like that. It felt like I was letting go of this huge weight I'd been carrying all this time." Tara smiled at her, sadness and hope mingling in her expression.
"I'm glad I could help," she said.
"Oh, Tara, you did so much more than help," Willow insisted, holding Tara's hand against her skin, "you- I don't know what I would've done without you. You make me feel safe, and loved, and, and every moment I have with you is so beautiful... everything I thought I lost, you're giving back to me. A-and not even an evil mage can take that away."
"You look so happy," Tara said quietly, "it makes me feel very special."
"You are," Willow whispered, "you're an angel." The way Tara blushed was more than Willow's self-restraint could bear, and she snuck her other arm beneath Tara's waist, pulling her closer.
"C'mere, my angel," she purred. She gently but firmly guided Tara until she was atop Willow, straddling her hips. Willow smiled and arched her back a little, fully enjoying the way Tara's breasts covered hers, seeming to envelop her chest in softness as she put her other hand behind Tara's back and hugged her close. Tara kissed her, running her tongue over Willow's lips and then inside, both of them moaning at the pleasure. Tara slowly leaned back, craning her neck to hold onto the kiss until the last possible second, then rising to kneel over Willow, smiling down at her.
"Like what you see?" she said in a sultry murmur. Willow could only nod dumbly as she watched Tara's hands stroke up the length of her body from her thighs and finally come to her breasts, which she cupped and held up, each nipple caught between thumb and forefinger.
"All yours, baby," Tara whispered, lightly pinching her nipples, which were already as hard as they could possibly be. She let go of herself and reached for Willow's hands, guiding them up as she leant back down. She supported herself with an arm on either side of Willow and licked her lips as Willow took the weight of her breasts in her palms, gently kneading and squeezing them.
"Not too much," she said in a breathless whisper, "we don't have long... just enough... so I can feel your hands on me... all day..." Willow nodded, awash with pleasure at the feel of Tara's breasts in her hands. Their size, so much more abundant, more womanly than her own, their weight in her hands, their incredible softness. She tore her eyes away to see Tara's face, and was entranced by her expression, her lips open and glistening, her eyes half-closed, a flush of excitement in her cheeks. She convinced herself to release Tara's breasts, putting her arms around her and gently pulling her closer.
"Something to remember all day," she promised. She craned her head up and forward just enough to catch Tara's right nipple with the tip of her tongue. She ran her tongue slowly along the short length, excited beyond measure at the sudden, delighted moan that came from deep in Tara's throat, then turned to her other breast and tasted that nipple as well. She let her head fall back to the pillow and looked up at Tara, who had closed her eyes and let her jaw hang open. She seemed to take a moment to gather her wits, then lay herself down on top of Willow.
"I just want to warn you," she breathed into Willow's ear, "if I kiss you now, it's going to be the kind of kiss that'll make both of us explode with frustration when we have to get up in a minute." She lifted her eyes to Willow's, waiting for a response.
"Well I think you'd better kiss me then," Willow said, "I don't know about you, but I'd rather explode than miss this."
"Me too," Tara said quickly, then she captured Willow's lips in a searing, furious, deeply sensual and utterly passionate kiss. It was the kind of kiss Willow was growing to love, when her shy Amazon locked her lips to Willow's and demanded absolute surrender, which Willow immediately gave. Tara's lips felt blazing hot against hers, and her tongue darted into and around her mouth with such agility that Willow wondered, with whatever remained of her mind that hadn't made itself a conduit directly between her mouth and her sex, whether there was some sort of special Amazon tongue trick that Tara had learned. She offered her own, moaning continuously as Tara lavished attention on it, drawing it into the heated confines of her mouth and caressing its whole length. She could feel her hips moving by themselves, and could muster only just enough self-control to keep from reaching down and sending herself beyond the point of no return. 'Or better yet,' she mused giddily, 'have Tara do it... those long, nimble fingers of hers...' Willow's fleeting fantasy came perilously close to doing the job for her, and the wonder that Tara could do this to her, with just a kiss, was the last thought she had for some time.
Finally, tortuously, Tara released Willow's lips and lay her head down on her shoulder. Willow breathed in great gulps of air, letting out a little exclamation of pleasure with each breath she released.
"Oh Willow," Tara whispered, chuckling as she spoke, "goddess... you're going to drive me mad... if I don't do it first..."
"Me?" protested Willow feebly, giggling. "That was all you... what did I do? I just lay here like a good little sorceress while a frenzied Amazon ravaged me."
"Oh, you did plenty," Tara assured her. "Your lips, your tongue... goddess, kissing you is like... like... it must be what a soul feels when it's born, when life begins."
"There's a bright light, and someone whacks you on the back?" Willow asked innocently. Tara burst out laughing.
"Ah," she sighed, when her laughter finally subsided, "my beautiful lady... I love you."
"I know," said Willow, "I love you too, my warrior."
"We should get up."
"If we wait any longer,' Tara said, "they'll have to drag us down to the courtyard and toss us in the wagon still wrapped in our blankets."
"Do you think they would?" Willow asked. "It's cozy in here, it'd be nice to stay. Is there more of that bread roll?"
"Get up, you," Tara scolded fondly.
Willow and Tara arrived in the castle courtyard to find the caravan in a state of considerable activity. Eight more wagons had been added to the six that had set out from Kingsport, five of them bearing the emblem of Duncraig, a heraldic shield with a stallion rearing up on one side and an eagle on the other, on great canvas sheets sewn to the wagon covers with sturdy leather strips. Servants were hurrying about, loaded down with baggage and provisions, and a contingent of guards, Kingsport and Duncraig, were massing by the stables, readying their horses. Melcan was standing by Willow and Tara's wagon as they neared.
"Greetings ladies," he said, "Master Tryptin's greetings, he's busy with the caravan master, and would you both see the Baron in his office once your gear is stowed? I'll keep watch on the wagon."
"Thanks," Willow said, as Tara nodded and climbed up into the back of the wagon, taking their bags and Willow's book satchels as they were handed to her and putting them wherever they seemed to fit in the interior. It was a bit more cramped than she remembered, with one side half-full of tightly-strapped sacks containing provisions for the journey, but she estimated there would still be enough room with everything aboard for her and Willow to sleep side by side comfortably, given the close embrace they had defaulted towards the last few nights. 'Plenty of room,' she thought 'with her on her side, me behind her... and the driver will be sleeping in one of the other wagons at night.' She smiled at that line of thought and jumped back down to the ground, taking Willow's hand as they walked back towards the keep.
"What're you thinking?" Willow asked with a sly grin.
"What makes you think I'm thinking anything?" Tara replied in her best innocent voice.
"The way you're holding my hand," Willow said, "fingers intertwined, thumb brushing the side of my wrist... makes me think you're thinking something I'd like." Tara looked down at their joined hands.
"I hadn't even realised I was doing that," she said with a laugh. "But, as it happens, yes... it's more cramped in the wagon than before, I doubt there'll be room to sleep with any space between us."
"That's a pity," Willow said with a look that said she didn't regret it one bit, "I guess we'll have to snuggle up tight at night. To conserve space."
"I guess we will," Tara agreed.
The guard outside the Baron's office nodded at Willow and Tara as if he'd been expecting the, and opened the door for them. The Baron was, as usual, at his desk reading. He looked up, and closed the book, standing and coming around the desk to greet them.
"Lady Tara," he said with a smile, "Miss Willow... I regret you are not staying with us longer."
"Us too, Baron," Willow said earnestly.
"Y-your hospitality has been most welcome, sir," Tara added. 'Particularly the decent-sized beds,' she thought, 'I'm going to miss that.' The Baron nodded and frowned to himself.
"Gracious of you to say so," he said, "and I thank you, but I know your stay here has been far from enviable. As your host, I feel I am in both your debts, for your help during this trouble, and your most forgiving conduct. You have been my guests, and it was my responsibility to see that you were safe here."
"Baron," Tara said hesitantly, "w-we have a saying, among warriors: 'even a great leader is just a woman.' Um, man, in this case. Your conduct as our host has been generous and honourable. Amazons don't ask for more than that."
"I am responsible for my people," the Baron said grimly.
"A-and you have taken responsibility for them," Tara countered. "You've shown yourself to be a formidable leader. It wasn't weakness on your part that allowed Hydris to do what he did, so the blame isn't yours."
"That goes for me too," Willow added. "Despite everything that's happened, I'm glad to have been your guest. Sir," she finished. Tara grinned, and even the Baron managed a smile.
"You're very kind," he said. "You should know that Lord von Karlin remains under guard here. I intend to look into his family in detail, and pass his title on to whoever among them may prove fit for it. As for the man himself... that remains to be decided. I understand his mental state is not good. He is angry, bitter... he voices it at some length, but he often makes no sense. I think perhaps his pride had undone him, and that he cannot accept how very wrong he was. When he has recovered, there will be another trial, to determine whether he knowingly lied to the court, or whether he truly believed what he said. He will never hold a title again, that much is certain." The Baron turned and gazed out of the windows, staring at the countryside bathed in the morning sun. Willow glanced at Tara, but after a warm smile she returned her attention to the Baron, sensing that he had more to say.
"He was mad, I think," the Baron mused, "but much of what he said... his vitriol against your intimacy... oh, forgive me if I assume too much, but you are... you have shared a room these past nights? You share feelings...?"
"We're in love," Tara said, surprising herself - not by speaking the truth, but by saying it so plainly in front of the Baron. Willow beamed at her and squeezed her hand, and made no move to let go. The Baron half-turned, a sad smile on his face.
"You are brave to say so," he said. "I did not always realise what a foolish notion it was, that love, of all things, could be thought a sin. Von Karlin was not alone in that, you understand. Women sharing feelings as you do is not something that has ever been condoned in these lands, and there have been times when people were actively persecuted. I have tried to set an example for my court, and through them my people, but such sentiments do not vanish overnight. I cannot imagine what it must be like... to be hated for the greatest blessing a being can receive."
"Your people have been very accepting," Willow spoke up.
"I am glad," the Baron said, "perhaps I have done some good after all. There is something I wish you two to see. If you would?" He crossed the study to a door behind Franzef's vacant desk, and opened it for Willow and Tara. Beyond they found themselves in a smaller study, obviously a private room as opposed to the outer study which might be visited by anyone meeting with the Baron on business. Tara glanced at the shelves nearest her, noting that many of the books stored there were histories, books of art, books of philosophy - the Baron's private library, kept for his own enjoyment, not as an aid to ruling his realm. The Baron left the door open behind them and crossed the small room, coming to a portrait covered in a velvet cloth, positioned so that it would be visible from the padded reading chair up against the opposite wall by the fireplace.
"My daughter, Elisabeth," the Baron said, unveiling the painting. It was of a girl, almost old enough to be a woman, with golden blond hair and an impish smile. She held a short bow in one hand on her lap, and something about the way she was sitting indicated restlessness, as if she could think of many things more interesting to do that sit for a portrait.
"Von Karlin mentioned her to me yesterday, in defence of his preposterous allegations. I believe it is right that you know why he did that. She had just turned sixteen when this was painted," the Baron went on, "and not long after this, she left. I do not know where she is now, though she sends letters occasionally. She left three years and eight months ago. You'll forgive me if I sit? I am not as young as I once was, and these last few days have not found me sleeping well." He nodded his thanks to Willow and Tara as he sat down in the reading chair, gazing up at the painting.
"I drove her away," he said after a moment's silence. "Not intentionally, of course - she was wilful, and a holy terror when she was a little thing." He smiled a fond smile. "I was very proud of her. I had determined that she would be my heir, you see. If I had had a son, even if he were a younger child, he would have been heir, but when she was born, and my wife held her in her arms, I decided I would devote myself to loving this one child. My wife was ill for some time after the birth, and though she recovered, the doctors said that another child might be dangerous for her, so she agreed that our Elisabeth would be our sole heir. And heir to the realm.
"I was so proud of myself - arrogant, I see now - when I explained to her, in this very room, with that portrait still newly-painted, how she would not have to endure a marriage of policy, as many noble daughters do. The laws of this realm, archaic laws, gave me the power to choose a husband for her, but I would not allow it. I told her, you are becoming a woman now, and the choice shall be yours. I explained to her how the sons of noblemen from the realm and beyond would send her letters, and visit with hopes of courting her, and that she should choose from them, or not at all, as her heart decided. Or if she found happiness with another, even a young man without a drop of noble blood in his veins, I said to her, let it be so, and I would see that he would be her husband, and be damned to all who protested.
"I felt so pleased with myself, that I was being a good father to her. And, you know, she looked at me with such affection... she looked at me as if I had given her the greatest gift she had imagined. And then she told me she was in love, with the daughter of the castle's falconer, a girl named Fionne. They had been inseparable, you know, for five years - the girl had her father's gift for hawks. Elisabeth used to go with her out onto the battlements and watch her fly a peregrine - ladies are supposed to fly merlins, they say, but the peregrine was her favourite. My Elisabeth told me she was in love with Fionne." Willow and Tara remained silent, watching as the Baron stared back through the years.
"I had no idea," he said, "I knew they spent so much time together, but I thought it friendship. The idea that my daughter could fall in love with a woman... I explained to her, quite calmly, that it was impossible for her to be with Fionne, or any woman. I told her that true love would lead to marriage and family, and that with a woman she could have neither. I told her that I was not angry with her, or disappointed, but that she would have to recognise that the feelings she had were foolish, and that one day she would know love, and take a husband, and they would be happy. And then I told her that it would be best if she did not see Fionne any more." A lonely tear trickled down his cheek. "Gods help me, she obeyed. And when I made arrangements for Fionne's father to go to the court at Perschell, far west of here, she said not a word in protest. I was... relieved. I congratulated myself on my handling of the situation, and looked forward to seeing my daughter move on with her life and be happy. And I never once realised what I had done to her. I had told her to give up her love, and though it tore out her heart she had done it. Because I was her father, and she loved me, no matter that I was a narrow-minded old fool.
"Not long after, rumours began to circulate about her - perhaps one of the servants talked about her relationship with Fionne, I don't know. And one day, at a dinner, a man not unlike von Karlin, a nobleman of some prestige, joked about it. He insulted my dear, beautiful daughter, with her sitting their right next to me, and laughed as though he had done nothing. And there were some at the table who looked to me, to see if I would speak against him, but I did nothing. I worried that I might be seen to be endorsing my daughter's mistake, as I thought of it, and I was silent. She was so brave... how she sat beside me, kind and respectful, when I had betrayed her so, I will never know. That night she told me she loved me, as she always did, when I tucked her in to sleep. The next morning she was gone - some of her books, her travelling gear, her bow and her horse.
"Of course I searched for her, but she was a strong rider, and knew all that I did about covering her tracks. I thought she had made for Perschell at first, but there was no sign of her on those roads. My wife knew what had happened, and why, but like my daughter, she loves me so she forgave me, even when I did not deserve it. Eventually a letter came from my Elisabeth, from somewhere in Khanduras, though I don't know where. She writes now and then, because she knows her mother would worry about her otherwise, and for my sake, because she takes pity on a foolish old man. She has joined an order there, women who devote themselves to protecting the weak and defenceless. She tells me she is happy." The Baron stared at his daughter's portrait for a moment, then seemed to come back to the present, glancing at Willow and Tara.
"I wanted you to know this," he said, "because I'm sure these last few days will not be the last time you encounter people who would condemn you for the bond you share. I know you are both women of great courage and determination, and I have seen with my own eyes that you will not be cowed by the small-minded thoughts of frightened old fools. But even so, it will weigh heavily on you. I hope your burden may be made lighter, if you remember that many of those who ignore the truth of your love are just timid old men, as I was. I wish you both happiness and good fortune on your journey, and in your life." He rose from his chair and bowed to Tara, then to Willow.
"Baron," Tara said as he was showing them out of the study, "I-I know it's not my place to speak for her... but maybe, if your daughter writes to you, and wants you to know she's well, and happy... perhaps she's forgiven you? Y-you should forgive yourself, too." She gave the Baron a sincere look, and Willow added a hopeful smile.
"I will... consider what you have said," he replied. "Perhaps, one day, I shall be able to."
"That's so sad," Willow said, once she and Tara had returned to the courtyard. Tara was rummaging through the baggage stored in one of the cargo wagons.
"They teach us a little about what it's like in the Western Kingdoms," she said, "just in case we ever have to travel. At lot of things we take for granted in the islands are strange here, and sometimes even good people can be very frightened of what they're not familiar with."
"I wonder if it's harder for the noblemen," Willow wondered, "all the people down in the village just didn't seem to care that we were together. I suppose they've got enough to worry about, with harvests and things. I guess seeing a couple of women kissing isn't so bad compared to losing a crop that has to feed you for the winter."
"You're probably right," Tara said, "that's how it was with us - Amazons, I mean. We've always had to defend ourselves, and work hard to get enough food, and shelter all our people. It's only recently that we can really say the islands are safe, and we've got enough crops to make sure everyone has enough to eat. So we accept whatever love comes into our lives, or the lives of those around us."
"It's a good way to go about it," Willow observed, "I hope it spreads. What're you looking for?"
"We brought along a bunch of spares," Tara said to herself, heaving a sack out of the way to get at a bundle wrapped in leather, "here we go..." She unwrapped the bundle and drew out an unstrung bow, similar to her own though with less ornamentation. She handed it to Willow as she replaced the baggage in the wagon.
"Where's Stefan?" she asked. Willow glanced around, finally spotting the archery master over near the outer wall, talking with some of the guards who would be accompanying the caravan. She pointed him out to Tara, who has strung the bow with a string from her belt. She took Willow's hand and they walked through the caravan, dodging servants and horses, until they reached the wall.
"Good morning ladies," Stefan said, seeing them.
"Good morning," Willow said.
"Hello Stefan," Tara said. She hesitated for a moment, then held out the bow. "I-I want you to have this. You and your family have made us both feel very welcome here. I wanted to give you something to show our gratitude." Stefan took the bow, staring intently at it, as a craftsman inspecting a fine piece of work.
"I'm truly honoured," he said, "this is remarkable workmanship... you're sure you can spare it?"
"Of course," Tara said. Behind them, somewhere among the wagons, a horn sounded.
"Um, we have to go," Tara added hastily, "I'm glad we got to meet you."
"Me too," Willow said, "I enjoyed meeting your wife the other day."
"Well, you've made me very happy," Stefan said, "safe journey to you. And if you should ever come back this way, our home is your home." Willow and Tara thanked him again before returning to the caravan, climbing inside their wagon as the drivers and riders began to move out, forming a line of wagons and baggage carts as they passed through the castle gate.
"You know, I'm going to miss this place," Willow said wistfully, staring back out of the open flap at the back of the wagon, at the castle as they slowly moved away from it. "Even with all the stuff that happened... this is where I really let myself love you. Not that I'm going to stop," she added hastily, "no siree... just, you know, good memories. Our first kiss... even better, our second kiss, oh my gods... where did you learn to kiss like that, anyway?"
"You inspire me," Tara said with a broad grin. She leaned over and pulled the flap down, leaving the two of them separated from the world outside, with only the rocking of the wagon, the glow of sunlight on the canvas roof, and each other for company.
"I know what you mean," Tara murmured, moving over on her knees to sit beside Willow, resting her chin on her shoulder with both arms around her waist. "Lots of good memories. But it's a long way to Duncraig," she shrugged, "plenty of time to make lots more."