Author: Chris Cook
The innkeeper led them to the private bedroom reserved for women visitors, apologising for the overcrowding as he went. He seemed a little in awe of Tara, while Willow got away with just a curious glance - she had worn a simple robe over a skirt and tunic, while Tara wore light leather armour as usual, and her spear was a lot more distinctive than Willow's plain staff. Their room was small but quite pleasant, for an inn in a border town, having a north-facing window with a scenic view over the rooves of the adjacent buildings out onto the highlands, and contained a modest wardrobe, a dresser with a small mirror, two beds, a small fireplace, an apprehensive-looking woman and a child of four or five, who stared at Tara in wonder. Willow squeezed Tara hand and nodded to the wardrobe. Tara stored her spear up on top of it, safely out of the child's reach, while Willow lay her staff down on the unoccupied bed and smiled at their roommates.
"Hello," she said, "I'm Willow. This is Tara."
"H-h-hello," the woman said nervously, "I-I'm Deanne, th-this is Kristal, m-my daughter." Willow crouched down to look the young girl in the eye, holding out her hand and shaking gently when Kristal tentatively took it.
"Hello Kristal," she said with a smile, noticing Deanne, despite her anxiety, smiling too at her daughter's adorably courteous acceptance of Willow's hand.
"I-is sh-she..." Deanne started, "i-is she an A-amazon?"
"Yep," Willow said casually, staying crouched - she was no taller than Deanne, but the woman was hunched in on herself, and Willow didn't want to seem intimidating, even in the slightest way.
"M-my lady," Deanne said, curtseying as Tara came over to meet her.
"Oh, no," she said, slightly flustered, "you don't have to... just 'Tara'. Hello. Um, we brought some food, for dinner, you're welcome to join us? I-if you don't have other plans, I mean." Deanne looked somewhat taken aback at Tara's gentle manner. Willow wondered what she had first thought when the innkeeper had told her she would be sharing her room with an Amazon, but she was glad to see the tension evaporating from the woman. Kristal studied Tara intently, as if cataloguing every detail of her.
"Th-that's very kind of you," Deanne said, "I-I was going to go down to the dining hall, b-but if it's no trouble... I'd appreciate it."
"No trouble," Willow said brightly, "pull up a seat. Or bed, as it were." Deanne even smiled at her joke as they sat on their beds, Tara moving the small nightstand between them to serve as a table, and starting to unwrap and lay out the food they had taken from the caravan supplies.
"D-did you come from Kingsport?" Deanne asked Tara, while Willow took a jug of water and poured it into the pot over the fire.
"Yes," she replied, "we're headed for Duncraig."
"Oh," Deanne said, biting her lip for a moment before venturing another question. "Wh-what was it like? In Kingsport?"
"It's a bit city," Tara said hesitantly, "and we were only there for a day. Um, it seemed very... busy. Lots of activity - from the docks, and in the markets."
"We - that is, m-my daughter and I, and my- bodyguard," Tara noticed Deanne give a slight hesitation there, "are heading to Kingsport. We haven't decided yet whether to try to settle there, or take a ship somewhere else. I thought, perhaps, we might find work in the city... Teban is very skilled with his hands, he used to be a craftsman, a-and I can write..."
"Th-that sounds likely," Tara hazarded when Deanne paused, looking slightly worried, "from what I heard the sea trade is bringing a lot of wealth to the city. I-I'd imagine there's a lot of demand for craftsmen, and scribes. It's a bit... well, I suppose all ports are a bit unruly," she went on, "but if you've got a bodyguard I'm sure you won't have any trouble at all... and the Baron's a very good ruler, he's very fair."
"P-perhaps we'll be able to stay there," Deanne said with a hopeful smile, "it would be nice not to be always travelling... you'd like that, dearest?" she added to Kristal, smiling warmly. "A proper home?"
"Will we see the sea?" the girl asked.
"Yes dearest," Deanne said, "we will." She turned her attention back to Tara, and Willow as she returned with hot water for their soup. "We've been on the road a long time," she explained.
"Did you come from Duncraig?" Willow asked.
"We passed through there a month ago," Deanne said, "but we couldn't afford to stay long in the city itself, and Teban suggested we try Kingsport, rather than one of the villages around the city. We're used to a city, you see, we came from Gotunberg."
"Really?" Willow said, "I studied just outside there for a while, at the hospice."
"Y-you're a healer?" Deanne asked.
"No," said Willow, "I'm a sorceress, but my order sends us there for the library, and some of us are healers, so they train with the doctors there..."
"A-a sorceress?" Deanne said, wide-eyed. "Y-you can do m-magic?"
"Yeah," Willow said shyly, "well, only cold magic, but yeah."
"I-I d-didn't realise," Deanne stuttered.
"Oh it's no big deal," Willow said. "You came all the way from Gotunberg?" she asked, not really comfortable being the centre of attention. "That's a long journey."
"I-it's taken quite a while," Deanne replied, "we took a ship across the gulf, to Leorgrad, and then up the Sulga river into the mountains, a-and across to the start of the Kingsway, and down to Duncraig... it's been a long journey," she finished with a shy grin, "it'll be good to settle down again."
"I got to swim," Kristal interjected, "in a big pool that was all hot and tingly." Deanne smiled fondly.
"At Soltram," she explained, "up in the mountains near the source of the Kingsway, they have these pools of water that just... well up out of the rocks, and they're warm, from the heat deep inside the ground. All the children play in them, so we had to teach Kristal to swim, so she could join in."
"Will there be swimming in the city?" Kristal asked.
"Not in the sea, dearest," her mother said, "it's dangerous. Maybe there'll be pools near the river mouth, though," she added, to dispel Kristal's discontented pout, which was replaced with a gleeful smile.
"Thank you," the girl said politely as she took a bowl of soup from Willow.
"Thank you," Deanne said. "A-are you both going to Duncraig?"
"Initially," Willow replied as Tara started on her soup, "I'm travelling to study with mages all over Westmarch, and Duncraig is my first real port of call for that. Eventually I'll be going further into Westmarch, and further east as well, into Khanduras."
"A-and you're travelling together?" Deanne asked.
"It was just coincidence," Willow explained, "I'd been in Kingsport a day and I was sitting in the wagon reading, and in climbs this fine figure of a warrior," she nodded to Tara, "who fortunately is the loveliest soul you could ever hope to meet," she added in a fake conspiratorial whisper to Deanne. Tara seemed to glow with affection.
"Still, as surprise entrances go," Willow went on with a grin. "I mean, the armour, she was carrying that spear, and had a bow on her back, looking all Amazon... and there's me sitting there with a book in my lap not knowing what had hit me."
"I-I understand," Deanne said, "Teban is l-like that. To look at he's, well, he's quite formidable, but he's the sweetest man..." For a moment she was smiling to herself, then she covered it and composed herself. "He's very kind," she explained, "a-and he takes good care of us." She dropped her gaze back to her meal and ate silently for a moment.
"S-so, are you travelling on your own?" she asked after a short while.
"Oh, no," Willow said, "Tara's part of an Amazon mission, they're going to Duncraig to, you know, negotiate, and do what diplomats do, and all that."
"The mission is travelling as far as Duncraig," Tara elaborated, "then heading back home. I-I'm staying with Willow." Willow turned to stare at Tara, her lips parted in joy, though no words emerged. She took hold of Tara's hand and held it tightly, absolutely not caring if Deanne guessed everything there was to know about the two of them. The older woman just smiled faintly to herself and turned her attention to her daughter, giving Willow and Tara a moment of courteous privacy.
When all four of them resumed their meal Deanne was more at ease, and talked more readily with Willow about places they had both known in Entsteig. They ended up discussing the Gotunberg markets, Willow reminiscing about browsing through them, Deanne promising that, from what she had seen in passing, Duncraig had markets to rival even the capital of the northern realms. Tara meanwhile set her attention on Kristal. First the girl stared intently at her, and Tara returned her stare with comical wide eyes, which made her laugh. She stuck her tongue out, as did Tara, then Kristal winked, and again Tara copied her. Deanne and Willow both looked at them, mystified, as they broke out in giggles.
"She's such a joy," Deanne confessed quietly to Tara after dinner, as they both watched Willow and Kristal sitting on the opposite bed. Willow had shaded the room's main lamp just enough for the candle on the nightstand to cast a decent shadow, and was entertaining the girl by making shadow puppets. Kristal joined in, mastering the rabbit fairly quickly and moving on to the puppy, the kitten and, with limited success, the pony, while Willow delighted her by pretending to mistake them for ludicrous shapes - Kristal rolled on her back on the bed laughing after her attempt at a bird had Willow saying with authority: "Well that's obviously the Archangel Hadriel. Um, carrying a banana," to account for the bowed shape of the bird's feet.
"I-I'm sorry I was, um, cautious before," Deanne said to Tara, "I've never met an Amazon before. Or a sorceress," she added.
"It's okay," Tara said, "I mean, if I was suddenly sharing a room with a warrior I'd be nervous too. And I am a warrior. Well, not that I've ever really fought anything, but, you know..." Deanne looked at her curiously.
"You haven't?" she asked.
"I only just finished my training," Tara explained, "this is my first assignment. Normally a girl my age would join a warrior pride, but my instructor thought I'd be better off here. Um, she wasn't sure how well I'd handle being a soldier."
"Back home," Deanne said, then paused, "well, in Gotunberg - it used to be home - a boy training as a soldier would be in a patrol squad by the age of sixteen. And a girl would be betrothed, and married the day she turned eighteen as often as not. I was married on my eighteenth birthday. My son, Iain, has never been further than fifty miles from his home, and now he's married and has a baby son of his own... You know, it hasn't been easy travelling this far, and I miss my son very much, but I think if I had never seen all that I've seen..." she shrugged. "Well, I'm probably not telling you anything you don't know," she added with a smile.
"Oh, no, I understand," Tara said, "until now I'd never been away from home. It's only recently that my people could spare warriors to travel with expeditions like this, I-I'm actually very lucky. If I'd joined a pride I might never have left the islands, and seen all these places, Kingsport, and the castle... and, um, met Willow, of course. She's a... a wonderful friend" she finished shyly. Deanne gave her an understanding look.
"It's alright," she said quietly, "you two are...?" Tara hesitated, the nodded, and Deanne met her stare with a sympathetic gaze. "I know what it's like to have to hide it," she said, "at home... after my husband died, just after Kristal was born, I wouldn't have been allowed to remarry. My family are very... conservative. Teban was my husband's man-at-arms, he's very kind and gentle, and he loves Kristal dearly, but my family wouldn't have approved... I didn't want Kristal to have to live by rules like that, so we left. We went north at first, to the edge of the steppes where he came from, and then when we had saved enough we set out for Westmarch. They say that people are more accepting of each other's ways here. We're travelling as companions, but," a smile touched the corners of her lips, "when we get to Kingsport, we're hoping to be married. If we're allowed to there."
"You will," Tara assured her, "the Baron is very fair. He, um, he knew... about me and Willow, we stayed at the castle for several days, and he was... he let it be known, publicly, that he had no objection."
"Well," Deanne said with a little laugh, "perhaps Kingsport will be a good place to settle." She looked at Kristal, who was copying Willow's shadow puppet hand motions for 'Yeti scratching his bottom'. "She thinks of Teban as her father, you know, and he's quite devoted to her."
"Not only her?" Tara guessed. Deanne blushed, and shared Tara's smile.
"He's... very sweet," she said bashfully, "very... gentle." For a moment she looked like she was about to say more, but then she shot Tara a conspiratorial grin and fell silent. There was a knock on the door, and Deanne stood up.
"It's alright," she said, "it'll be Teban." Willow sat beside Tara, putting an arm around her waist, as Kristal took her mother's hand and went to the door. Deanne opened it to reveal a giant of a man, over six feet tall, whose leather pants and tunic could do little to conceal the huge muscles in his limbs and chest. He had a faint blue tattoo curling around one side of his face, and he glanced at Deanne and Kristal, his solemn face turning briefly to a smile, before staring at Willow and Tara, who were both wide-eyed at the sight of him.
"They're alright," Deanne said, turning to them. "Willow, Tara, this is Teban... my companion." Both got to their feet as the big man came into the room and stood carefully beside Deanne, inspecting them. He cautiously held out a hand, which Tara took, then Willow, and then he nodded to them and turned back to Deanne.
"I've left hot water for a bath," he said in a thickly-accented voice, "enough for two. And I'll be right down the hall." Deanne smiled, and he crouched down to smile at Kristal, who promptly threw her arms around his massive neck and hugged him.
"Sleep well, bear cub," he said with a grin, "I'll see you in the morning." Kristal kissed his cheek and let go of him, so he could stand back up to face Deanne.
"Sleep well," he said in a surprisingly gentle voice. Deanne stood up on tip-toes, giving her just enough height to kiss him quickly on the lips. Tara smiled as she saw Kristal roll her eyes theatrically.
"You too," Deanne said. Teban smiled at her, gave Willow and Tara a last stare, which was formidable but not unkind, and stepped back through the door, closing it behind him. Deanne smiled fondly at the closed door for a moment, then leant down to pick up Kristal.
"Don't worry," she said to Willow and Tara, "he's not really very talkative around people he doesn't know well. It's Kristal's bath time, I'll make sure there's enough hot water left for you both as well."
"Thanks," Tara said. Willow gave Deanne a smile, and Kristal a wink, as they vanished out the door, then she turned to Tara, wide-eyed and smiling.
"Did you see that guy?" she asked rhetorically. "He's not a bodyguard, he's a one-man army! And he and Deanne...?"
"Yes," Tara replied with a grin. "She said he's very gentle."
"Wow," Willow said. "Well, I guess I'm not the only one who's got a thing for big strong warriors."
"He certainly looked like a warrior," Tara said.
"Oh, he was," Willow assured her, "I recognised that marking on his face, I saw a few people with those in Gotunberg."
"She said his people came from the steppes, north of Entsteig," Tara told her.
"Un-huh," Willow agreed, "the northlands around Mount Arreat. He's a tribesman of Bul-Kathos - most people call them 'barbarians', and think they're just nomads, but Ember once told me they've got a huge city at the foot of the mountain." She looked thoughtfully at the door for a moment, then turned to Tara.
"You're really going to stay?" she asked suddenly. "When Tryptin and the other go home, I mean?"
"Of course," Tara said, enveloping Willow in a hug, "of course... I-I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner, I guess I hadn't really thought that far ahead, not properly, but of course I'll stay."
"Oh Tara," Willow managed to get out before her lips found Tara's. Tara was happy to let Willow take the lead, opening her mouth to her as they both moved to the bed and sat down without breaking the contact. Tara tightened her arms around Willow's waist, which seemed to ignite Willow's passion for her - Willow quickly straddled her thighs and leaned forward, following as Tara lay down, her lips and tongue working feverishly all the while.
"Oh gods Tara I love you," she breathed, barely moving her lips from Tara's as she spoke. "Oh gods... oh, we can't do this here," she groaned, "I'm about one second away from tearing off your clothes and just, gods, everything... kissing you all over..."
"Are you sure it's not you who's the big, strong warrior?" Tara teased.
"Well, maybe I could take a turn at it, once in a while," Willow allowed, making no move to vacate her position lying on top of Tara. "After all, you look like you're having so much fun when you're kissing me 'til I can't think."
"Oh I am," Tara promised. Willow made an appreciative little growl, then settled on top of Tara and relaxed.
"Will you be okay?" Willow asked. "Away from home, I mean? It could be a while, you know, there's a lot of places I have to visit. All through Westmarch, and then up into Khanduras, and eventually over the desert to Lut Gholein and back to Kehjistan... we'd be on the road a long time."
"It sounds perfect," Tara said, "I get to see half the world with the woman I love." She fixed Willow with an intent stare. "There's no home I'd miss more than you."
"It won't be a problem to stay away, though?" Willow asked. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm so happy I could burst, I just want to know if there's any problems, you know, so we can talk about it, figure it out..."
"I know," Tara said, "it'll be okay. I-I think Solari was hoping I'd find out where I'm meant to be while I was on this trip. I guess neither of us thought I was meant to go back and join a warrior pride... I think she'll be happy. And I'll be able to help out, as well, we're taught how to support ourselves if we have to travel, you know. A lot of lords and garrison commanders would pay for an Amazon to train their men for a week or two, I wouldn't be a burden on you-"
"Oh gods, you could never be anything but a blessing to me," Willow murmured. She glanced at the door. "We should get ready for our bath," she added. Tara nodded and smiled as Willow lingered in getting off of her, sliding her body slowly down Tara's instead of just getting up.
"Thinking of hot water," Willow said, "I think we might pass near Soltram at some point... those hot springs sound good. Perhaps we can find one all to ourselves."
"You feel like going for a swim?" Tara asked in a seductive murmur.
"Well, adults can have fun in the water too," Willow countered playfully, pulling a pair of thick nightshirts from the bag they had brought from the wagon.
Deanne and Kristal returned shortly, and Willow and Tara made their way to the small women's bathroom down the hall. Some rowdy sounds echoed up the stairs from the dining hall two floors below, but once Willow closed the door of the bathroom behind them it was as if they were in a little world of their own. Tara tipped the hot water warming over the fire into the empty tub, and smiled as Willow's hands stopped hers as she reached for the laces on her armour.
"My job," Willow said.
"Only if I get to return the favour," Tara replied. Willow removed her armour and boots, then her tunic and skirt, and finally knelt down to pull her underwear down her legs. She was breathing somewhat heavily through parted lips as she stood up.
"Willow?" Tara asked knowingly.
"I want to kneel back down," Willow whispered in her ear, "put my head between your legs, and lick you and kiss you and taste you all night long. I know we can't here, like this, but gods Tara I want to taste you so much..." With trembling hands Tara removed Willow's tunic and bra as she kicked off her boots, and slid her skirt and briefs down her legs in one motion.
"Come here," Tara whispered, stepping into the steaming bath. Willow joined her, dipping a toe in the water first to find it just cool enough to step into, and Tara took her hands and gently lowered her down until they were kneeling in front of each other.
"W-we can't take too long here," Tara said quietly. Willow nodded. Tara shifted forward, straddling Willow's left thigh, and slipping her left leg between Willow's. Both opened their mouths in silent gasps as they settled their weight onto each other's legs, Willow pressing her needy sex against Tara's thigh, and Tara against Willow's.
"Wh-what now?" Willow asked in a whisper.
"We move," Tara breathed, "together." She held Willow's body tightly against hers, feeling Willow do the same, and began to move in a slow rhythm, rolling her hips. Willow matched her motion, both stimulating the other and feeling the heated results against their thighs.
"I know how much you want me," Tara whispered in Willow's ear, "I-I want you too, so much, all the time... think of it, Willow... one of those hot springs... it's night, the sky's full of stars looking down at us... just you and me, alone... I take off your clothes, you take off mine... we go into the water... you lie down at the edge of the pool, just your shoulders and head pillowed on the grass, the rest of you floating... I touch your legs, gently draw them apart... I kneel between your legs... lean down, kiss your thighs, getting closer and closer... the tender skin on your inner thighs... I touch you where no-one else ever has... you're so wet, Willow..."
Willow has closed her eyes, her body keeping up its slow dance with Tara as her mind pictured the scene Tara was painting for her. She could feel her juices on Tara's thigh, and Tara's sex wet and hot against hers. Tara held her tight, their breasts crushing together, their bodies sharing heat and motion, and she slowly increased their rhythm, whispering to her all the while.
"So wet... you want my mouth on your sex... I tease you... a tiny lick, here and there... teasing... before I kiss you... I open my lips on your sex... taste your arousal... drink it in... I work my tongue into you... deep inside you, Willow... you're moaning... moving... I want you to come, Willow... while I'm inside you... I want to taste you as you come... do you feel me, Willow? I need you... I'm licking deep in you sex... my lips pressed hard against you... my fingers are touching you, Willow, your sex, your clit... you're going to come... I'm going to taste you... your juices are going to flow into my mouth, and I'm going to drink you, your climax, Willow, you're going to be inside me, we're in each other, we're part of each other, you can't hold back, now, Willow, now, you're coming, so hot, so wet, you're coming..."
Willow trembled all over, her breath coming out in a shuddering sigh as she climaxed against Tara's thigh. At the same time she felt Tara press down against her, her skin soaked with the wetness of Tara's orgasm. Tara's voice was reduced to a breathy growl, but she continued to whisper, wrapped in the fantasy she had woven around Willow.
"Coming," she gasped, "yes... yes... my Willow... so sweet... oh goddess..." She took a deep breath and opened her eyes, staring at Willow.
"You liked?" she asked with a shy grin.
"Oh baby," Willow murmured, "gods, I swear you could make me come just with your voice..." Tara smiled widely, and kissed her softly, tenderly, taking her time with a leisurely exploration of Willow's unresisting mouth.
"I guess," she said at last, "seeing as we're in a bath, we should probably wash..." She and Willow both slowly bathed each other, lavishing attention on each other's bodies as they went, and not lifting their sated centres off each other's thighs until they absolutely had to.
"I love you so much," Willow said quietly as Tara's hands dragged along her legs.
"I know, baby," Tara whispered, "I love you too."
"We're definitely going to visit Soltram," Willow added.
"Absolutely," Tara replied. They finished washing each other in silence, emptied the cooling water into the drain, and pulled on the nightshirts, returning to the bedroom with their clothes neatly folded. A single candle was all that lit the room, just enough for them to make out Deanne, with Kristal cradled lovingly in her arms. She was singing a soft lullaby to the girl, and looked up with slight apprehension as Willow and Tara pulled back the covers of their bed and slid underneath next to each other.
"It helps her sleep," she explained in a whisper.
"It's okay," Tara replied quietly. Deanne resumed her singing, in some language neither Willow nor Tara recognised, and Willow smiled as she felt Tara curl up behind her, her arm as always draped across her waist. She murmured happily to herself as she heard Tara's voice join the melody, softly matching Deanne's as the song repeated itself. Willow laid her hand over Tara's, stroking it affectionately, then her eyes closed and she drifted off to sleep in Tara's arms. Deanne's singing quietened and finally stopped, and Tara looked across to see Kristal sleeping soundly in her protective embrace. Tara and Deanne exchanged smiles that acknowledged the bond of common experience they were sharing, one a mother loving her daughter, the other a woman loving her soulmate, both more thankful to the gods than words could possibly express.