Return to Hellebore Chapter Twenty-Five


Author: Chris Cook
Rating: NC-17
Copyright: Based on characters from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, created by Joss Whedon and his talented minionators, and Diablo II by Blizzard Entertainment. All original material is copyright 2003 Chris Cook.

Willow opened her eyes and blinked slowly, trying to work out what had woken her up in the first place. Rain was beating on the wagon's canvas roof, but it was a steady sound that she had to concentrate to really notice, and not the kind of thing she thought would have woken her. She had a vague memory of Tara saying something, and a moment later her curiosity was sated as Tara murmured something incoherent in her ear from behind. Willow smiled and slowly turned herself over to face her lover, finding her still asleep and, to all appearances, in the middle of a very enjoyable dream, arching her body against Willow and murmuring a lot of 'mmm' sounds, along with a word here and there that Willow didn't quite catch.

"Someone's having good dreams," Willow whispered to herself, careful not to disturb Tara from her pleasant slumber. 'Not that I can complain,' she added in the privacy of her own mind. Willow's dreams had featured the occasional disturbing moment of something moving in shadows, and a chilling, hissing whisper, but always the unsettling images and sounds faded away into inconsequentiality, in the face of a dream-Tara holding her, stroking her hair, whispering sweet words and touching her in sweeter places. She had also dreamed something about a school of fish singing in harmony, with a swimming mouse accompanying them in a resonant bass, but she had long ago learned not to spend too much time analysing those kinds of dreams.

Willow was drawn pleasantly out of her reverie by Tara's voice, mumbling something that sounded like 'Willow'. Willow smiled widely, wrapping an arm around Tara's waist, stealthily so as not to wake her, delighted that she was in Tara's dreams just as Tara had been in hers. Tara's eyes remained closed, but on some level she seemed aware of Willow, the hand that had been around Willow, now loosely draped over her back, lightly clutching at her, as if in her dream Tara was pulling her closer. Willow eagerly obliged, weaving her legs between Tara's and pressing their bodies together. She was surprised to feel just how much heat and moisture there was against her thigh when Tara clamped it between her legs and rolled her hips forward.

"Very good dreams," Willow murmured. She stayed still for a moment, letting Tara move against her which she did with increasing vigour, then succumbed to the temptation of Tara's breasts pressing against her, and leaned down. Tara moaned quietly as Willow took her nipple into her mouth, encouraging Willow to hold her a little firmer between her lips, and flick her tongue back and forth.

Tara's body shuddered and both her hands went at once to the back of Willow's head, holding her to her breast as her hips rocked heatedly against her thigh. Willow slid her leg forward rhythmically, meeting Tara's thrusts, thoroughly enjoying the feel of Tara's fingers in her hair, urging her to a task that she needed no urging to undertake in the first place. She stilled her tongue for a moment, concentrating purely on the sensations she could give with her lips, sucking voraciously, and a moment later Tara gasped, squeezed her legs tightly around Willow's thigh, and her body released a wave of pleasure. Willow leisurely trailed her hand up and down Tara's side as she recovered, feeling her tremble from the contact.

"Good morning," she said with a grin when Tara finally opened her eyes and looked down at her.

"Willow," Tara whispered, smiling, "oh goddess... good morning to you too, Miss Understatement." Willow laughed.

"You seemed to be having a nice dream," she explained, "so I thought I'd join in."

"Oh, I was having..." Tara trailed off. "Actually, it was kind of strange. Not strange in a bad way," she hastened to reassure Willow, "just, you know... not something I'd have quite expected."

"Oh?" Willow said, all curiosity. "How so?"

"Well," Tara said slowly, "it was about you - that's not the strange part," she added with a quick grin. "Um, it was at home - Tran Athulua - and we were in my room, and you lay me down and leaned over and you were kissing me... really kissing me, and I was getting so worked up, I felt like I was going to burst... and then, you, um, started kissing my breasts..." Tara trailed off, looking very shy.

"And?" Willow prompted gently.

"And," Tara said, blushing, "I, um... you were sucking my nipples, and I... um, I was giving you milk." At Willow's surprised look, she quickly went on: "Not like you were a baby or anything, I mean, it was, goddess, i-it was so... erotic, I felt so... um, anyway, I think that's when I woke up, and," she smiled, "things weren't too far from what I'd been dreaming. Um, is that okay?"

"Is it okay?" Willow echoed. "Of course it's- Tara, I love you! Of course it's okay, I mean, yes, it's, well..."

"Unusual," Tara said.

"Okay," Willow admitted, "it wasn't the first thing I would've guessed, but you know, I don't think there's anything wrong with what you were dreaming."

"I-I don't want you to think I'm thinking of you like a child, or anything," Tara said hesitantly.

"Not at all," Willow assured her, "I think... I think that was a really beautiful thing you were imagining, and I think it was about you sharing something very, very intimate and loving with me, a-and I love you so much... I love that you want to take care of me, and that you share your, your life, everything, with me so completely..."

"I know," Tara said, "I just didn't want you to think I was imagining you... I don't know, um, in a, a passive position? Or something like that."

"No, honey," Willow cooed, "no, I never thought that... I mean, it's okay for you to feel that way for me, I feel the same way for you, and I know you accept it, you let me take care of you in all these ways, like bathing you, and getting our meals ready, and stuff... I think what your dream was about was you caring for me, and us being in love."

"I do love you Willow," Tara murmured, "so much..."

"I love you too," Willow replied. "Just out of curiosity, do Amazons breastfeed? Is it something you talk about, or - well, not just talk about randomly, but, I mean, where I was born for instance, it was this really private thing, a mother would never do it in public. Is it like that?"

"No," Tara said, "no, it's just... if a mother has a baby that's hungry, she feeds the baby, I don't think anyone would ever object to it. I was just, well, a bit nervous about what you might think... you know, with it being something between a mother and child."

"Well, I've never felt like you were treating me like a child," Willow said, "and you're really nothing like my mother. I think, for us, it's between you and me, as lovers. Okay?"

"Okay," Tara said.

"Okay," Willow echoed. "So, now that that's out of the way, are you going to keep telling me about this dream in exquisite detail?" Tara grinned, a lot of her shyness gone.

"It was... intense," she said. "Wh-when I felt you drinking from me, it was like we weren't two people anymore, I was physically becoming part of you... and it was creating this incredible heat inside me, and I was getting so wet it was unbelievable..."

"Actually that part wasn't just a dream," Willow smiled, "and my thigh definitely believed it."

"Heh," Tara chuckled, "yeah... I felt as if... as if I was going to come, but not just my sex, I felt it in my whole body, every part of me, and I was giving it all to you..." She took a deep breath. "I'm pretty sure I woke up around then, and suddenly it was real, you were sucking my nipple, and I was coming so hard I... wow," she said with a grin, "you really know how to make a girl glad she woke up."

"Well, you know," Willow said dismissively, smiling cheekily, "all part of the service when you get me to fall in love with you. I'm just glad my dream-self is keeping up her end of the bargain." Tara hugged her warmly.

"I love that you're in my dreams," she whispered, "even when I'm asleep you're with me."

"You're in my dreams too," Willow said, "all the time. Though, I wouldn't say no to a few of your dreams... I think my imagination wastes too much time on singing fish."

"Singing fish?"

"They had this little song," Willow explained without thinking, "sort of, 'It's good to be a fish, it's good to be a fish, even if you're a mouse...' There was a mouse, too, that was his line..." She grinned at Tara, who was struggling not to laugh.

"The mouse was singing too?" she asked.

"Oh yeah, in this deep bass voice," she pitched her voice as deep as it would go, "'even if you're a mouse'." Tara burst out laughing, and Willow joined in.

"I love your dreams," Tara said.

"More than yours?" Willow asked with a grin. "Because, you know, soprano fish versus orgasmic experience... I know which one I'd choose." Tara smiled and stroked her cheek.

"Oh Willow," she said softly, "right now, this moment... every moment I spend with you is so much better than any dream I've ever had."

Willow held one side of a waterproof tarpaulin as Tara climbed down from the wagon, quickly taking up the other side to shield them both from the rain. Together they made their way across the muddy courtyard to the guard-house, where the caravan had made its headquarters for the night, and where breakfast would be found. Instead they found Shan and Gerrid engaged in a heated argument, with Kert, Tryptin and Melcan watching silently from the sidelines.

"-bloody dangerous, that's why," Shan was saying flatly as they closed the door on the rain-soaked courtyard.

"Surely not for a caravan this size, this well-armed," Gerrid protested.

"Large and well-armed we may be," Shan countered, "but I tell you sir, if we take the west road we're asking for trouble."

"The prospects do not look good for the Duncraig delegation to make its detour to Jesram," Tryptin explained, as Melcan poured Willow and Tara each a bowl of hot soup from the pot on the fire.

"It's a town of three hundred people," Gerrid said, "and barely two days from the realm's border, surely you don't think there's any real threat."

"It's not the town I'm worried about," Shan said, "it's the road. You've seen what it's like outside. Well sir, I was up at dawn watching the weather come in, and I tell you we'll be lucky if the rain lifts before the week is out."

"Can't we deal with some rain?" Gerrid asked.

"The rain's not the danger," Shan countered, "that road's not a hard surface like the highland is, in this weather it'll be three days to Jesram and another four to Harthim, and that's if we're lucky and don't throw a wheel, or sink one of the carts axle-deep in a pothole. That's seven days that we're a slow-moving target for any band of these creatures that sees us!"

"Is the threat really so severe?" Gerrid asked, turning to Kert. The lieutenant squared his shoulders, and spoke in a grim voice.

"I think it may be," he said, "I've talked to all the guards here, and they've kept records of what was said by all who passed through this crossroads. From what they've heard, there's been no less than three incidents on the Jesram road involving loss of life due to creatures of some kind. One of the parties gave their word it was demons that attacked them. And this is a highlands storm; we know all about this kind of weather, we get the like of it at home. It'll sit here for a week or more, foul any road barring proper hard surfaces... our scouts won't be able to see far enough to be useful, and trumpets or lit arrows won't serve as signals in this downpour, so our outriders'll have to stay within sight of us. I'm not saying we'll definitely be attacked, or that we won't fight well and a damn sight fiercer than any demon will expect, but... I don't like it, sir, and that's a fact. I'm with Master Shan - we should make for the ford, and Harthim."

"Well..." Gerrid hesitated, "I'm loathe to risk the safety of the caravan, of course... you're sure the road will be good? The ford will be safe to cross?"

"The highland road's solidly-built," Shan said with authority, "it'll hold a hard surface to anything less than a hurricane, and the ford likewise. It's reinforced, far sturdier than it need be, for the size of the river. I've crossed it safely in spring, with the melt water from the mountains swelling the river - this rain won't be a problem."

"I see," Gerrid said, obviously not happy with the way the argument was going, "well, then, if this route is that much safer... but the Duke is expecting the reports from Jesram, you see, the dispatches we were to bring back cover all the Kingsway mountains, you must know how important they are, the mines and so forth..."

"Begging your pardon, sir," Kert said, "but I could go alone, and fetch your reports. If there's nothing to do but collect them?"

"I suppose," Gerrid began, then frowned. "But you'd be in just as much danger, surely- no, more, one man alone instead of an armed caravan!"

"I'll take my horse and a remount," Kert explained patiently, "set a quick pace there and back, cut across country north of the river rather than following the road's route. I know these horses, they won't complain about the ground in this weather. Would you say two days?" he asked Shan.

"Two," Shan said, "if you start early and ride hard. It could be done."

"And I don't know monsters," Kert went on to Gerrid, "but if they're anything like brigands, they'll not be trouble to a soldier riding fast. They'd have to catch him, kill a trained man, for no reward other than what he carries on him. No supply wagons to loot. It's not profitable. That's if I'm spotted - they may watch the roads, but it'd be a sure-sighted creature that'd find a man riding across country in this rain."

"Well..." Gerrid said again, "it's not that I doubt your capabilities, of course, the Baron highly recommended you, and your men... but still, to ask you to ride off alone, in these conditions with these creatures about-"

"You're not asking me, sir," Kert said, "I'm volunteering. This is important business of yours and Duncraig's, and as an officer of Kingsport it's my duty."

"Very well," Gerrid said, after a brief hesitation, "very well... come with me, then, I'll explain what you must do when you reach Jesram..." He and Kert left the guard house, and Tara watched them through the window, splashing across the courtyard towards Gerrid's wagon.

"So we're going where now?" Willow asked.

"Staying on this road, by the look of it," Tara said, remembering what she had seen of Kert's map. "There's a small river that runs down from the mountains to the Kingsway. Up ahead there's a ford where the highland road crosses it, then Harthim, where Duncraig's border is."

"How long will it take to go that way?" Willow asked Shan.

"Two days, I expect miss," he said. "I'd have said a day and a half, and we'd be in Harthim tomorrow afternoon, but in this weather we'll probably have to make camp just on the other side of the ford, and it'll be evening by the time we reach the town. Good solid road all the way, though," he went on, noticing Tryptin listening in, "I doubt you'll notice the rain having much of an effect, so long as we all keep the wagons covered. The road up to Jesram and back is really just a wide trail, it'll be mud as deep as the ocean by now. But Kert'll be fine on horseback, I wouldn't be surprised if he reached Harthim same time as us."

"Don't people travel up there much?" Tryptin wondered.

"Not often, no," Shan said, "it's a big town, but all they really do is operate the mines. Duncraig sends a barge up the river every season to bring out the minerals, so I suppose they've never seen the need for a proper road up there. New town, you know, when I was a boy it was just getting started. The highland road, now, that's been here for centuries. We'll be fine."

"Pity," Tara said quietly to Willow, "I was looking forward to seeing the mountains. I've never seen realm mountains, apart from the ones at home. I thought I might do some sketches."

"One day," Willow promised, "we'll follow the route I took when I first went to Entsteig. We got on a riverboat high up in the ranges and sailed down... sometimes the cliffs on either side of the river reach up to the sky, it's like another world. You'll be able to sketch to your heart's content."

"It sounds amazing," Tara smiled, "but you realise, of course, if you insist on taking me to these wonderful places, we'll be too busy doing other things to our hearts' content."

"Finish your soup," Willow whispered with a seductive look, "our wagon is beckoning."

They passed Kert, on his way to the stables, and Tara put a hand on Willow's arm for a moment to halt her, then ducked out from underneath the shelter of their tarpaulin to face him.

"Gods be with you," she said, meeting his gaze. He nodded, one warrior to another, then went on his way as Tara ducked back underneath the shelter with Willow, and they both scurried back to their wagon as quickly as they could.

"He'll be okay, won't he?" Willow said once they had scrambled back out of the rain. "I mean, all that stuff he said about riding quickly, and no-one spotting him or paying any attention...?"

"That's all true," Tara said reassuringly, pulling off her boots and wiping the mud off with a cloth before storing them, "I think he'll be fine. H-he seems a very good soldier, from what I've seen."

"Can never have too many prayers, though?" Willow asked.

"That's about it," Tara said. "Brrr! I don't envy him the ride." She shivered, prompting Willow to reach for a towel to help dry her off.

"First things first," she said, "let's get you out of those wet clothes."

"My Willow," Tara smiled, "you never miss an opportunity..."

"Look in the mirror sometime and see if you can blame me," Willow joked. She helped Tara off with the heavy tunic she had chosen to keep the rain out, then got distracted kissing her stomach as she was undoing her skirt.

"You know," Tara mused, "I'm starting to think you had an ulterior motive for getting my clothes off. Eeep!" she added as Willow plunged her tongue into her navel and tickled her.

"Not at all," Willow said as she resumed pulling Tara's skirt down, "if it was ulterior it'd be all subtle and unnoticeable. Whereas I make no secret of the fact that I find you utterly," she punctuated with another kiss on Tara's navel, "totally sexy, and that your mere presence is enough to turn me on unbelievably."

"My mere presence, huh?" Tara said, sitting up after lying down to help Willow get her skirt off. "So, if I was, for example, just sitting here, fully-clothed, reading a book, that'd be enough to turn you on?"

"Yep," Willow happily confirmed.

"So," Tara said, her voice low, "what if I was sitting in front of you just like this, completely naked, and I were to tell you that I'm seriously considering lying you down, straddling your hips, kissing you until you moan, reaching into you, bringing you to climax, and then licking your juices off my fingers afterwards?"

"Uh..." Willow managed, her mouth hanging open.

"I'll take that as a 'yes', shall I?" Tara smiled.

"Uh-huh," Willow replied. Tara's smile widened as she put her hands to Willow's shoulders, gently pushing her down to rest on the blankets. As promised, she straddled Willow, placing her hands on her hips and straightening her back, revelling in the lustful stare she received from Willow. She gave Willow a wink, then leaned forward slowly, bringing her lips agonising close to Willow's without quite touching.

"You want me to kiss you," she murmured, more an observation than a question. Willow let out a desperate whimper.

"Oh gods please," she sighed.

"Not yet," Tara whispered, as her right hand trailed down Willow's body, reaching the hem of her skirt and pulling it up her legs to bunch around her waist.

"Not just yet," Tara repeated softly, "just... little tastes..." She brushed her lips lightly against Willow's, enjoying the way Willow would gasp and move for her with each contact. She kept up her teasing half-kisses as her fingers crept down through Willow's curls, pushing her underwear down as she went, reaching down further to stroke the lips of her sex.

"Oh gods please," Willow moaned again.

"Not yet," Tara insisted gently, "when I enter you... when I reach inside you and touch your soul... then I'll kiss you... would you like that?"

"Ah," Willow gasped incoherently, as Tara's fingers parted her lips and teased her entrance.

"You're so wet," Tara breathed.

"For you," Willow gasped, "yours..." Tara lowered her mouth onto Willow's, at the same time as her finger slid deep inside her, Willow's wetness offering no resistance. Willow's body surged beneath her, her hips and mouth mirroring each other as both reached towards the penetration, deepening it. Tara swirled her tongue in Willow's mouth, exploring every angle, as her finger stroked Willow inside, pumping gently, pressing against her walls. She fixed her attention on Willow's tongue at the same moment as she found her sweet spot. Willow jolted as if an arc of power were running between the two points, electrifying her body with every thrust. She moaned loudly into Tara's mouth as Tara's thumb brushed her clit - only a single, light contact, but it was enough to release the orgasm building inside her. Again and again she moaned, Tara swallowing the sound, as her body shook, and rewarded Tara's questing finger with a gush of her juices.

When Tara finally parted her lips from Willow's it felt strange to her, as if having Tara's lips pressed against her mouth was her natural state, and she was somehow exposed and unfinished without it. The feeling lasted only a fraction of a second before Tara was gently kissing her cheek and neck, renewing the contact that Willow craved. She had just the strength to roll her head sideways to look at Tara, as she leaned back, supporting her head with one arm.

"I love you," Tara said, "you're beautiful in every way." She lifted her other hand, glistening with Willow's wetness, and carefully licked the juices from it, her blissful expression showing Willow exactly how much she was enjoying it.

"My goddess," Willow whispered.

"Do you want to play a game?" Tara asked.

"Ooh, what kind of game?" Willow replied with a mischievous grin, causing Tara to laugh. The rain outside had continued through the morning as the caravan set off for the ford, easing slightly now and then but keeping up a steady downpour nonetheless. The turn-off for the Jesram road, only a few hundred metres beyond the crossroads outpost, had already begun to look weather-beaten and difficultly muddy, but the highland road held firm, just as Shan had said it would.

"Not that kind of game, you insatiable creature," Tara said, "it's a mind game. Strategy, logic, that kind of thing."

"Hey, it's me," Willow said with a grin, "logic is a turn-on."

"You're hopeless," Tara said fondly. She opened one of her bags, unloading her ceremonial armour and producing a slim wooden box from beneath it, which she handed to Willow as she repacked the armour. Willow looked at it curiously - it was half as deep as it was wide, and both top and bottom were patterned with painted squares, red and dark grey.

"Open it," Tara said, laying her breastplate back on top of the accompanying leathers and strapping the bag shut again. Willow flipped open the latch of the box and found the inside divided in two, each with a selection of carved playing pieces, also red and grey. She picked one and examined it closely - it was finely-made, a tiny woman with a bow on her back, crouching like a tracker on her base. Tara took the box and upended it on a blanket, tipping out the other pieces, then laid it out so that the hinged halves of the box came together to form a playing board.

"It's called Lycander's Command," Tara explained, setting the pieces on the board. "After one of our greatest generals. Hundreds of years ago the Zaggasi pirates mounted a huge assault on the islands, and conquered Skovos and Philios. The island that's called Lycander now was the last bastion we had. Lycander was the husband of the Grand Mistress, the commander of all our armies, and when she was lost in the retreat from Philios, and there were no other veteran warriors, he took command. He was a strategic genius - our warriors were outnumbered, the pirates had great warships and they'd built forts on Philios and Skovos, but Lycander outmanoeuvred them, and after four years drove them off the islands completely. When the government was restored and a new Queen was chosen, she offered him permanent command, as our first Grand Master, but he chose to go back to being a farmer, and caring for his daughter." She finished arranging the pieces, ranked against each other on either side of the board.

"These are the Governors," she said, pointing to the matching pieces in the centres of the red and grey lines, the only ones that were male. "They represent the people the warriors are protecting. They can't fight as well as most of the other pieces, but if you lose your Governor you lose the game. This is the Grand Mistress," next to each governor was a figure of a woman in ornate armour, with a long spear, "she's the commander of the army, and she's the best fighter. These two are Champions," women in tall full-face helmets carrying crossbows, "these are Huntresses, they can move behind enemy lines," the crouched bow-wielding figures Willow had examined one of earlier, "these are Ballistae," crossbow-like war engines mounted on wheels, "and these are your Warriors." The front rank of each 'army' was composed entirely of Warriors, eight on each side, with bucklers and javelins. Tara demonstrated briefly how each one moved, then explained the special rules for Warriors advancing on their first move, and how Huntresses could move through enemy pieces, but no-one else could, and how the Governor could make a 'decoy' switch with a Ballista. Willow moved a couple of the pieces experimentally, and found that they stuck to the board.

"How's that work?" she asked, peering at the figures' bases, each of which contained a tiny metal disc. "Magnets?"

"It's something the priests of Zerae can do," Tara explained, "they treat iron with a little of Zerae's power, and the metal attracts or repels depending on which way around you have it. I'm not sure exactly how it's done. They use it for all sorts of things."

"We call it magnetics," Willow said, "lightning sorceresses can create magnetic iron out of normal iron."

"What do you use it for?" Tara asked.

"Well, nothing much," Willow admitted, "keeping cabinet doors closed, that kind of thing. Nothing very impressive. There's rumours that the assassins use magnetics to create their weapons, make metal move and fly the way we do with fire and ice. I don't know if that's true, no-one knows much about them. There's stories that there's even a way to make iron alive, but I have no idea how that works, or who's supposed to be able to do it. It's probably just a myth." She peered at the figure in her hands, then replaced it and tilted the board slightly, watching the pieces hold their positions. "Cool. Who goes first?"

Tara gave Willow and her small army of red pieces the first move, and the game began. At first Willow concentrated on trying to manoeuvre her pieces into striking positions without risking them to counter-attack, spending most of her time countering Tara's moves and making it risky for her to advance. After several turns the lines of Warriors had become staggered and some of the second rank had moved forward. Willow was surprised to see Tara leave one of her Ballistae in a vulnerable position, and hesitated before she could strike with one of her Huntresses. She withdrew her hand, aware of Tara watching her intently, and studied the board, seeing the trap after a moment - her Huntress would have fallen next turn, to a Champion currently half-way across the board.

"I get it," she said gleefully, "nice try."

"Drat," said Tara with a grin.

"Your problem," Willow said, moving one of her own Champions to threaten a Huntress instead, "is that I know you're not careless enough to leave an opening like that."

"I'll have to make my careless moves more carefully," Tara smiled, swooping her Grand Mistress in to take a Warrior and threaten Willow's Governor. Willow stared at the board for a moment, working out how Tara had manoeuvred her pieces into that position without her noticing.

"Nice," she grinned, biting the tip of her tongue in thought, "very nice... but the brain of Willow does not submit so easily." Over the next dozen or so turns she and Tara duelled for position, sacrificing a Warrior or two along the way to draw the other into a difficult strike. Finally Willow managed, with considerable difficulty, to draw Tara into a position where both a Ballista and a Huntress were threatened. Tara raised an eyebrow.

"You catch on fast," she murmured, "but then again, I already knew that."

"Hey, no fair," Willow protested, "it's hard enough concentrating with you leaning forward like that." Tara looked down at the neckline of her top, which, as she leant on her arms to ponder the board, was more than a little revealing.

"A good tactician uses every advantage at her disposal," she said with a placid smile.

"Well fine," Willow said with an innocent-looking bat of her eyelashes, "but just remember, if I lose this game because my thoughts were elsewhere, you owe me a rematch and I'm taking my skirt off."

"That sounds like plenty of incentive for me to win," Tara laughed. She protected her Huntress, and made Willow give a Warrior next turn in exchange for the loss of her Ballista. With both defensive lines slowly being whittled down the game became faster and more fluid, with risks paying greater rewards, but the loss of each piece sacrificed for a striking position more keenly felt. Finally it came down to both Governors, Tara's Huntress and Champion, and Willow's Grand Mistress, all stalking each other around the board.

"Nuts," Willow frowned, when finally, for all her Grand Mistress's flexibility, she couldn't keep her Governor from being boxed in and immobilised by Tara's pieces. "You win."

"Not quite," Tara said, "if you can't move but I can't strike with the pieces as they are, it's considered a draw in my favour. What do you think?"

"I love it," Willow said. Tara smiled at her enthusiasm.

"Want another round?" she asked.

"Does a draw in your favour mean I take my skirt off?" Willow asked, already undoing her belt.

"Difficult to say," Tara said, doing her best to sound offhand, "I don't think there are formal rules for strip Command."

"Well, we'll just have to make some then, won't we?" Willow said, stretching up on her knees and letting her skirt drop.

The caravan reached the ford just as afternoon was turning into evening, and crossed the river with the last light of the day. There was much to do to prepare the camp site on the other side, which hadn't seen use in some time, and it was well into the evening by the time the wagons were corralled, the horses set to graze and sleep under the watchful eye of their handlers, and the night shift of guards stationed nearby, keeping watch as best they could through the rain while huddling beneath their cloaks and hoods for warmth. Finally, within a tent to keep the rain at bay and prevent the light from shining too brightly, a fire was started and the caravan's amateur cooks set to work.

Tara chose her time carefully, scurrying out in boots, a thick robe and waterproof cape and hood, while the rain eased off for a few minutes to a light drizzle. She had insisted there was no need for Willow to come with her, and was duly rewarded when she returned to the wagon with two covered plates, and Willow pampered her outrageously, drying her, vigorously rubbing her thighs and arms to warm her, and not coincidentally stirring Tara's appetite for more than food. They talked during dinner, about the journey ahead and the prospect of reaching the border of Duncraig realm the next day, but increasingly their eyes were drawn to the other's stare, and they would lose track of what they were saying. Finally Willow set aside her empty plate and moved to sit beside Tara, stroking her thigh idly as she finished her meal.

"So tell me," she said as Tara leaned over to discard her plate, "what's it like on the islands? Impressive mountain ranges?" Her hand made its way up Tara's body and settled in her cleavage, her fingertips stroking lightly up and down.

"Uh-huh," Tara breathed, lying back. Willow lay beside her, head propped up on one arm, her other hand continuing its leisurely study of Tara's chest.

"Yes," she said, watching Tara's breathing deepen, "very impressive... proud peaks..." She trailed a fingertip up Tara's breast and over her nipple, then began stroking her stomach. "Plains, too, I bet?"

"Beneath the mountains," Tara whispered, biting her lip and grinning.

"And let me guess," Willow went on, her hand moving lower, "then comes the jungle." She ran her fingers through Tara's curls, smiling at the reaction she saw in Tara's expression.

"Oh that's divine," she whispered as Willow's fingertips brushed back and forth.

"But we haven't finished yet," Willow purred, "there's still where the land... meets the deep, seductive sea." Tara gasped as Willow's fingers skirted either side of her clit and gently parted her lips.

"Willow," she breathed, "please... I..." She touched Willow's thigh, and Willow at once understood, and lifted herself up on her knees, half-straddling Tara, staring up at her with lustful eyes as she delicately kissed each of her nipples. Tara closed her eyes and moaned, a blissful smile on her face, and her hand moved up the inside of Willow's thigh to touch her sex.

"Together," Willow said in a gasp, positioning the tip of her finger at Tara's entrance.

"Yes," Tara sighed, her fingertip between Willow's lips, ready.

Willow and Tara entered each other simultaneously, both sliding their fingers into the wet, gripping heat that awaited them. When they reached their depth inside each other they were still for a moment, then Willow began to rock her hips slowly back and forth, and started a series of gentle, firm thrusts into Tara's sex. Tara matched her move for move, and Willow lifted her head to catch Tara's lips in a searing kiss as they moved as one, each cupping the other's mound, rubbing her clit, each rolling their hips forward, welcoming the other into her sex, gasping in their kiss as they found each other's special spot and applied a firm pressure with every thrust. There was no separation; their two bodies were a single form, their mirrored pleasuring of each other drawing on a single orgasm the stirred deep in both their bodies, fuelled by their desire to please each other and accept the other's pleasure in return, gaining strength in both their sexes, electrifying both their bodies, reaching up into their breasts as they pressed against each other, and to their lips as they kissed, and as one they came. Both moaned into the other's mouth - loudly, though if they were heard there was no sign of it - and Willow eased herself down to lie half on top of Tara, her body completely spent, her finger still within Tara and her sex still treating her to ripples of pleasure as Tara remained within her.

"One day," Tara promised, using her free hand to draw the heavy blankets over both of them, "we'll see the islands... I'll show you everything..."

"I have everything I need right here," Willow murmured, kissing Tara's neck and nibbling lightly on her ear. "I love you forever, baby."

"I love you, my Willow," Tara whispered, sleep starting to get the better of her. "My love, my heart... my soul... my joy... goodnight, my sweet Willow."

"G'night," Willow mumbled, "love you... forever."

Continue to Hellebore Chapter Twenty-Seven (Rated NC-17)

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