Return to Hellebore Chapter Forty-Six


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 2004 Chris Cook.

Willow awoke to a kiss from Tara, which was enough to keep her from wishing she were back asleep. But only just.

"Wha' time's it?" she mumbled, running a hand through her hair.

"It's getting close to midday," Tara replied. She smiled, though Willow could see she was feeling their lack of sleep as well.

"Oh..." she said to herself, "oh, well... lunch with Amalee?"

"Believe me, I wouldn't be awake otherwise," Tara grinned, shaking her head from side to side as she sat up, sending her hair flying around her. Willow spent a moment admiring her as she made her way to the edge of the bed and got to her feet, then reluctantly stretched and propped herself upright on her elbows.

"Feeling okay?" Tara asked, rounding the bed and leaning over to her for another kiss.

"Lovely," Willow said, licking her lips, "absolutely lovely... admittedly, tired, and I'm not entirely sure I'll ever be able to close my legs again..." Tara laughed, and gave her a kiss on her shoulder as she leant back.

"We'll wake up soon enough," she said, stretching up on her toes, the tips of her fingers reaching towards the roof beams, "a quick shower, something to eat... besides, we're old hands at this 'no sleep' thing. Remember walking all night after fighting a gigantic goat-man champion?"

"Ugh," Willow groaned, swinging her legs around to the floor, "I'm trying not to... you're right, though. If we're going to be thoroughly exhausted, this is a much better way of going about it. You mentioned a shower?"

"I thought we could share," Tara said innocently, "it'd save time. And of course, it's probably not easy to get water all the way up here to the top of a tower, and that boiler you mentioned probably takes a lot of effort to keep hot. I think we should do our best not to needlessly waste water."

"Right," Willow grinned, taking her hand and accompanying her to the bathroom, "in fact, if you think about it that way, it's practically our duty, as responsible guests, to shower together, and help bathe each other, and cuddle and kiss..."

"I don't think that last part could technically be considered necessary for being a good guest," Tara smiled.

"Shush, you," Willow insisted, putting on a comically formal voice, "it's our duty, I say."

"Well, if you say so," Tara purred, playing with the taps until the shower spluttered into life. She experimented until the water was just right - hot, but not painfully hot - and then gave Willow a sly glance and stepped into the tub, walking right through the streaming water and turning beneath it, extending a hand to Willow as droplets cascaded down her body.

"This kissing," she murmured as Willow took her hand and joined her under the shower, resting her head against Tara's shoulder as they embraced, "is it kissing anywhere in particular, or...?"

"I was thinking general kissage," Willow replied, tickling Tara's skin with her lips, "you know... all over. Apart from lunch, what do you have to do today?" She started washing Tara, her caresses and passes with the soap liberally interspersed with kisses on her shoulders and arms, down her back and across her stomach.

"Oh... well, Tryptin will have a schedule," Tara said, trying to keep her mind on talking, which became difficult whenever Willow's lips touched her, "I suppose... seeing as they didn't know when we'd be here... he'd have arranged meetings with just the emissaries and negotiators... so... ahhh," she sighed as Willow began soaping her breasts beneath the flow of water, "so... probably... nothing much... for a day or two. After that, it'll... be a lot like it was at the Baron's castle... meeting dignitaries, and... ooh... just being an Amazon, really."

"No trouble there," Willow commented, "you do that so well... that armour... oh, baby," she smiled, as her mouth closed around Tara's nipple. Tara leaned against the wall behind her, taking the soap from Willow with trembling hands and rubbing it all over her shoulders and back, as Willow held her nipple gently in her teeth and alternately licked and sucked.

"Oh goddess," Tara moaned, "that feels so good baby... so good... come up here and kiss me."

Willow worked her way up Tara's neck, trailing her bottom lip against her skin all the way, finally reaching her mouth where Tara captured her and kissed her deeply and thoroughly. Willow's moans took on an added note of urgency when Tara's hands slid down her back and cupped her bottom, squeezing firmly. Tara leant back a fraction, and for a breathless moment they stayed still, staring into each other's eyes.

"So, then," Tara whispered, "what do you have planned for today? Let's see how well you can think with a ravenous pair of lips all over you," she added in an undertone, gripping her hips firmly and lowering herself down to Willow's chest level.

"Huh? Oh... heh... um, probably nothing mu- oooh," she moaned as Tara extended her tongue to lick her nipples, keeping her eyes locked with Willow's all the while.

"Um," Willow desperately continued, smiling as her head spun, "there's letters of introduction from... oh gods... from the Order, I had them in my bags, so they'll... they... goddess," Tara licked a path down her stomach, as her hands rose up to cup her breasts and continue to stimulate her jutting nipples.

"They'll still be... in our wagon... in... oh... goddess," Willow gasped. Tara was rubbing her cheek against the soft hair between her legs, making an aroused growling sound in the back of her throat.

"Go on," Tara purred.

"Yes, please," Willow moaned without thinking. "Oh, you mean me... heh... um, the letters are just to... to... oh baby... um, to let everyone know who I... I am... goddess you're a tease," she gasped as Tara's tongue licked across her mound, up her inner thighs, everywhere but where Willow desperately wanted it. "Um, various mages the Order has dealing with, to let them know I'm here... ask for some of their time, to... oh please... to instruct me in the theory of their work..."

"And they'll tutor you?" Tara asked, resting her cheek against Willow's thigh and breathing in the scent of her arousal.

"Well, it... gods... depends, on how much time they have to spare, and... a-and whether they want to... I'm going to go utterly insane, you know that? Uh, the Zann Esu is pretty influential, so probably... they'll give me some time to work with them... to please the Order... Ember said she... ah... she's had some correspondence with the court mage... here... Tara, please... he'll probably... let me study with him... oh goddess, kiss me..."

"The court mage is going to kiss you?" Tara asked impishly, breathing warm air onto the moist folds of Willow's sex. Willow laughed and stared down at her.

"You know darn well what I mean," she accused, as Tara grinned up at her devilishly.

"You need me to make love to you right now," she whispered.

"I need you," Willow replied, straight from her heart.

"You need my tongue inside you," Tara went on, holding Willow's attention completely, "tasting from your core."

"Yes..." Tara quickly stood up and looked straight into Willow's gaze.

"You want to wind your fingers in my hair," she whispered, "hold my lips against you... press yourself onto my mouth... cover me with your juices... don't you?"

"Oh goddess," Willow moaned, "yes!" Some tiny, sane part of her wondered if there was any limit to Tara's ability to arouse her, with the way she moved, talked, touched her. 'I mean, gods,' she thought to herself giddily, 'we've barely had any rest after a whole, entire night of non-stop pleasure, and here we are, at it again. And I need it! When did I turn into miss libido?'

Tara kissed her firmly on the lips, working her mouth open briefly before leaving her gasping as she ducked back down between her legs.

'Oh yeah, that's right,' Willow chuckled inwardly, 'whenever she kisses me like that. Wheeee...' Her internal monologue fell silent as the feel of Tara's mouth on her sex reduced her thoughts to a swirling, wordless mass of desire and pleasure.

Coming down the spiral staircase from their room, Willow and Tara found the attendant who had escorted them up the day before with another member of the Palace's staff, chatting idly in the servants' quarters on the floor below. Both stood and bowed, and the attendant abandoned the card game she had been playing out on the table and came to the doorway, while her companion turned his attention to his newspaper.

"Miss Tara, Miss Willow, good day," she said with a polite smile, "do you need lunch?"

"Oh, no, we'll be going out for lunch," Willow said, "but thank you, miss...?"

"Lissa, Miss," the young woman said, "just Lissa, the 'Miss' is for guests and nobility, you see."

"Thank you Lissa," Tara smiled.

"If you need directions around the Palace, Miss, I know it all," Lissa went on helpfully. "Don't hesitant to ask, as long as you're a guest I'm here to serve you. Or Jesye, she's not here at the moment, but she'll be here from midnight to midday, should you want anything."

"Oh," Willow brightened up, turning to Tara, "how about you go see Tryptin, and I'll pick us up a little snack, and meet you at the wagon?"

"Okay," Tara agreed, "I could use a bite. It's alright," she said to Lissa, who had moved to her side, "I remember the way from yesterday."

"Could you show me how to get to the kitchens?" Willow asked.

"Of course, Miss," Lissa nodded.

"See you soon," Tara said, giving Willow a quick kiss, "love you."

"I love you," Willow replied, reaching up for a brief moment to touch Tara's cheek before she turned and continued down the stairway. Willow turned to Lissa, who was blushing somewhat.

"Kitchens, Miss?" she said, composing herself.

"Thanks," Willow replied, following her. They went down two more floors and took a different corridor to the one they had arrived from yesterday, Lissa leading the way confidently through a stately maze of passages, halls and the occasional courtyard, nodding greetings to guards and other servants as they passed on errands of their own.

"It's okay, isn't it?" Willow asked. "I mean, just popping in and grabbing something from the kitchens... they won't mind?"

"Oh, no Miss," Lissa said, "no, there's meals at usual times, of course, but guests can have any meal they want sent to their rooms or served in one of the dining rooms whenever they want. And besides," she added, with a slightly conspiratorial air, "the servants and the kitchen staff mingle pretty often, so they don't mind us taking a snack now and then. It's a huge place, who's going to miss an apple or a sandwich?"

"Good," Willow smiled, as they made their way down a very wide stairway into a long hall, "'cause I don't want to get you into trouble, you know?"

"Thank you Miss," Lissa said, evidently touched by her concern. "Pardon me Miss, but are you a sorceress like the papers say?"

"Yes I am... papers?" Willow asked.

"The newspapers, Miss," Lissa explained, "it's in today's paper that an Amazon and a sorceress arrived yesterday after coming through all the troubled lands down around the old monastery. I mean, obviously they means you and Miss Tara, but you're both dressed like Amazons, only last night you had a staff, like a mage would."

"Oh, yeah," Willow said, looking down at her armour, "she's the Amazon, I'm the sorceress. All our other clothes are still in our wagon. Heh," she chuckled, remembering, "I was just trying this on for fun when we were first attacked, and we got separated from the caravan. Lucky, eh? Whoa, wait, we're in the newspapers? Already?"

"Yes Miss," Lissa said, "they always carry news of important visitors."

"Heh," Willow grinned, "that's the first time I've been news-worthy. That's fast though, how often do they print the papers?"

"Every morning Miss. Plus an afternoon edition if something big happens."

"Wow," Willow shook her head, "when I was in Kurast the newsmen took a week to put together a circular. Things happen fast in this city, don't they?"

"They do Miss," Lissa agreed.

"What did they say?" Willow wondered.

"Oh, not a lot Miss," Lissa told her, "only that you'd been on a caravan that was attacked, and you'd fought demons and rescued a child who was being held hostage by them, and used your magic to hurl fireballs at all the demons who tried to stop you. And Miss Tara, they said, shot dozens of them with arrows like shooting stars. Is that right? Only, every time they report a mage does anything, they always say it's fireballs. Is it really like that?"

"Well, they were exaggerating a little," Willow said, "and I don't do fire. Ice bolts, I can do, fireballs, no. Tara does fire magic though, so yeah, I guess 'shooting stars' is close enough. And the girl wasn't being held hostage, she'd hidden in a tunnel, and we found her."

"Ah," Lissa nodded, "well, I won't fault the newsmen you know, they do a good job and make sure everyone knows the important news... but just between you and me, it wouldn't be the first time they've come up a bit short on details and used their imagination."

"Oh well," Willow shared a smile with the woman, "poetic license isn't just for bards, I guess."

"So it seems, Miss. The Duke's people make sure they don't report the news wrong, mind. Not actually wrong... I suppose they don't think there's any harm in a bit of 'poetic license' in a tale like yours, Miss. But they stick to the rules more or less, so the Duke lets them ask questions and report as they like."

"What rules do they have?" Willow asked, as they came to a corridor full of the inviting scent of baking bread and various other sorts of food cooking.

"Oh, all sorts of things," Lissa said, exchanging a nod with a servant bearing a platter of fruit scurrying past, "I don't know most of it myself. It's only these past couple of years the papers have really started to do business. They do a lot of reporting on the shipping, which is a bit beyond me, I've never been much for business, but they say it's very cut-throat business, and the Duke has people to make sure the papers don't get paid off by merchants to report prices wrong on purpose, if you see what I mean."

"Sounds sensible," Willow commented. Lissa led her into the kitchens, which were cavernous and full of activity, and together they liberated a handful of fruit and a loaf of nutbread, with Lissa giving a wink to a friendly-looking kitchen-hand while the head chef was busy elsewhere.

"Are you here to study with Master Myrreon, Miss?" Lissa asked as they left the kitchens, bound for the stables and wagon shelters. "Forgive me asking, only I've never met a sorceress before, you see."

"It's alright," Willow smiled, "it's nice to have someone to talk to while Tara's busy. And hey, can't have too many friends, right?"

"Thank you Miss," Lissa smiled broadly.

"Myrreon's the Duke's mage?" Willow went on. "Yes, I'll probably be studying with him for a while, a month or two at least."

"That's longer than the papers said the Amazons would stay here," Lissa said, "will Miss Tara...?"

"She's staying with me," Willow said, "eventually we'll go back to the Amazon Islands together."

"That's good, Miss," Lissa said, seeming genuinely pleased. "You'll have an interesting time working with Master Myrreon, Miss. Last year, when I started working here, I got put on the detail that attends to his workshop and quarters. It's like another world in there Miss, huge contraptions you wouldn't dream of, and him working in it like he knew every piece of it by heart."

"He's interested in mechanisms?" Willow asked, curious about the kind of mage she'd be studying with.

"Tell the truth, Miss, I think he's interested in everything. From what I heard, and what the other servants say, he's always working on a dozen different things at once, and perhaps his mind's already thinking about something else besides."

"Well, it should be an interesting time," Willow said, her hopes of learning something new from the mage lifting.

Tara was nowhere in sight when Lissa brought Willow to the wagon shelter, which despite its humble-sounding name was in fact a vast enclosed space to one side of the Palace stables, with a smithy and carpentry shop at one end, and enough room for dozens of wagons, carts and coaches, all standing in their own individual stalls awaiting use. Lissa excused herself and headed back towards the Palace's accommodation wing once Willow found the wagon she and Tara had lived in. She walked around it, smiling faintly at the familiar sight of its wooden wheels and canvas roof, the lifted the flap at the back and climbed inside.

"Aw, hello wagon," she said quietly, finding her lovingly-created 'love nest' just as she had left it, with all her books, her and Tara's bags, sitting neatly to either side, untouched. She smiled and threw herself down onto the blankets, enjoying the feeling of them cradling her, remembering all the joys she had shared with Tara among them. For the moment, her immediate goal - to retrieve some suitable clothes for the day from among their bags - was forgotten.

"Heh," she chuckled to herself, rolling over onto her back and gently stroking a hand over her leather-clad breasts. One of her satchels, stuffed in the gap behind a trunk, caught her eye as she lazily looked around, and she got up on her knees and leant over the trunk to reach it.

"Don't move an inch," Tara's voice purred from behind her. Willow jumped slightly - she'd thought she was alone - then smiled and held herself still as she heard Tara climb into the wagon behind her.

"Why," she asked slyly, "is something about to fall on me if I move?"

"No," Tara admitted, "I just like the view from back here."

"Oh my," Willow grinned to herself, "it's barely any time at all since we, um, shared a shower, and before that a whole night which, let me tell you, I'm still not sure I believe some of the things we did... don't you ever get tired?" she asked, looking back over her shoulder with an alluring smile at the same time as she arched her back slightly, tilting her hips upwards.

"Tired of you?" Tara said, resting her cheek against Willow's hips as her hand trailed slowly up the inside of her thigh, "never."

"Never?" Willow murmured sexily, wiggling her bottom as Tara's fingers reached higher.

"Absolutely never," Tara whispered. "Every time I look at you... no matter where we are, what we're doing... I just want to make love to you... take you, right there... make you feel so good..."

"Hmm," Willow smiled, "well... it just so happens I'm in a very takeable position, aren't I...?"

"You are indeed," Tara agreed, "you know there's people outside... guards and servants, in the stables and wandering around..."

"I know," Willow said, resting her chest against the trunk beneath her, "I just don't care... do you?" Tara's hand had reached the top of her thigh, and was tantalisingly close to her centre.

"It wouldn't be the first time we've hidden away in here, with people outside," Tara said, gently moving up to lay on top of Willow, reaching her free hand around her waist to hold her tight. She leaned forward to whisper in Willow's ear, her fingers pushing firmly into the flesh of her thigh as she caressed her.

"Remember that first time you tasted my sex," she whispered, her warm breath tickling Willow's ear, "right here... and just beyond this canvas, the driver was sitting there, with no idea what was happening right behind him..."

"Yeah... until you yelled 'goddess' at the top of your voice..." Willow breathed, amused by the memory, but with Tara's caresses rapidly robbing her of the ability to speak coherently.

"Mmm," Tara purred, "I couldn't help it... you're just too good... even now, just thinking about that first kiss... oh, baby... and it wasn't the last, was it? Oh goddess no, my darling Willow, I've enjoyed your beautiful lips so many times... remember, baby? I do... all the times you've pressed your mouth against me, covered me... reached out inside me..."

"Oh Tara," Willow gasped. Tara grinned, Willow could feel the corners of her mouth turn up against the skin of her neck as she nuzzled against her. Tara's hand snuck up higher, avoiding Willow's core but brushing teasingly across her mound.

"Hmm," Tara murmured, "I was right... I thought I didn't see anything underneath this skirt when you were putting it on."

"Uh-huh," Willow agreed, "I was... feeling sexy... you do that to me..."

"You knew I was watching."

"I knew," Willow admitted, "I love it when... oh goddess," Tara's fingertips had brushed, ever so lightly, over her clit, "I... I love it... when you... watch me... want me..."

"I want you," Tara whispered in her ear, "I want you right now." Her fingers settled at Willow's entrance, teasing. Tara touched her earlobe with her tongue, and guided it between her lips, sucking gently.

"Oooh goddesssss," Willow hissed through clenched teeth, as her body responded to Tara's touch. Her fingers clutched at the edge of the trunk, fingernails pressing into its leather covering. She felt Tara's free hand leave her waist for a moment, deftly undoing the ties on her skirt, and with a needful groan she spread her legs as the garment fell off her.

"Ready, baby?" Tara whispered into Willow's ear. Her hand flattened across Willow's bottom, two fingertips still just inside her folds. Willow arched her back as far as she could, almost thrusting herself onto Tara's fingers in the process, and tilted her head enough that she could just see Tara grinning at her out of the corner of her eye.

"Take me, you goddess," she breathed. She felt Tara's hand tense on her rear, inhaled sharply in anticipation, and let the breath out as a long, heartfelt sigh as Tara slowly, firmly slid the full length of her fingers into her sex. Even as Willow's sigh became a hushed moan, revelling in the deep sensation, Tara drew back and thrust again, settling into a rhythm that, to Willow, seemed to control her breathing, her heartbeat, and the thrumming muscles deep inside her which clutched at Tara's fingers with every inward stroke.

"Oh... uh... god-dess... uh... Ta-ra..." Willow gasped, her voice coming in bursts with the waves building inside her, "Ta-ra... Ta-ra... yes... yes... yes yes yes-"

"Don't come yet," Tara breathed in her ear. Willow set her jaw and groaned as her core ached for release, to respond to the pleasure Tara was giving her, but she knew without a shadow of a doubt that until Tara's whispered permission graced her ear, she would only become more and more heated, more desperate, as her pleasure mounted without release. Tara's hands guided her, held her, mastered her - the one pressed flat against her stomach, slid between her skin and the leather, seemed to control her, keeping her sex from surging to climax, while her other hand relentlessly piled more and more stimulation, more soaking pleasure, into her.

"Aaaaaaah..." Willow had just enough wit to keep her voice quiet as her throat let loose a sigh of unrepentant submission, obeisance to the chains snaking out of Tara's fingertips, inside her, pressed against her, reaching deep within her to wrap inexorably around her soul. In that moment, Willow knew what it was to belong, to utterly belong, to Tara, to have been taken and made hers, enslaved by Tara's passion, by her heat, by the need in her heart. Only Tara, her perfect Tara, could own her, and in so doing set her freer than she had ever been in her life.

"Now," Tara whispered. Willow hear a roaring in her ears, like the surf of a storm-tossed ocean pounding inside her, then, arching herself back to meet Tara's final, deep thrust, the waves broke on her shore, all around her. Everything around her was swept away - the wagon, the Palace outside, the whole world, all vanished beneath a sea of sensation, save for Tara, pressed against her, whispering pleasure into her ear, holding her as the waves crashed over her again and again. Without that firm hold, the loving, lusty words kissed into her ear and her neck, Willow felt she would have been swept away too.

She came back to reality cradled in Tara's arms, both of them curled around each other among the blankets. Willow felt incredibly content, as if she had just finished a full meal and was relaxing in front of a warm fire, and to her eyes, Tara was glowing with loveliness as she smiled down at her.

"Hey, beautiful," she murmured, raising a hand to stroke Tara's cheek.

"Hey beautiful yourself," Tara replied fondly. "Feel good?" A knowing smile quirked the corners of her lips.

"Hmm," Willow grinned, "you know, maybe - just maybe - if we suddenly both decide to take vows of chastity and, gods forbid, never make love again... I think, when we're old and grey, maybe my body might finally stop tingling with complete pleasure..."

"I don't intend to give you the chance to find out," Tara purred, lightly kissing Willow's neck. "No vow of chastity for me... in fact, I'm taking a vow of Willow-ity. Is that a word?"

"It is now," Willow laughed, as they both sat up. "Hmm... did you happen to notice where my skirt ended up?"

"Are you sure," Tara whispered in her ear, instantly fanning the flames within her back from content flickering to burning need, "I didn't mean for you to walk with me back to our room without it?" Willow gasped at the thought, turning incredulous eyes on Tara.

"I'm practically naked," she whispered. Tara only smiled at her, and Willow realised, with a thrill and a rush of wanton excitement, that if Tara truly wanted her to walk half-naked through the whole Palace, she would. Only then, with that realisation shivering down her spine and settling incandescently in her loins, did she notice that Tara's face was just a fraction too expressionless.

"You're teasing me," she accused, even as she was unable to keep the grin from her lips.

"Of course," Tara admitted, ducking her head in admission, and taking the opportunity to flutter a series of kisses across Willow's shoulder. "But just for a second," she went on in a husky whisper, "you were excited..." Her hand, resting on Willow's thigh, shifted slightly, allowing her fingers to trace a path up her thigh and into the moistness of Willow's sex.

"Oh my," she gasped quietly, feeling just how moist Willow was, "very excited."

"I'm never anything else with you around," Willow murmured happily, as Tara reached out and handed her her skirt, "which is convenient, seeing as you have a sex drive that would make a succubus blush."

"Who, me?" Tara feigned innocence, quite convincingly for someone who had, mere moments ago, been gleefully driving her lover to an ecstatic climax. She held her posture for a moment, then leaned up against Willow and kissed her gently on the lips.

"I love... loving you," she said quietly, "you deserve someone who can make you feel this good, always."

"That someone is certainly you," Willow replied, hugging Tara warmly, "and... I do the same for you?"

"Oh goddess yes," Tara sighed.

"Good," Willow grinned contentedly.

"You know," Tara whispered, "if we hurry, I think we could spare five minutes in our room before we go out. Maybe I could see to that 'excitement' of yours...?"

As it happened, five minutes became fifteen, and Willow and Tara ended up hurrying out of the Palace so as not to be late. From the luggage they had hastily carried up from the wagon, Willow had selected her emerald Zann Esu outfit, much to Tara's approval, and Tara chose a white tunic and a long, sky blue skirt that Willow proclaimed 'lovely', even if it did cover up her legs.

"How'd your meeting with Tryptin go?" Willow asked as they made their way along the wide boulevard towards Market street, reassured by the various clocks on the storefronts that they had at least enough time to walk.

"Good," Tara said, "like I thought, nothing to do until tomorrow evening. The Duke and his party are attending a performance at the opera house, and all the diplomatic guests are invited. And, if they so choose, allowed to bring along a partner," she added, looking meaningfully at Willow.

"Really? Thank you," Willow gushed, practically bouncing as she hugged Tara in the middle of the street. If there was one advantage to being in such a lively, bustling city, it was that no-one seemed to pay much attention to an exotically-attired sorceress leaping into the arms of her blonde companion. At least, not to the display of affection - Tara, with private amusement, had noticed as they walked along that Willow was drawing more than a couple of appreciative looks from various young men, and the occasional woman. One handsome boy, barely sixteen she guessed, very nearly walked into a gaslight post, his attention was so fixated on the sorceress across the road from him.

"I've never been to an opera," Willow went on. She remained oblivious to the looks she was drawing, attributing the handful she noticed to Tara's presence, which gave her a gleeful pride to be walking hand-in-hand with such a beautiful woman.

"It's not a full opera," Tara explained, "apparently it's a series of shows, sort of a spectacle. Singing, dancing, acrobatics, from what Tryptin's heard at the Palace it's something they do regularly, showing off performers and acts from foreign lands. It's supposed to draw quite a crowd.

"I wonder what they'll have," Willow said. "If there's any singing to rival yours, I'll be impressed."

"I don't know," Tara said, blushing at the compliment, "we'll just have to wait and see. In this city, it could be anything." As if to prove her point, a pair of ginger-haired cat people emerged from the crowd and crossed the street almost directly in front of them. The male wore a loincloth, while the female at his side, who walked with the stately elegance of a queen, wore mere strips of fabric tight across her hips and chest. Tara did a double-take, then managed to control her impulse to stare.

"Um," Willow said quietly, "just out of curiosity... how many breasts did you say Marela had, again?"

"She had a loose robe on," Tara said, unable to keep a little amazement out of her voice, "I guess, could have been..." She glanced around, and was mildly relieved to see she and Willow weren't the only ones who couldn't help but notice the cat-woman's twin pairs of firm breasts, one pair beneath the other.

"Should I be worried, breast gal?" she joked to Willow.

"Nah," Willow shook her head vehemently, "quality over quantity... two Tara-breasts are worth any number of other breasts. No question about it."

"That's so sweet," Tara grinned. "Why four? Don't cats have six? I mean, cat cats, not cat people cats..."

"Averages out, I guess?" Willow ventured. "I mean, they're human-like, pretty much half-way between a cat and a human... so, two breasts and six breasts average out to four."

"I suppose the cat men aren't complaining," Tara said with a sly smile.

"Guess not," Willow admitted, as Tara laughed softly and kissed her on the cheek.

Amalee was overjoyed to see them, and stood amazed at Willow in her sorceress attire. Brydan himself couldn't help but stare for a moment, until Joma nudged him in the ribs with an indulgent smile and the two busied themselves setting the table, while Tara helped and Willow presented a beaming Amalee with a small bag of cinnamon-dusted almonds she had seen at a market stall she and Tara had passed. The girl promised not to eat them all at once, but managed to sneak half a dozen into her mouth during the course of lunch.

"I'm going to go to the science school," she announced proudly, when Tara asked her how she was finding her new home.

"The school of the sciences," Brydan explained, "they set up about ten years ago, young men only for the first couple of years when they were more an apprenticeship school, then some new people came in charge of it and they started taking younger boys, and girls as well. I think my brother meant to send her to someplace like it soon," he added with a regretful note colouring his voice. "She'll certainly learn fast," he went on, brightening, "she reads better than I did at her age."

"We've bought a few storybooks for when the baby's old enough," Joma added, one arm resting proudly around her belly, "and she went through most of them last night."

"I'd still like to be a sorceress like you," Amalee put in, smiling at Willow.

"Well, you work hard at your school," Willow told her with a fond look, "and hey, you'd be surprised how often science and magic are the same thing."

"Really?" Amalee asked. Brydan and Joma looked surprised as well.

"Oh yeah," Willow said, "it's all the same, really. Science and magic," she shrugged, "it's all really about what you've got up here." She tapped her forehead, grinning at Amalee. "I bet you'll do really well."

Amalee was all for hearing every detail of Willow and Tara's stay at the Palace, and continued to listen intently as they told her about it in minute detail - excepting their own escapades, of course - until, with regrets and a promise to visit again soon, they took their leave.

"Oh, one thing," Brydan said as they stood in the doorway, while Joma led Amalee back inside after an extended series of hugs, "our baby, that my wife's carrying... the healer seers say it'll be a boy, and..." he looked hesitant, then went on: "we talked last night, and if it's alright with you both... we thought 'William Taran'...? Considering what you've done for our family, you see..."

"I'm honoured," Willow said, giving Tara a moment to recover as her eyes welled up with happy tears.

"Honoured," she echoed, smiling almost as wide as Willow had ever seen.

"Good," Brydan said, relief obvious in his expression, "good... well, we'll look forward to seeing you in a couple of days, then. Be well. Enjoy your studies, Miss Willow."

"How about that, huh?" Willow said cheerfully as they headed back towards the markets, hand in hand.

"It's going to take a while to settle in," Tara admitted, "for an Amazon, having a child named for you... it's like an affirmation of everything that you are."

"There's no-one more deserving that you," Willow said warmly.

"Or you," Tara replied, "my lovely Willow." They paused in the street for a moment, sharing a brief, sweet kiss, before continuing on their way.

"You know what," Willow said, "those markets look tempting, don't they?"

"And we've got the whole afternoon to ourselves," Tara agreed, "and somehow, considering I spent the whole night making love with a beautiful, inastiable nymph, I'm not tired." She gave Willow a grin. "Let's shop."

Continue to Hellebore Chapter Forty-Eight (Rated NC-17)

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