Clarissa leaned against the cooling stone wall, her gaze directed at the hill and land outside of her window. If she narrowed her eyes and titled her head slightly to the right side she was sure that she would bee able see the small farm and with her telescope she might even been able to catch a glimpse of the blonde working on the fields.
Five days. She was back at the castle for five days now and she never had felt that locked in before in her life. Even her library felt like a prison for her.
When the count had brought her back there had been a big tumult servants maids and guards, the every occupant of the castle had cheered as they rode through the big gate. Even her mother had taken her into her cold, stiff embrace. Then they had fussed all over her checking her hundred times if she was unhurt. Only a few days ago she would have been happy about all the attention but now it seemed hollow and false. They had been concerned about the princess but not about her as a person, as a living being.
Their questions had been the worst. She had only told them that she had been stupid enough to ride out in a storm, that she fell off and that some farmers had saved her. But for everyone except her it was obvious who her savior was. Count Phillip. And she had left it like that. She was glad when everything was over and she was allowed to go to bed. Nana had tugged her in and had given her a good night kiss like all the nights before and she had hidden under her blanket, hoping to get the chance to make it up to the one person she had hurt most.
Five days and she hadn't had any chance to sneak out. They had watched every one of her steps, forbidding her to go near the stable. As if she wanted to go there ever again in her whole life.
And every day the Count would pay his respect to her. He would walk her through the garden, asking about her welfare and she would answer him politely but in monosyllables. Soon she heard whispers where ever she walked about her and the count falling in love. A dry laugh escaped her throat as she heard it for the first time but the laugh tied her throat up when it struck her that they didn't joke.
Only five days and rumors about a wedding occurred. The mere thought of it made her panic. Sure he was a handsome and kind man and he wasn't as boring as the rest of them but that wasn't what she hoped for the rest of her life. But what did she want? Without realizing her mind returned to a small hut, a black cat and a girl in front of the fire.
She ruined it and she had to make it up to her.
Finally at the fifth day she was back at her library, her safe place where no one bothered her. The first hour she only sat there, planning what to do and say before she finally took action. She climbed the small ladder to the highest shelve where the plans and cards were stuffed up. It didn't take her long to find the what she looked for and with a grin on her face she climbed back and unrolled the card on the table.
"Yes." She smiled as for the first time in five days the gods were on her side. Carefully her fingers followed the hidden paths through the castle as she bent down over the architect's plan. And one of the entrances lay in the library the place where she spent most of her time and where no one ever bothered her. She could stay here for the whole day without anyone having a look at her. All she had to do was to say she would go to her books.
Now to the other part of her plan. She looked at the bundle next to the table. She had managed to get a dress of rough linen, a headscarf and a straw hat, so no one would recognize her because of her clothes. She changed fast into her new clothes and twisted as her skin adjusted to the new rough fabric. Then she took the hat and a small book she had picked from her collection and walked to the wall behind her where the entrance lay. She pushed the stone back that was marked on her plan and suddenly one of the shelves swung open, revealing her path.
It took her over two hours to get to the small farm and she had to rest two times in the shadows to recover form the exhausting walk through the hot sun. She cursed herself that she had forgotten to take some water with her and she hoped that the dizzy feeling she had felt as she had watched Natasha out at the field wouldn't return. She didn't go to her to be saved again but to tell her how sorry she was. Although she liked the thought of being saved by Natasha even if she didn't know from what.
She sighed as she reached the farm. Silent and deserted it lay there like when she had been there the last time. Without hesitating she went to the garden, preparing herself for the second part of her plan. She turned around the corner and... no one was there.
Not knowing where to go next she walked back to Natasha's small house when she heard sounds from the stable.
She swallowed. Stable meant horses her mind told her and horses and her shouldn't be in the same room. But she had to go to Natasha even if she was in there with hundreds of horses. Taking in a deep breath she straightened herself up and stepped into the stable. No horses she registered relieved, only two cows and a goat. And next to one of the cows she found Natasha milking it, her back turned towards her. Although it took all her inner strength she waited till the blonde was finished and turned around. But what she saw crushed all her happy feelings about meeting her again. There were dark circles under her eyes and she looked very tired and drained, her shoulders hanging down. But the worst thing was the huge gash under her left eye. Clarissa forgot all her worked out apology-speech as she run forward to Natasha.
The blonde had stopped as soon as she saw the princess standing at the open door.
"What happened?" Clarissa asked concerned. Before she could stop herself her hands shot out to touch the wounded cheek but Natasha squirmed back.
"N-nothing. The cow hit me. It w-was my fault. I sh-should have w-watched out. Sometimes I'm just clumsy." She lowered her head, a strain of blond hair covering the wound.
"I've seen you, you're not clumsy." Clarissa assured her. Her reward was a short glance from Natasha but the blonde lowered her head immediately again when she remembered whom she was talking with.
"You shouldn't be here, Princess." The witch said.
"Please, no." The redhead answered. "I'm sorry. I should have told you who I am but I felt so free and safe here." She inhaled deeply before she continued, glad that Natasha still listened to her. "I never had a friend before and I... it felt just good to talk to you as a real human being and not as a princess. And I didn't want to lose that."
Now Natasha looked openly at her. "I understand."
"Then you're not mad at me?" Clarissa beamed.
"Oh. I have something for you as a 'thank you for saving me'." She pulled the small book out of her bag and presented it. She smiled in anticipation.
"You don't have to." Natasha insisted and crossed her arms over her chest.
"I know but I want to. I though you could use it. It's about herbs and no ones going to miss it." She still offered the book to Natasha but the blonde didn't take it.
"I can't read." Natasha revealed her gaze returning to the ground.
"Oh." For a moment Clarissa didn't know what to answer but then her face lit up again. "But that's no problem. I can teach you."
The blonde shook her head. But before she could say anything Clarissa continued. "I'll teach you reading and writing and you can teach me everything about herbs. It will be great." She looked at the blonde waiting for an answer but the blonde only shot her a short look before she turned her head to the left avoiding the princess' questioning gaze.
Clarissa realized that it wouldn't work out like she had hoped for. "I could need a friend. Please?" She begged.
At least Natasha looked at her. "I'll come anyway." The redhead added and won a small smile from the other woman.
"Looks like I have no chance." The blonde said.
"You don't." Clarissa assured her while she nodded vehemently. "and now we should do something about your injury. It doesn't look good."
"First lesson: Injuries are never good."
Clarissa was happy. For two weeks now she visited her friend. Every morning she woke up her first thought was about the blonde and when she would be able to sneak out to visit her again. Till now no one had became suspicious.
She visited her every morning before Natasha would walk to the meadows to bring her father and brother their lunch. They stayed there the whole day working the wheat fields and tending the cattle.
Natasha taught her while she did her farm work, showing her the herbs and explaining their effect to her. She loved listening to her calm, melodic voice. But more than her voice she loved her laugh although the blonde didn't laugh enough. She smiled a lot, most of them half-smiles but the deep from the heart laughs were very rare and every time she'd been able to evoke one of them the redhead was proud of herself. And she was proud of Natasha cause the blonde proofed to be a really fast learner. Another week and she would be able to read fluently Clarissa was sure. Only now and then when she saw how tired or exhausted Natasha looked she felt guilty for stealing free time from her, time the blonde needed desperately to recover but every time she considered they could stop Natasha shook her head.
"We could stop." She considered as Natasha hid a yawn behind her hand. But the blonde shook her head bravely.
"No, I want to learn." Her eyes directed at the book in front of her. "The work is so monotone and I'm enjoying the change." She closed her eyes tightly and tried to make out a complicated word. "What's that word?" She pointed at a word on the page.
Clarissa bent down her face next to Natasha's. Suddenly breathing became an issue as she inhaled the sweet scent from the girl.
"That's true." Clarissa muttered dreamily before she could stop herself. "I mean the word. You've read it right." She made a quick getaway and stood up. "But I think we should stop." She added nervously. "You need to rest."
Natasha shook her head. "No, I still have milk the cow. Or do you want to try it." She asked mockingly.
But Clarissa accepted the challenge. "I would love to." She answered in her best princess' voice.
"It was a joke, I n-never would..."
"But I want to. I never milked a cow and how hard can it be. I've seen you doing it. All I have to do is pulling the teat." She said confidently.
The blonde snickered. "Let's go, I've never seen a princess pulling a teat." She grinned wickedly.
"It's empty." Disappointed Clarissa turned to Natasha. She pulled once again at the teat. "See."
The blonde giggled, shielding her mouth with her hand, then she coughed and tried to stay serious. "Maybe you should try the next?" She suggested.
Clarissa wiggled her fingers before she pulled at the next one. "Empty too." Her disappointment grew.
"Maybe your fingers to cold and now the milk is frozen inside." Natasha mocked her further.
"You're making fun of me." The princess pouted.
"I would never dare to. You're the Princess." Natasha bowed.
"A princess with a teat instead of a scepter in her hand. I order you to give milk." She commanded majestically. But the cow wouldn't listen. "You will be thrown into the darkest dungeon if you don't obey." She gave a exact imitation of her mother, including her steady playing with her long golden bracelet.
"It doesn't listen." Clarissa observed.
"Maybe it's deaf or doesn't know you're the princess." Natasha tried to help.
Clarissa sighed. "You've won. Fine, what have I to do? Please help me."
"I would never disobey the Princess a wish." Natasha knelt down next to Clarissa. She rubbed her hands together blowing into them. Then her hands clasped around Clarissa's, leading them back to the first teat. "You have to close your thumb and index finger around the top part." Her hand closed over the said fingers. Clarissa found it hard to follow Natasha's instructions as the blonde sat next to her. Where their bodies touched the redhead felt a sparkling feeling that spread out through her whole body. She gulped and intensified her gaze at their entwined fingers. Somehow she had to get her mind of the sensation of feeling Natasha's breast pushing gently into her back.
"See. Now you have to close your fingers one after the other from the top to the bottom." The redhead nodded not able to form any words as she felt Natasha's breath at her neck like a soft caress.
Suddenly there was a white jet.
"I like that." Damn she really had to stop thinking aloud.
"Well you can do it every day if you like it that much." And how she would like to do it again although she could do without the cow.
She ran down the hill to catch at least some of the lost time. Thanks to her mother who had wanted to talk to her about a certain Count and the possibility of a marriage she was now late. She hoped to catch Natasha before she had to walk to the meadows. Only two weeks ago she wouldn't have been able to run that fast but the steady walking had improved her condition.
When she could finally see the farm she speeded up in happy anticipation. Suddenly she stopped, shocked what took place in front of her eyes. Even from that distance she could see Natasha's golden hair shimmering in the sun as she stood in front of the big farm house but what Clarissa bothered was the person next to her. Count Phillip. She would have died to know what they were talking about.
She hid behind the next bush. She couldn't risk to be seen. What did he want from her? Had he found out that she sneaked out every day to meet the witch and now he wanted to bring her back, strengthening his position back at court?
She watched as he bent down to lift up his horse foreleg inspecting it. Then he nodded at Natasha. He took her hand placing something into her palm and closed it before he turned it around to kiss it. Then he mounted his horse, waved for the last time and rode away.
"Ha. I told you he's evil." Willow interrupted but stopped when she saw Tara's face. "Okay, go on, I won't interrupt."
Clarissa didn't know what to do. She hated him, she really did. How dare he to kiss her hand? And why had she allowed him to do it? Her heart raced as she thought about how often they had met behind her back, laughing about her. She had Natasha considered her friend and now she betrayed her like this. She didn't want to share her, the blonde was her friend and only hers. She had taught her writing and reading and had made her laugh.
She loved her... As a friend, of course. She added half-heartedly.
It took all her inner strength to wait till she was sure that the Count wasn't coming back. Then she stomped down the last part of the hill. She surprised Natasha at the well. Clarissa stood there without announcing her arrival.
The blonde turned around. She shrieked when she found someone standing behind her. But calmed down when she saw that it was the redhead. She took a deep breath, her hand resting above her heart. "Clare, you scared me." She smiled.
Every other day, Clarissa would have loved to hear the short form of her name from Natasha but today it only deepened her pain.
"How long?" She spit out between clenched teeth.
"How long what?" Natasha's smile died on her face.
"You and him."
"Him?" Natasha looked puzzled at her but then realization lit her face up.
"Me and the Count?" She shook her head. "No, you don't understand."
"I understand just fine." Clarissa turned around. She just wanted to get away but Natasha grabbed her arm.
"Wait." the blonde turned her around to face her. "There is nothing between him and me. He brought his horse yesterday. Said it fell and limped. He knows what I am and ssked me to cure his horse. It's his favorite. He just came by to fetch it."
"He kissed your hand." Her voice that of a child she stubbornly searched for something that would justify her former accusation.
"I-I didn't ask him to do it."
Clarissa nodded. She trusted her, she desperately wanted to trust her and she felt stupid for even considering that there had been something between her and Phillip. Natasha had never given her a reason to doubt her.
"Oh god, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." Her eyes filled with tears. "It's just I saw you and I was so jealous. You're my best friend. My only friend. The only one who ever understood me. You're the most important person in my life I don't want to share you." She hoped that she hadn't gone too far with her confession but after her mistrust she wanted to explain her sudden outburst and she could only do it by spilling the truth.
Natasha only smiled. "I understand. I'm yours."
Clarissa smiled back and sighed relieved. "You're not mad at me?"
"No." The blonde shook her head. "And to show you, can you sneak out tonight?"
"It's a full moon." Came the cryptic answer.
Nervously Clarissa looked around. Down at the bottom of the hill she could see the farm but Natasha had told her to wait at the old oak and that she should put off her lantern. Here she was all by herself and without a light in the middle of the night. At least due to the full moon she could see her surroundings.
Everything was bathed in the moon's coldly blue light, transforming her well known world into something new and strange. She clung her coat tighter around her body and suppressed her sudden urge to go back to the castle. Before her mind hundred possibilities of what could happen played out. There could be highwaymen, murderers, demons and she was out here an easy victim without protection.
But Natasha had told her to wait here and she wanted to believe that the blonde witch would never do anything that could harm her. She had to trust her. But surrounded by sounds she never heard before that wasn't an easy task.
Her eyes fixated the farm, hoping for Natasha to appear but down there everything lay silent. No light, no figure made its way up to her.
"Please, Natasha." She pleaded into the night. Nervously she shifted her weight from on foot to the other.
"Yes?" A voice behind her made her jump and squeak.
"I'm sorry I didn't want to scare you." Natasha apologized.
"I didn't see you." Breathless Clarissa pointed at the farm.
"I took another way. I couldn't risk to wake my father and brother." Although Clarissa couldn't see it she could have sworn that Natasha's features darkened at the mention of her family. But then the smile was back at that lovingly face and Natasha took Clarissa's lantern and stowed it away carefully in her basket.
"Come." Natasha offered Clarissa her hand and the redhead took it thankfully and let Natasha lead her through the night.
They walked in silence for a while and Clarissa enjoyed to hold the blonde's strong hand, promising herself that she would follow her every where as long as Natasha would hold and guide her. She watched the curve figure before her swinging left and right in an unconscious but seductive way. She forced herself to look up and away from the body. Only to find herself transfixed by Natasha's back of her head. Even in the moon light the hair shimmered and she couldn't think of a more valuable fabric. The urge to touch it to glide her hands through it overwhelmed her and formed a lump in her throat. She had nothing else to do than reach out and before she realized it her free hand sneaked out.
But before she could touch it Natasha suddenly stopped and turned around. Hastily the princess pulled her hand away, hiding it behind her back and formed a fist to keep it from reaching out again. And how she wanted to reach out, to touch the strand of hair that had slipped out to cover Natasha's face. Disappointed she watched Natasha tugging it back behind her ear.
"Here we are." Natasha announced, her hand pointing in a half wave at the apple grove around them.
She inhaled deeply. "Smell. It's intensified at a full moon." She whispered into Clarissa's ear.
Clarissa filled her lungs with the beguiling scent around her. And for a moment the world danced around in her mind. But she wasn't sure if she had smelled the apples or the beautiful girl next to her.
Still dazed the redhead watched Natasha taking a blanket from her basket. She whirled it through the air before she spread it out at the ground. Then she lit up the lantern again and motioned Clarissa to follow her.
Slowly they walked through the grove their shoulders touching slightly as they tried to make out the small plants at the ground.
"Some leaves are only effective if you gather them at a full moon." Natasha knelt down next to a small plant. "It's wolf's leaves. It's milk gathered at a full moon will protect you from werewolves."
"There are werewolves?" Clarissa looked around afraid. She didn't trust a small plant to protect her from a beast. "Maybe we should go back than?"
But Natasha giggled. "It's an old legend. I walk this grove every full moon since I can walk and I've never met a were - or any other wolf." Her hand clasped the redhead's smaller hand giving it a short squeeze. "You're save here. You're save with me."
Clarissa looked into blue eyes that threatened to drown her. But she wasn't afraid. She couldn't imagine a better death than to be drowned in those eyes. Unable to form words she just nodded at the face only inches away from hers.
She still sat there when Natasha got up and walked over to one of the trees. "And this." She turned around a wicked smile at her face. "Are burs." And with that she threw a handful of them at the princess. Perplex the redhead looked down to find herself covered with the annoying plants. Even in her hair she found them.
She jumped up heading at the blonde. "Revenge." She screamed as the witch run zigzag through the grove. Clarissa followed her lead and then she jumped and tore the blonde with her to the ground. She landed on top of her, both of them heavily breathing.
They gazed at each other not able to move an inch. Natasha's hand darted out to pull a bur from the silky red hair but it stayed there in the red hair enjoying the soft touch. Clarissa smiled before she bent down.
And then they kissed. First it was soft as their lips met. Smaller one pressed at full lips. But soon it wasn't enough. The petit woman on top wanted to taste the other one completely. Her tongue darted out happy to find the other woman opening her mouth slightly to her request. Their tongues met to dance with each other.
"That was nice." Clarissa stated, her head resting at the bigger girl's shoulder after they had returned to their blanket.
"Only nice?" Natasha asked softly, her hand still playing with the red hair.
"It's magic." Clarissa shifted to place a kiss at the blonde's cheek. "Can you do magic?"
"Magic? What kind of magic?"
"The spell kind of magic."
Natasha fell quiet before she nodded slowly. "O-only smaller spells my mother taught me."
"Can you do it for me?" Clarissa whispered into the small ear, earning a deep moan.
"I don't know..."
"Please?" Clarissa pouted.
Natasha sighed. "But only a small one."
Clarissa nodded happily.
"Lux." A small light orb appeared above them bathing the grove into a warm light.
"Wow. My own, private witch." Clarissa climbed on top of the older woman and dived her hands into her hair. She pressed herself tighter against the blonde when she felt her arms around her waist pulling her nearer. And they kissed again, losing themselves in their embrace.
A light shake threatened to tear her out of her sweet dreams. But she didn't want to wake up to find herself in her bed at the castle, she wanted to stay in these dreamy arms that held her.
"We have to get up." The shaking continued. Clarissa shifted and hid her face into the thick honey smelling hair. "Please." Now Clarissa remembered were and with whom she was. She opened her eyes and smiled at the girl next to her.
"Morning." She stole a kiss from the full lips.
"Morning. We have to go, it's late. Dawn's coming." Natasha pulled out of Clarissa's arms.
"I don't want to." Clarissa pouted although she knew that her friend was right. She got up and yawned watching Natasha gathering her belongings. Her arms sneaked around the blonde's waist from behind pulling her against her chest. Then she kissed the soft place behind Natasha's ear.
"Please." A weak voice pleaded as Natasha leaned into the redhead.
"Only if we meet tonight and every night after that." Natasha bit her lower lip before she nodded.
"And where is the hot monkey sex?" Willow pouted. "I want hot monkey love."
"You wanted a long fairy tale and not a short porn." Tara gave her a wigging. "and that's what you get. A long tale."
It had felt right. To be in the grove with her and to lie in her arms had felt right. Kissing her and doing more than that definitely had been right for her, for both of them. Not a second passed that she didn't think about what had happened there. She had let it happen, had given into her feelings and it had been right. No question about that. Everything had fallen into place and she had felt complete. Safe and loved. How could this be wrong? It hadn't felt wrong and there had been no lightning from god killing her in an instant. There had only been her, Natasha, and the night around them, embracing them like they had embraced each other. She hadn't wanted it to end but Natasha had insisted on it.
Secured in an embrace she had stolen the promise from her to meet again. To transform the end into the beginning and the blonde had nodded and promised to return the next night. Clarissa tasted the pleasant pain of anticipation and planed out what she would do with the blonde the next night. How she would tell and show her how much she loved her. Love. Where did this come from? Was it love, could it be love after such a short time? Maybe it was just safety, the feeling of being understood. Whatever it was, it felt beautiful and ... right.
She stopped on her way back to the castle and closed her eyes. With every cell she took in the smell of the dawn, tasting it in her mouth like she had tasted the witch. The apples still lingered in the air as she inhaled deeply again, smelling the hidden smell of honey. Never in her life she had felt so alive, all her senses tingled. It was like waking up after a long journey through darkness. She imagined her future and in every thought there was Natasha. Her smile, her lips, eyes, hair, arms, hands, legs and everything. How could it be wrong?
With every step she put between herself and the grove her certainty trembled. First, there were only hidden cracks but with every inch she got closer to the castle, closer to her 'real' life, nothing more than a gray shadow grew tearing her and Natasha apart.
"Did they have sex and you didn't tell me?" Willow pouted.
"No, they didn't have sex till now. We didn't have sex in our first night too, remember?" Tara asked.
"Of course I remember and I remember that I wanted nothing more than have sex with you but I was too insecure." Willow wiggled with her brows. "But I'm not insecure any longer. I always want sex with you."
"Clarissa, you should get up. It's already noon." Nana stood next to the big bed that contained a small redhead, lying there in a fetal position. "Darling?" the old woman tried again when Clarissa didn't move. She wasn't even sure if the princess was awake.
She bent over the bed to get a better look but still the only thing she could see was a curled up body, arms wrapped tight around legs, the face somewhere hidden behind arms and legs. When Clarissa still didn't move, she got up and walked to the door that would lead her into her small room next to the princess'. As she was to close the door behind her, leaving the princess alone, she heard a small voice.
"Is love wrong?" At first Nana wasn't sure she had heard anything at all, her old ears were sometimes playing tricks on her. But the voice repeated, "Is love wrong?" This time the old nurse heard the question and the desperate voice that asked her.
She went over to Clarissa again and sat next to her in the bed. The redhead hadn't moved at all, her back still turned to the old woman and if she hadn't repeated the question Nana wouldn't have been sure that her 'daughter' was awake at all.
The question still hung heavily in the air. "Love isn't wrong." An old arthritic hand stroked over soft red hair.
"I think, I'm falling in love." This time the small voice from within the bundle sounded terrified yet there was a hint of happiness there at the same time.
"It's not the Count." Nana was sure, she had seen Clarissa interacting with him and there had been politeness and maybe friendliness but there had never been even a flicker of love. "Who is he?" She asked, her hand still soothingly brushing through silk hair.
Only then did the princess move, turning on her back to look at her nurse, big teary eyes directed at the old woman. "It's complicated." She sighed afraid of what Nana would say if she knew.
"Why complicated?" Nana repeated. "What? Your love, he isn't titled?" She continued, not knowing that it was only the half truth.
"Yes, no." Clarissa took a deep breath, preparing herself for her next words. "It's complicated because he doesn't have a title and she isn't a man."
It took the old woman's brain some time to process the new information but then it hit her. "Oh. Ohh" She nodded. "You think you're in love with a woman?"
"No." Clarissa's face looked away towards the window, her mind and heart traveling to the place behind it. "I 'know' I'm in love with a woman." She stated. Scared of what to expect she turned back to her nurse. "I love her." Her voice trembled with unshed tears. When her Nana didn't answer she continued, "I'm afraid."
Finally the small whisper brought her nurse back. "Are you sure?"
Clarissa only nodded.
"Hm." The nurse nodded herself, searching for the right words to say. "Well, there you go then. You have to follow your heart. I mean, that's what's important." The nurse took a deep breath.
"Are you freaked?" Clarissa asked worried.
What? No, No! Absolutely no to that question. I'm glad you told me. I'm sure she's a wonderful person if you love her." was all her mind came up with.
"She is. And there's something between us... I wasn't looking for it, you know. It's just totally powerful." Clarissa's head jumped up and down happily that her nurse didn't criticize her. And after hours of fear the happiness returned into her eyes and heart as she started to explain to Nana just how wonderful Natasha was. "I've never met someone like her before. She saved me, and she helps every one. There was this family with a pregnant cow but the calf didn't want to come out and she saved it. There was this 'yuck' part in the middle but she was great, she knew what she had to do and she let me name the calf. I called it Louis." She smiled as she remembered that day. "And she has the most beautiful eyes I've ever seen, blue like the sea must be. And her hair it's like honey, oh and can't forget the full lips..." She stopped remembering where she was and whom she was telling all that. "And I think I'll better stop now."
But the old woman only laughed her dry, raspy laugh. "So you're in love for the first time in your life." She stated somehow proud that her child had finally found love. "I always hoped you would come out of your library and taste life."
"I hadn't expected it to taste so good." The redhead murmured, earning a second laugh from her nurse. But she stopped laughing when she saw the frown and darkening eyes of the girl.
"What's wrong?" She asked concerned.
"Is it right to love a woman? I've never heard or read about two women in love. It's always a man and a woman, they get married and have a lot of children. Well most of the time it's about getting married and having children and they don't mention the love part. Like it isn't essential but it feels essential. And the priest once spoke about Sodom and Gomorrah and he told us that there man laid next to man and that it was wrong. Doesn't that mean that a woman laying with another woman is wrong too? But it didn't feel wrong, Nana, it felt good and wonderful. I've never felt that happy in my life. I can't imagine to be without her again." Her words trembled. "I don't want to imagine it." She looked up at her nurse, taking a deep breath. "Am I a bad person?"
"You can't ever be a bad person, even if you tried, sweetheart." Nana said lovingly, placing a kiss on the redhead's forehead. "Never."
"I promise." She cupped the princess' face with her hands, locking her eyes with her. "But you have to be careful, no one can know about your love. It's dangerous for you and even more for her. You have to be very careful when you sneak out again."
Clarissa looked at her in shock. "Y-you noticed?"
"Of course I noticed that you spend every day out of the castle." She smiled. "And last night." She added, watching the girl blush and lowering her head. "When will you see her again?"
"Tonight." Clarissa whispered.
"Tell her you love her and enjoy all the love you receive." 'Because you never know how long it will last', she added in her mind hoping that life would give Clarissa a small chance to know true love at least before it crushed her.
"Don't do this to me." Willow screamed.
"What?" Tara asked puzzled.
"This 'because you never know how long it will last' thing. I know what that means. I can read the big neon sign pointing out 'trouble and pain'." Willow explained mad, her hands imitating the blinking of the sign. "I don't want trouble."
"There's always pain in the middle of a fairy tale, honey." Tara stayed calm.
Clarissa ran as fast as her legs could carry her. After her talk with Nana she had felt better, knowing that there was a person that hadn't condemned her but encouraged her. Actually, she had felt so good that she fell asleep right after Nana had left her room.
She had woken up startled knowing immediately that she was late. The sun had already vanished leaving the cold, starlit night behind. Her heart made a little double jump in anticipation as she made it out to the grove.
"Natasha?" she whispered as she entered the grove, looking around for her lover. Her brows furrowed when she realized that she was alone. The fear back came but this time not about being robbed or murdered by some highwayman. It wasn't about doing something wrong either. This time she was afraid that something might have happened to Natasha. Even the mere thought choked up her throat and made breathing an impossible task.
She paced the grove, looking behind every tree and bush for the blonde. 'Maybe she fell asleep hidden behind one of them as she waited for me.' She thought. She only had to look for her and she would find her safe and sound asleep.
After searching the grove for the third time it became painfully clear that Natasha wasn't waiting for her. She looked up into the sky only to recognize the tree in front of her. It was the same tree she and Natasha had spent the night under. Even the grass was still flattened from their weight.
Everything was like the night before, the trees, the moon, the grass, even the same smell that intoxicated her senses. Only yesterday that smell had stimulated her but today it left behind only nausea. Her legs buckled under her and she slid down against the trunk, closing her eyes as she tired to understand what had just happened.
Natasha wouldn't have forgotten their rendezvous, maybe she was out helping a cow to calve again, or maybe the blonde had had the same insecurities like her, only she had made another decision. Maybe Natasha didn't want to see her again. She closed her eyes and leaned her head back, feeling the rough trunk against her spine. Forcefully her chest rose and fell as she fought against the tears that threatened to overwhelm her.
"It can't be over, not now." She whispered. "Please. I just found her." She wrapped her arms around her legs rocking gently forth and back. It couldn't be over.
"She wouldn't do that to her, would she?" Willow asked alarmed. "She loves her, right? Natasha wouldn't leave her like this."
Tara didn't answer.
The cold was the first thing she noticed as she woke up stiff and still leaning against the tree. She shivered as the wet cold from the night frost crawled through her body. Awkwardly she stood up and stretched her body to get some feeling back into her limbs. Her fists clenched and unclenched, fighting against the numb feeling. But the feeling stayed as the thought of Natasha just playing with her returned.
It couldn't be true. She knew that the blonde would never be able to hurt someone even if she didn't love her, she would have told her so. Everything was better than this uncertainty. She had to know. Right now. She couldn't wait a day, an hour or even minutes to know what had happened. If she knew what Natasha's reasons were, her mind could analyze and find a solution. She was good at finding solutions.
She wrapped her cape tighter around her body and walked towards the little farm to find the answer to her questions.
How could everything look the same when the whole world had changed for her? There had to be some signs showing the transformation but everything looked the same to her eyes the grove and now the farm. Nothing had changed their outside form but their meanings had changed forever for her.
She didn't care if Natasha's family saw her as she walked straight to the blonde's little hut. They couldn't harm her, she was the princess after all. Remembering this she straightened her shoulders and took a deep breath before she knocked on Natasha's door. There was no answer from within but somehow she just knew that Natasha would be there and she knocked again, this time violently. "Natasha?" she asked suppressing the little tremble in her voice.
But still no answer.
She hesitated just for a moment before she decided to enter the hut without the permission of its inhabitant. Only the door didn't move an inch. She pushed harder but still the door wouldn't move. She stopped surprised. Natasha had never locked her door up before, it had always been open. "Natasha?" She asked again. "I won't go until you open up and we talk." Her ear against the door she listened to the noises from inside. Nothing was heard. Just as she thought that she had been wrong and Natasha wasn't there she heard a whisper from inside.
"Natasha?" She pressed her ear against the door again, her hand reaching out to stroke the rough surface of the door.
"No, I can't. Not before we talk about everything." Her voice was firm.
She couldn't hear it, but she was sure that the blonde was crying. "Let me in." Clarissa pleaded.
"No, I have to know what's wrong."
Again there was only silence but finally Natasha answered. "I d-don't l-love you."
"And I don't believe you." Her hand scratched the door, as her heart tried to process the new information.
"I j-just wanted to know what a princess tastes like." Now Clarissa could hear the sobs behind the door. "And now go!"
The redhead jumped back at the sudden scream. "I'm staying." There was certainly something wrong and she had to know what. "I love you." She voiced to the girl behind the door. "And I won't leave. Let me in."
"You can." The redhead hoped she sounded convincing. "Just open the door."
"It's locked from outside." The small voice answered her.
"What?" Panic rushed through her, as the princess rattled at the door and slammed her weight against it. "What happened?" She fought against her own tears.
"The key is on a nail next to the door." Was all she got for an answer.
Frantically she searched for the key and tore it from its nail. With shaking hands she tried to put it into the lock. She cursed herself as try after try she missed her target. She had to stop, telling herself to calm down. She wiped her tears away and tried it again. This time she succeeded. She pushed the door open.
The only light came from behind her through the now open door as her eyes tried to adapt to the darkness and to find Natasha.
"Natasha?" Even in the faint light she noticed the chaos. The table and chairs were knocked over and the whole ground was covered in broken jars and destroyed herbs. Then she saw Natasha. "Oh my god."
There was nothing left to say when the blonde fell into her arms.
"Where do you think you're going?" Willow squeaked as Tara lifted her head from her lap and tried to leave the bed.
"I have to go to the bathroom." Her lover explained.
"But not now!" Willow insisted, pulling up her nose. "After the tale."
"I have to go now." Tara said on her way out. "Later will be too late."
The redhead watched quietly as her girlfriend closing the bathroom door. She waited impatiently until her lover reappeared and settled back next to her to continue the tale.
Carefully she ushered the blonde to the ground, resting her head in her lap. "Tasha?" She brushed the lifeless hair out of her face to get a better look. She winced and closed her eyes for a second. She had to be strong for her now, she could break down later but not now. Her lover needed her to be strong.
Her eyes opened up again, meeting Natasha's. There wasn't even a trace of the bright shimmer the blue eyes normally showed. Actually she looked only into one eye because Natasha's right one was hidden behind a big bruise. Clarissa's hands reached out, she wanted to caress the blonde and to take some of her visible pain but she was afraid to only intensify the pain for her lover.
"What happened?" She rocked the blonde gently. Her arms lightly touching the witch's beaten body.
"They found out." The witch breathed heavily.
"Who found out what?" Clarissa bit her lower lip to keep herself from crying. With her sleeve she wiped the blood from Natasha's split lip. But she stopped immediately when the blonde winced in pain. "I'm sorry." Her hands waved helplessly in the air. "Who did this?" She asked again. "I will punish them."
"I can, I'm the princess."
Natasha gave her a sad half smile in response. "They're family, they're allowed to punish me." The nausea hit Clarissa with full force as the words settled in.
"Your father and brother did this to you? Why?"
"They f-found out I did the spell last night. They waited for me when I came back. They destroyed everything. All my herbs." Natasha looked at the chaos around her. "And they found your book." She wept.
"Oh my god. It's my fault. I made you show me your magic and I gave that book to you. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." Her own tears fell freely as she realized that she was the reason for what had happened to Natasha. "I'm so sorry." She repeated again as the words left her.
"Shhh. It isn't you fault." Natasha reached out her left hand caressing the redhead's cheek. And for a moment Clarissa allowed herself to be soothed by the gesture, leaning her head into the caress. Her own hand wrapped around the other woman's, holding it in place. "They would have found another reason if it hadn't been for the magic. They always do."
"Always?" Clarissa shook her head. "No." She didn't want to believe but then she remembered the day she came with her present to apologize. "This has happened before."
Natasha didn't answer but looked away gazing at her former home.
"How often?" She had to know although she felt like dying inside.
"I stopped counting." Natasha whispered her head still turned away. "But it has never been that bad. They told me, that they have to keep the demon inside me at bay."
"There isn't a demon inside you." Clarissa told her, but the blonde didn't listen. She continued her speech, rocking herself.
"They destroyed all the herbs, to keep me from doing my devilish work. They're afraid for my salvation. They told me they wanted to save me. They love me. But I didn't listen, I tried to save your book." She looked up, facing Clarissa again. "I think they broke my arm." She giggled but suddenly the giggling turned into a cough, racking the already weak body.
Clarissa knew she had to do something. Now. Or it would be too late. She lifted the blonde into a sitting position, leaning her against the wall. "We have to get you out of here. Now." She wiped away the layer of cold sweat from Natasha's forehead. Then she wrapped her arm around her waist, carefully not to touch her right arm and tried to lift her up. But the blonde refused.
"I can't." Her feverish gaze directed at the redhead. "It's my fault, I didn't listen to them. They only want to protect me."
"Protect you?!" Clarissa screamed. "From what? From living a healthy life? They will kill you. We have to go. Now. Please." Her voice quivered.
Natasha shook her head. "There isn't a place for me."
"There is!" Clarissa insisted. "With me. You're come with me."
"They will bring me back." She focused on the princess. "You have to go, they can't find you here."
"No, I'm not leaving you." Clarissa put on her resolve face. "Look at me. I am not going without you." She stressed her words.
"They will hurt you."
"They'll hurt you, if I go."
"You can't do anything."
"Yes, I can." Suddenly she had an idea but it meant she had to leave Natasha here. She struggled for a moment. "I-I have to go. I'll be back as soon as possible. Put everything you want to take with you together." Her hands cupped the blonde's face. "Do you understand me? I have to go, but I'll be back. Then I'll take you with me. I promise."
First Natasha looked at her confused but then she nodded slowly. "Come back." She said.
"Good girl." Clarissa bent forward and breathed a soft kiss at the blonde's unhurt cheek. Then she got up. Suddenly Natasha's hand grabbed hers, turning her back to her.
"Can I have some water." Her tongue slid over her cracked lips. "I'm so thirsty."
"Of course." Clarissa swallowed, trying to get rid of the lump inside her throat without success. She ran to the well afraid Natasha's family might see her. But when she gazed at the big farmhouse it looked empty like every time she had visited the blonde.
With her bucket full of water she rushed back and placed it next to the witch. Her eyes searched the room and fortunately she found what she was looking for. She took the ladle filled it with water and guided it to Natasha's lips. The blonde drank hastily. "Slowly." Clarissa admonished her softly. "I'm sorry, I have to take the bucket back or they will notice." Against her urge to stay and protect her lover she stood up and walked towards the door.
"You have to lock me up again." Natasha's quiet voice carried over to her.
The redhead shook her head. "No, I can't." She couldn't take the only chance to escape away from her lover.
"They will know that someone was here when I'm not locked in anymore." The blonde turned her head gazing at the princess. "Do it."
Clarissa gave in and nodded. With a last glance at the slumped body of the woman that meant everything to her she closed the door. And with the sound of the key turning in its lock, something inside of her died forever.
"I would kill them." Willow's eyes shone with fury as she sat up to face her lover. "They will never hurt you again." She cupped her cheek with her hand, her thumb stroking it gently.
Tara swallowed audible and nodded.
"It's a promise." Willow stated and kissed her girl. "And now continue, I want to get through the pain as fast as possible."
Clarissa's heart pounded against her chest as she ran like she had never run before in her life. Her vision blurry from her tears she now allowed to fall freely down her face. She couldn't get the images of a beaten Natasha out of her mind. It was all she could see as she ran on, more feeling than seeing her way.
It had been her fault. She had forced Natasha to do magic although the blonde hadn't wanted to at first. And, she had given her the book. The book Natasha had tried to protect. But a book didn't matter over the life of the woman she loved. They could burn her whole library if it would save Natasha.
Clarissa hated herself for what she'd done to her. If she had beaten her up herself it wouldn't have made a difference. She didn't know whom she hated more, Natasha's family or herself. Her guilt hit her like a blow, forcing her onto her knees. The running had kept her from giving in to all the pain that had built up inside of her. And now it hit her full force. She tried to get up but again her legs gave in, forcing her back into her sitting position. Her stomach made a decision for her as acid forced its way up her throat. She doubled over as her whole body cramped and she threw up.
After that, she lay there in the dirt unable to move a single muscle. Through her slightly open mouth she inhaled deeply in the effort to regain the command over her body. She couldn't allow herself to break down now, first she had to save Natasha. She wiped her lips with the back of her hand and swallowed down the bitter taste in her mouth. Awkwardly she stood up and this time her legs obeyed her. Then she ran again. She had a plan to carry out.
"Nana!" She shouted still on the floor to her room. She barley had taken the time to change into her royal dress before she left the library to search for her nurse.
"Clarissa?" The old woman's face appeared from behind the door to her private room. "Where have you been?" she asked worried. "I've waited the whole night and morning for you." Her eyes traveled over Clarissa, searching for any injuries.
Clarissa didn't take the time to answer her. Quickly she closed the door behind her and ran over to a drawer. "I'll explain later." She turned around. "Do you know any of the guards you can trust?"
Still confused about the chaos around her, the nurse nodded.
"I'll need two of them and a coach." The old woman opened her mouth to ask a question but the princess interrupted her. "Now!" She didn't see the shocked expression on her nurse's face from the strange, harsh word as she turned around to search the drawer for her gold coins.
"Go, Clarissa." Willow yelled and stretched her fist into the air. "One princess to the rescue."
Tara giggled at her lover's involvement and continued her story.
"Are you sure you can trust them?" Clarissa asked for the hundredth time. Nana, who sat across from her in the heavily rocking coach, leaned forward and took her hands into her older ones, stopping them from nervously fiddling with her dress.
"I trust them. I have trusted them for years." Clarissa only nodded, her thoughts traveling ahead to their destination. The older woman clung to her seat to keep herself from being thrown around.
"Can't we go faster? We have to hurry." Clarissa asked with big eyes.
"We're traveling as fast as possible." Nana sighed as her left shoulder rammed into the wall next to her. "And we should get there in one piece or we won't be able to help her."
Normally, even in a critical situation, the redhead would babble endlessly but now she just sat there, her eyes locked at an invisible spot outside, her otherwise soft features hardened with resolution. Suddenly she turned around her eyes watching the nurse. "You know what to do?"
"Yes, don't worry, we'll get her out of there." Abruptly the coach stopped, throwing the old woman against the younger one.
The face of a guard Clarissa's age appeared at the small window. "We're here."
"Thank you, Stephen." The older woman said, before turning back to Clarissa. "Are you sure they are home already?"
"They're always coming back to the farm around this time or Natasha goes to the fields to bring them their meals." She laughed dryly. "But I don't think she went today."
With one last glance at the princess the older woman stepped out of the coach, guided by the young guard. She turned around. "What ever happens do not interrupt. Stay here."
Hidden by a thick velvety curtain, Clarissa watched Nana approach the big farmhouse. She'd never seen her nurse radiate so much authority. It didn't take long before the door was opened and for the first time Clarissa saw Natasha's father.
Even from the distance he looked mean and she wanted nothing more than to order her guards to kill him or to do it herself. Suddenly Tasha's dad, a lean man, looked over to the coach and for a second Clarissa feared he might have seen her but then his eyes turned back at Nana.
She couldn't hear what they were saying but it seemed like most of the talking was done by the nurse while the farmer only nodded, his head lowered. Her heart skipped a beat when Nana placed the small leather bag with the gold coins into the man's hand. He nodded again and bowed before he turned around into the house and shouted.
A massive boy barely older than herself turned up. Suspiciously, he looked at the strangers, listening to his fathers instructions before he made his way over to the witch's smaller house. There he took the key from its place, opened the door and vanished into the darkness inside the hut.
Clarissa was about to jump out of her hiding place when she heard a fearful shriek from inside. Soon enough the boy emerged, dragging the blonde with him. The witch stumbled but he didn't stop as he violently pulled on her right arm. Natasha screamed as the pain rushed through her but she finally caught up and followed him towards her father and Nana.
Even from the distance Clarissa could see her nurse's face darken up in hate when she turned around to look at the brutal scene. Natasha's brother pushed the blonde into the guard's arms and placed himself behind his father. Nana and the farmer talked once more before she turned around and gestured the guard to follow her with the blonde. It took all of the redhead's strength not to run toward them to support her lover. But she was forced to stay and wait while the three continued their painfully slow way to the coach.
Finally, they reached it, and the guard opened the door, carefully helping Natasha in. Clarissa stood up, her arms awaiting Natasha as the blonde fell against her. She guided her down next to her and wrapped her arms around her, placing her head on her shoulder. "You're safe." She said over and over again as her hand fussed over the blonde's body searching for new injuries.
Her lover barely registered her surroundings as she anxiously looked around. "I have to find the cat." She tried to sit up but her frailty and Clarissa's arms forced her back down.
"We'll find her but we have to get you out of here first." She told her, her hands brushing soothingly over matted hair. Only reluctantly the blonde relaxed in her arms, leaning her weight against the smaller woman. "It's over. Over." She repeated over and over again, more for herself than Natasha.
Nana closed the coach door and sat across from the two lovers. "Let's get out of here, forever." She said with disgust as the coach started its way back.
"I'll go first." Nana ordered as the carriage entered the shed for the royal coaches. She stepped out and talked to the old coachman. Only then Clarissa noticed the resemblance between him and Stephen. But she wasn't interested in their resemblance right now. Right now the only thing that mattered to her was Natasha. She touched the witch's forehead checking her temperature. The blonde still burned as she moaned quietly about the cold palm caressing her face and then she was quiet again.
Although she knew that Natasha couldn't hear her anymore Clarissa whispered into her ear, "I love you." Shortly after they had left the farm she had fallen in and out of sleep. Once in a while Natasha woke up to ask for her cat. And every time Clarissa had told her that they would find her simply to calm her down again.
Nana had vanished with the coachman, leaving Stephen behind as lookout. Although it had only been a few minutes, for Clarissa it had been an agonizingly long time. She had to get Natasha into a bed where she could rest and heal.
Finally Nana came back alone. "We have to hurry." She told the princess as she opened the door to the coach. With a signal from her Stephen stepped closer.
"Careful." Clarissa passed Natasha over into Stephen's waiting arms. He took her gently and lifted her up.
"I can walk." The blonde protested weakly and tried to squirm out of the man's arms but Clarissa stopped her.
"No, you can't." She cupped Natasha's face and softly forced her to look at her. Too weak to lift her head, the blonde's face leaned heavy against her palms. "You're too weak and we have to be fast so that no one sees us." Her clear green eyes held Natasha's faded blue ones until the witch slowly nodded.
"But I have to get the cat." She murmured before her eyes vanished behind heavy lids, her head resting on the guard's shoulder.
It hurt Clarissa to see her friend in her present state and it took all her strength to suppress her urge to cry. She stood there shaking when she felt a loving hand on her back and turned around to find her nurse standing next to her. "She'll be all right." Nana told her in her motherly voice, the voice Clarissa had trusted with her life as a child. And right now she wanted to be able to trust it again but deep down inside she also knew that her Nana couldn't know what would happen. Nevertheless she thanked her with her eyes deciding that she would allow herself to believe in this illusion for now. She had tasted enough real life for a day.
"We should go." Nana nodded at the direction where she had vanished with the old man before. "We can use the coachman's path to the castle and from there we'll use the secret tunnels for most of the way."
"You know about the tunnels?" Clarissa asked her astonished.
The old woman grinned, revealing a gap in her teeth. "Darling, except for the rat at the second floor, I'm the oldest living being in this castle. I know all the secrets and tunnels, even the ones that aren't mentioned in your plans." Lovingly she patted the princess' cheek. "I know everything." She explained cryptic before she turned and waved them to follow her.
"But you didn't know about me and Natasha." Clarissa murmured under her breath as she eyed the limp form in Stephen's arms. For a moment she let her fingers run through blonde thick hair, before she motioned the guard to follow the nurse whilst she brought up the rear.
She closed the heavy wooden door behind her, leaning against it and exhaled deeply. They had made it. The coachman's path and the tunnels had been the easiest part but finally they had been forced to use the floors when the tunnels ended. They were almost caught by servants three or four times, but each time a good spirit guided and protected them.
As soon as Stephen laid Natasha down onto the bed, Clarissa was at her side. "You'll be alright. We made it." She whispered, tugging a sweat soaked hair behind her ear. Under her touch the blonde moaned and squirmed. Nonetheless the princess let her hand rest at her forehead, feeling the radiating heat. She was so hot, too hot. In panic her head shot up and her eyes locked with her nurses gray eyes. "She will, won't she? She's so hot."
"We will take care of her." Nana assured her. Then she turned to the guard. "Thank you Stephen."
The young man nodded and got ready to go leave when Clarissa's hand on his arm held him back. "Thank you." She wanted to give him something as reward for his help but didn't know what till her gaze fell on the golden ring at her ring finger. She was about to pull it from her finger when he stopped her.
"I won't take your gold, Milady." His head bowed. And with a look at the nurse he continued. "Especially not from someone of Nana's family." The old woman smiled and hugged him shortly.
"You've become a fine man." She told him before she let him out of the room. Then she turned around to the redhead that fussed frantically and helplessly over Natasha's body. Carefully she shoved her out of her way to get a better access to the ill woman. Clarissa was about to protest, her mouth already open but the words didn't form as she realized that right now only one person in the room knew what to do and it wasn't her.
She positioned herself at the bed's head, one hand evermore stroking Natasha's hair. She watched as Nana palpated her lover. Suddenly a knock at her door let her jump up. Her eyes flipped from Nana to Natasha, to the door back and forth as her mother's voice seeped through the door.
"Hello, are you there? You have a visitor."
The princess shot Nana a terrified look. But her nurse stayed calm. "You have to go."
"I can't leave her." Clarissa opposed childish. "she needs me."
"Sure, she needs your mother to be angry and suspicious." The nurse stated calmly even as she saw the hurt flicker in the redhead's eyes.
Clarissa knew that her nurse was right but that didn't matter to her heart. She wanted to stay with Natasha. She wanted to hold her hand, watch her breath and feel that she was still alive. It had been hard enough to leave her the first time at her father's farm. To leave her, not knowing if she would still be alive when she came back. She couldn't abandon her again, although she knew that in her current state the blonde would need Nana's skills more than her handholding.
The impatient knocking on her door snapped her back to reality. Even before her mother spoke again, she knew what she had to do.
"Clarissa!!" Her mother only called her by name when it was really important in her eyes.
"Just a moment." Clarissa shouted back. With a last look at the injured woman she pulled the bed's heavy curtains close. Her fingers still clutched the thick fabric as she composed herself. Then she straightened up and smoothed up her dress. As she turned around she wore the mask of royal superiority nothing revealing her true emotions. At a nod from her Nana opened the door and bowed to the queen.
Even before the queen and her little entourage could enter her room Clarissa went up to them a fake smile around her lips.
"Mother." She greeted the queen hinting a bow. The queen just nodded and waved her hand dismissively, her thoughts already two steps ahead. With a painful sugary tone in her voice she addressed Count Phillip who stood next to her, the queen's arm looped around his possessively. "The poor Count was waiting for you over an hour."
"But the waiting was a pleasure in your company, Milady." His head titled, he smiled at her, revealing his sparkling white teeth.
Playfully the Queen slapped his arm. "Isn't he charming? Just too sweet." Barely noticeable Her voice altered a few tones as she addressed her daughter again. "Where have you been? We searched the whole castle for you, even your library." The mention of her library told Clarissa just HOW important it had been to find her. Her mother would have never set a foot into there voluntary if it hadn't been really important for her plans. Her mother loved plans. She had a lot of them and all of them involved power. In a whisper it could be heard through the whole castle and its land that her mother was the one reign over the small kingdom, that the king was only her puppet. There was even a wild rumor about the mostly invisible king being already dead and that his wife covered it up maybe even killed himself to reign herself and to carry out all her little plans. Her plans with Clarissa and the Count in this case. A cold shiver went down her spine as the redhead thought about what that plan might involve.
Although her turmoil inside Clarissa stayed calm on the outside as she answered in the same voice as her mother. "I'm so sorry Count." She gave him a smile.
"For you Phillip." He reminded her about his offer he had made during one of their earlier set up get-togethers.
"Phillip." She had to force the word out. Then she turned to her mother. "I needed a new maid. Nana is getting old, she needs help. I didn't know it would take us so long to find a good one." Her gaze drifted to the lady-in-waiting who stood right behind her mother. Her indifferent expression had altered for a second as Clarissa had mentioned Natasha. The redhead's heart missed a beat. Suddenly she knew that they didn't make it unseen to her room like they had thought. That there had been a pair of brown eyes seeing them as they rushed to her room with the injured Natasha in Stephen's arms.
Bored her mother waved her hand. "Yes, yes. But now you're back and that's all that matters."
Her gaze still fixating the brown haired lady-in-waiting, she asked her mother. "How did you know I'm back? I didn't have the time to tell anyone."
For a second her mother had to search her mind for that insignificant information but then she found it. "Oh, Anastasia saw you coming back." The eyes of the woman in question narrowed but she didn't lose a word about the fact that Anastasia wasn't her name. It wasn't for the first and surely not for the last time the queen named her wrong. Sometimes Clarissa was surprised that her mother knew her own name. The queen only remembered names that were important for her and except for her own name that weren't that much. And Clarissa had the bad feeling that one of the spare name was 'Phillip'.
The princess hadn't realized that she held her breath, waiting for an answer or revelation of the woman about her curious arrival but the brunette stayed silent. Their eyes connected for a moment as they estimated each other, neither of them betraying their true thoughts. She never had been able to put her finger on it but Clarissa had always felt that the Russian lady-in-waiting was hiding something, was more than she seemed to be at first sight. But she couldn't deal with her right now, she had to wait, till the Russian made her first move.
Clarissa refocused at her mother when she pushed Phillip out of her grip and in front of her. "Now you both go and enjoy the afternoon in the garden." She released them and walked away, her mind already occupied with other plans as she gave her maids instructions for the following day.
Phillip smiled as he offered her his arm. "Should we? We can't offend the queen." Reluctantly with a last longing gaze at her door and the people behind it, she took his offer and let him lead her out to the garden.
"Get rid of him." Willow shouted and put her hands on her mouth when she realized that she had interrupted Tara again.
"Mhmpfffff." She mumbled.
"What?" Tara lowered her head.
"I'm only stating the obvious. He's annoying. Clarissa should be with Natasha right now but she has to spend her time with him. Get rid of him." She demanded again.
"Honey, do you now who else is lengthening Clarissa's time with the Count and without Natasha?" She asked with a wicked smile.
"No?" Willow didn't know exactly what her girlfriend was heading for but she was suspicious.
"You, honey." Tara explained as a matter of fact. "The more interruptions there are, the longer it takes Clarissa to return to Natasha."
The redhead blushed and silenced up.
Clarissa really tried to listen to his ramblings and to be a good little princess but her mind always wandered back to Natasha, lying hurt in her bed. She knew that Nana would do everything that was necessary and more but she wanted to be there, to hold her hand and tell her that she was going to be alright. And that she would never be hurt by someone again. She would take care of that, she promised herself as she and the Count wandered through the pleasure grounds.
Suddenly the Count stopped giving her a questioning look. Slightly she shook her head and looked into his blue eyes. Natasha had blue eyes also but hers were deep blue without any bottom, sparkling blue like the sky in the sunset, when the night appeared dark blue and the first stars emerged. Blue eyes she had lost herself into in that night at the grove. The same blue eyes were now shut in pain. And she couldn't be with them. Instead she looked into his eyes. His were just blue, nothing else and nothing more, just blue. There lay nothing behind this blue.
"You don't have a single clue what I've talked about." He gave her his best smile. "Looks like I lost my luck with women." He joked but he only got a tired smile as answer.
"I'm sorry, it's just..." She sighed. ""It has been a long day. And I'm kind of exhausted. And tired." At his look she added quickly. "Oh it's not your fault. Just the whole day. I didn't sleep well last night and I felt sick the whole day and now..." her voice trailed of as she lowered her head.
"You're worried about her." Her head jerked up and she faced him. Could he know? Panic washed through her. Did everyone in this castle know about what happened? She was about to confront him when he continued. "Your new maid. You're worried she might do something wrong."
Clarissa nodded vehemently. "Yes, you're right. I'm really, really worried. We just got home before you knocked and I didn't' have the time to explain everything to her. My old nurse told me she would take care of it but I would feel better if I had done it on my own. Make sure everything works fine. It's not that I don't trust Nana, of course I do, she has been my nurse since my birth but I'm a little obsessed with details and..." The count raised his hand to stop her, laughing out loud.
"You don't have to explain yourself. I can bring you back and you can watch over your new maid. We could meet another time if you want." Clarissa nodded thankfully and inhaled deeply.
"That's really sweet of you. And of course we can meet again." She would have said anything; she would even meet the devil if she could get back to Natasha. Although she had to confess that the Count, that Phillip wasn't as bad a choice as the devil.
"How is she?" She didn't even take the time to close the door properly as she asked, her gaze searching for the small figure lying in her bed in her underdress. Her apron, bodice and even her small bag was spread over a chair at the other side of the room.
The nurse stood up from her chair next to the bed as Clarissa entered, making room for her. "She's sleeping. Her arm is broken. But I put it in splints while she was unconscious." Seeing Clarissa's concerned look she added. "It should heal fine. I've done it countless of times."
The princess crouched down next to the witch, eying her carefully. She desperately wanted to touch her but didn't know if she would cause her even more pain. She wanted to look into her blue eyes that raced behind her closed lids right now. Clarissa's hand reached out to stroke her cheek but she had to stop herself as she saw the deep violet bruise there. Instead she took her unhurt hand. "And her... her other injuries?" It hurt her just to think of how many injuries the blonde might have.
"A lot of bruises and cuts but nothing that won't heal." Nana explained.
Clarissa's lower lip trembled as she turned to her nurse, her eyes shimmering with unshed tears. "How could they do that to her? Hurt her like this. They're her family. The ones that should protect her, not harm her." Her fingers stroke softly over the back of the blonde's hand. "They did it before. I, I don't know how often. If I hadn´t gone there today to look for her..." She trailed of. Only a hand rubbing her back brought her back. "She was there all day. All alone. They could have killed her." She whispered.
Natasha moaned quietly her head tilting from side to side. Clarissa took the washcloth that lay in the water filled dish, standing on her nightstand. She wrung it out and placed it gently on Natasha's hot forehead. "How could they do that to her?" She asked, her eyes staying on the blonde.
Nana knelt down next to her with a sigh as her old bones protested against the movement. Her eyes on the same level she cupped Clarissa's cheek with her hand, forcing her gently to look at her. "I don't know why. And there is no excuse for what they did to her. But I know one thing for sure. She's a really lucky girl cause she has you." With her free hand the redhead reached for the hand at her cheek and squeezed it thankfully as she once again fought against her tears. "You take care of her and I will help you. She's a part of our family now. And no one hurts one of mine unpunished." A little sad smile played around the princess' lips. She sniffed as the tears started to fall and threw herself into her old nurse's arm clinging on to her for her bare life.
"Shhhh." The old woman stroke her head and rocked her back and forth. Clarissa let it all out. All the emotions she had kept inside since she had found Natasha beaten up in her small hut washed over her. She couldn't keep them inside any longer without exploding. And Nana's arms were the only place were she was allowed to give in. The old woman held her murmuring comforting words. But most importantly she let her cry. And after Clarissa had cried about what her blood kin did to the witch she wept about Nana's words. She had called Natasha and herself a part of her family and that was more than the young woman had ever dreamt of. Having and being part of a real caring family.
When she felt the tensed up body in her arms relax and heard the tears subside Nana held Clarissa at arms length and wiped the last tears away with her thumbs. "Better?"
The redhead nodded. "Thank you." Her voice croaked.
"You're welcome." Her nurse answered slightly amused. "But I think there's someone who needs you right now." Her head pointed at Natasha.
Clarissa followed her gaze. "But I don't know how to help her."
"Has she taught you about her herbs?" Nana asked.
"Yes, but only a little. I don't even know how to drop her fever." She got angry with herself as she realized how little she was able to help her. "I could milk a cow for her but I don't know how to drop her fever."
Supporting herself heavily at the bed frame Nana lifted herself up and walked over to the witch's bag at the chair. "She had hid it under her apron. She brought most of the herbs we'll need." She took the herbs out of the bag and carried them over to the small table at the wall. She threw them into a mug and poured hot water on. Then she brought the mug to Clarissa, putting it on the nightstand next to her. Her hand replaced the washcloth to feel the witch's temperature. "Wake her up in five minutes and make her drink it. I have to go."
"You're leaving?" Clarissa asked confused. "You can't leave. It's not an option." She stated firm. "You can't leave her alone with me. What if I do something wrong, like make her drink the tea after 6 minutes. Or if she doesn't want to drink or if she doesn't wake up. And I don't know how to wake her up without hurting her. Should I shake her slightly at her shoulder or just talk loud to her and how loud..." Nana placed her finger over the fast babbling lips to stop them.
"It won't take long." Clarissa was about to oppose but the nurse held her lips closed with her finger. "I have to go. There are things I have to take care of. I will come and look for you two now and then throughout the night. You will do fine, I'm sure. I've raised you. And I know things. You just have to take care of her fever. The tea will help you. Make her drink as much as possible. Hot water is on the stove in my room and the herbs you need are in her bag." She took her finger from Clarissa's lips satisfied as the redhead stayed silent. „You can do it." She opened the door that led to her room. In the middle of it stood a small bath tube. "I told Stephen to fill it with hot water." She closed the door again. "He will knock when it's ready." A small phial emerged in her hand. On the redhead's questioning look she explained. "It's thyme. Put the entire content into the water. She should stay in the bath for ten to fifteen minutes. Not longer. Afterwards she will feel dizzy and light headed; make her lay down again and hold her warm through the night."
The princess nodded. "But what if she's too weak to walk?"
"Then Stephen will carry her." When Clarissa's gaze shifted to Natasha, Nana continued. "She'll make it, she has you to take care of it." She placed a light kiss on the princess's head before she left the room and closed the door quietly behind her, leaving Clarissa and Natasha behind on their own.
Clarissa took the hourglass from her nightstand and turned it around, watching the sand flowing from one glass into the other. She sat there transfixed by the running sand. Along with the sand her mind raced processing Nana's instructions. She didn't want to disappoint her or Tasha. Most of all not Tasha. She liked the short-form couldn't get enough of it's taste in her mouth as she whispered it over and over again. Who needed food when there was a nourishing name like this. She would never starve as long as she was allowed to say her name. There were only a few things that were better than saying her name. Holding her hand, caressing her cheek, sliding her fingers through her hair, seeing her broad smile, hearing her voice, tasting her lips. Actually there were countless things that were better. She decided that she needed a list to help her remember every little thing that she loved about the blonde. But a list wouldn't be enough. She would need a library just to begin with the basics and she hoped, no she was sure that her Tasha-library would grow with every second she shared with the blonde. There was so much she didn't know about her. Her features darkened as she thought about the big secret the blonde had kept from her, had tried to hide even after what they did to her.
She turned the washcloth around. "How am I supposed to protect you when you don't tell me?" she asked the sleeping form. "No more secrets." Her gaze fell on the hourglass, registering that the five minutes had past. "Time to wake up, sleepyhead." She muttered. "Tasha?" When the blonde didn't react she tried it again, this time her voice more than a whisper. "Tasha. I'm sorry, I know you need your sleep but you have to wake up." This time the blonde stirred but still she didn't open her eyes. "Your tea is getting cold." She shook her softly, anxious to hurt her. Finally the witch's lids fluttered and revealed the beautiful blue of her eyes. Not more than a faint hint but nonetheless discernible the little sparks were back.
"Hi." Natasha's voice was hoarse.
"Hi." Clarissa answered to the most wonderful word she had heard in hours. "You're back."
The blonde turned her head a little and winced in pain. "Back where to?" Her head laid back into the pillow.
"You don't remember?"
"Only that there were people and my brother pulling me out of the house." She frowned and closed her eyes again.
"They're friends. They helped me to get you out of there. You're in my room. You're safe." She took the mug and blew over it to cool the liquid down more. "You have to drink this."
"My herbs?" Natasha asked without opening her eyes as she recognized the smell.
"And this time you're the one who will drink it." She smiled as the other girl frowned in disgust.
"Pay back." The blonde murmured.
"Definitely." Clarissa helped Natasha to sit up, propping her against the pillows. The witch inhaled sharply as she sifted her weight. When the pain was gone she opened her eyes again, locking them wit Clarissa's. She gave her a warm smile, trying to calm down the concern she saw in her green eyes.
"Let's get it over with."
The redhead nodded and passed her the mug. When Natasha reached for it with her right arm a small cry escaped her lips. She had forgotten about her broken arm. She blinked to get rid of her tears.
"Tasha?" Clarissa asked anxiously. She knew that Nana should have stayed.
"It's alright. Just give me a moment." The blonde breathed heavily.
The princess waited. Desperately she wanted to help her friend but didn't know how. She just sat there with her stupid tea and waited, cursing herself. Slowly the other woman's breath slowed down and she sighed. "Now?"
Natasha nodded. Clarissa put one hand under Natasha's head, supporting it, with the other she guided the mug to the full lips. With small sips the blonde drank. Only when the mug was empty the redhead guided her lover back onto the pillows.
"How do you feel?" She asked insecurely.
"Do you think you can stand up and walk a bit." To the frown she added. "Only to the next room and I will help you. Nana said you should take a bath with thyme. But you don't have to if you don't want."
"No, your Nana is right. And I think I can make it." She opened her eyes looking, at the redhead. "With a little help." She smiled.
Clarissa swallowed as she felt a sudden rush of heat building inside her body. This wasn't the time to have feelings and thoughts like that, she disciplined herself. It's purely medical. 'You have to undress her' a small smutty voice at the back of her mind told her, sending her face on fire. She blushed and looked down. Then she looked up again, checking if the blonde had noticed anything, but Natasha had closed her eyes, resting. Naked wasn't good. Well actually it was good, she had fantasized about the blonde being naked in her bed but not in this way and not under these circumstances. She slapped herself mentally as her thoughts wandered off to visualize a naked blonde in her arms. She had to stop or she wouldn't be able to do what she had to do. Stephen could help her. No, he so definitely would not help her. Under no circumstances even if she had to carry Natasha herself. He wouldn't see her naked. Yes, she could bath in her underdress so he wouldn't see but underdresses tended to get transparent when getting wet. And there was the big, really big NO.
As if by command there was a soft knock at the interconnecting door. She walked over and opened it and revealed the young guard.
"The water is ready. I brought you some more hot and cold water to mix." Stephen pointed at the buckets next to the bathtub. "If you need anything else, milady."
"No, thank you. Everything's fine." She thanked him. Automatically her hand had reached out squeezing his arm. He smiled at her small gesture before he bowed down his head and dismissed himself.
Clarissa went to the tub and tested the water with her fingers. The temperature felt right. She looked around checking if she would need anything else. But Nana and Stephen had thought of everything. There was even a chair next to the tub were Natasha could rest. On top of the chair Nana had laid out towels and a soft nightgown for the blonde to wear.
The redhead took the phial, opened it and poured its content into the water. Quickly the calming smell of thyme covered the whole room. Her hand glided through the warm water evenly spreading the oil. The oil penetrated her skin seeping into her system. Her hand tingled were the water had touched her. She pulled it back clenching and unclenching it till the feeling faded. Then she returned to Natasha.
"Are you ready?" She asked.
"Mhm." The blonde lifted herself up awkwardly. Then she pulled her legs out from under her blanket. She shivered when her bare feet touched the cold stone ground. Even the small movement had exhausted her. Clarissa sat next to her entwining her fingers with the blonde's. The squeezed them lightly in the irrational hope to be able to transfer some of her strength into the fragile blonde. Thankfully Natasha answered her squeeze. They sat there for a few minutes till Natasha gazed at the redhead and nodded. "I'm ready." She lifted her left arm and Clarissa followed the invitation and wrapped her arm around her waist while Natasha laid her arm around the princess slender shoulders.
Slowly step by step they made it to the bathtub and Clarissa guided the blonde down to rest on the chair. She crouched down in front of her, her eyes fixating the ground. Now came the part she had been most afraid and also excited about. "Uhm, You, you..." She took a deep breath and looked up again. "You have to undress." She shot out and looked down again. "Or your dress will get watery. But if you want you can..." A hand on her cheek made her gaze up again.
"I k-know. But I'm afraid I need help." Natasha eyed her splinted arm.
Clarissa nodded more enthusiastically than she had hoped for. She cleared her voice before she answered. "I won't look."
"It's only fair. I, I've seen you naked before." The witch gave back, causing them both to blush and look down.
"I forgot about that." The redhead mumbled. Then she straightened up. "We should get you in there before the water is cold." She would manage this task she told herself.
She took the dress' hem pulling it up slowly. It took all her mental strength to concentrate on the fabric and not on the bare white delicious skin that was revealed with every inch as she pulled the dress up. They made it without any incident, even the difficult tasks of freeing the broken arm was solved without too much pain for Natasha. And then there was nothing left but the naked body sitting in front of her. No more fabric to look at, just her beautiful breasts and her... 'Stop right there' Clarissa instructed herself. 'Yes, stop right there' another voice told her as her eyes stared at the full breasts. She looked away fixating on the tub. Again she felt the water for its temperature. It was still comfortingly warm and even the tingling feeling was back immediately. But her eyes sneaked back at the body before her, only this time she didn't like what she saw. Tasha's whole body was covered with bruises and cuts. Her brows furrowed, she would never be able to understand how someone was capable of doing something like this. How long had it taken them to torment her like this. Had she screamed for help, begged them to stop? Her stomach clenched, imitating the same motion as her fists. She had to stop herself. Thoughts like this didn't help them right now, right now Natasha was everything that counted, she repeated in her mind. Slowly the tension faded and she got back to her task.
Without looking more then necessary, the princess lead the witch into the water. Natasha rested her head against the wooden wall and sighed as the warm water surrounded her whole body except for her right arm that rested at the edge. She closed her eyes, enjoying its comfort. Then she opened them again.
"C-could you do me a favor?"
Clarissa nodded thankfully. Something to do was exactly what she needed to get her mind off of that wonderfully curved body.
"Could you wash my hair for me?" Oho, that hadn't been what she had hoped for. Helping with something in the other room was what she could manage right now but not helping her girlfriend to wash. That was really difficult and great. She swallowed again.
"Of course." She stood behind Natasha and waited till the blonde moved a bit. The redhead's slender fingers brushed through the thick golden hair and guided the head down till the hair was covered with water. Clarissa leant against the wooden wall to support herself as she tried to hold Natasha's head and brush through the hair at the same time. A small satisfied moan escaped the other girl's throat as fingertips caressed her skull, easing away the pounding pain. The blond hair covered the surface, using the new found freedom. Like a caress the hair surrounded its owner, a golden curtain hiding her chest.
After a few minutes of massaging, Natasha leaned back against the wall and Clarissa gathered her hair, combing it with her fingers. They didn't speak a word not even when Clarissa extended her mission and took a washcloth and started to rub over Natasha's shoulders and arms. The blonde sat there silently, her eyes closed. Only a soft moan now and then told Clarissa that she was still awake. She dove the cloth into the water and drove it over the smooth skin of Tasha's right arm. She stopped were the splinters began and drove back and forth, then she traveled back to her shoulders and exchanged the cloth with her fingers again. She could feel the tensed knots under her fingerprints and with slow rotating motions she worked on them, feeling them vanishing under her attention. After she was satisfied with the outcome, her fingers traveled further, this time up and down the blonde's neck till they met at the front. There was no thought in Clarissa's head as she watched her own movement like it were a different person's motions. Only her own fastening breath broke the silence as she continued. Slowly so Natasha could stop her every time if she wanted to, her fingers glided over her chest. They rested at the blonde's collarbone's gathering the strength they would need for their next aim.
"Damn." She cursed as the analytic part of her brain remembered her that her time had past. It had definitely been more than 15 minutes since they started. The blonde's head jerked up out of her rest.
"D-did I something wrong?" she asked anxiously.
"No, of course not. It's just Nana told me that you shouldn't stay longer than 15 minutes in there. We have to get you out and back into bed." She said regretfully.
"Sounds like a good idea. I feel kind of dizzy."
"Why haven't you told me?" Clarissa accused her.
"Your fingers. They felt so good." Clarissa looked at her but she couldn't tell if the red color that covered her was from a blush or the thyme's work.
"Aaalright." Clarissa let her rational part take over. "first we get you out and dry and then into the bed."
She helped Natasha to stand up and climb out of the tub. Then she made her sit down at the chair again, covering her into a big towel. Gently she rubbed over her body only leaving out some tricky places, like breasts and a broken arm. The golden hair vanished under a second smaller towel. ´When she was sure that Natasha was dry and warm she helped her over to the bed.
They both were exhausted after Natasha lay in the bed again.
"How do you feel?" Clarissa asked as she tugged the blonde in.
"Still dizzy and I think the world's spinning around me. But in a good non-nausea way. The thyme is working." A sleepy voice answered her.
"Fine." Clarissa was about to settle into her chair next to the bed when Natasha's voice sounded again.
"Can you lay down next to me?"
"What?" the redhead squeaked. It was too good to be true.
"You don't have to."
"Oh but I want." She beamed. "But only if I can't hurt you." She added.
"You could never hurt me." Her eyes closed the blonde shifted and lifted her blanket. "Please?" this time she opened her eyes. And Clarissa swallowed as she saw the need in them. Without another word she followed the invitation and lay down next to the witch. She wanted to snuggle up to her like two nights before, but she was anxious. In only two nights in two nights her world had turned up side down twice. Everything had changed but laying next to the woman she fell in love with was worth it. Even more when the same woman snuggled up to her and rested her head on her shoulder. She pulled the blanket up, covering both of them. Then she closed her eyes and as she inhaled the now well-known scent her body relaxed pulling her mind with it into sleep.
Willow coughed. When Tara didn't show the hoped reaction she coughed again this time heart-rending. And this time her lover reacted.
"Honey, what's wrong?" Tara asked worried.
"I'm feeling hot, maybe I have fever." Willow whined as she shifted to look at her girlfriend.
The blonde placed her hand at Willow's forehead. "No, I don't think so. Maybe the blanket is too thick." She had an idea where this was leading to.
"No I have fever, I feel really feverish. I burn inside. Maybe I will combust at night and when you wake up tomorrow you will only find my ashes next to you."
"So hot?" Tara smiled.
"Maybe we should get you to hospital. They could give you an injection." She played her own game.
"No! I don't need a doctor. I need a bath. Why didn't I get the bath? I did get the awful tea but I didn't get the bath. That's not fair." She pouted.
"Oh, you want the bath?" Tara mocked her lover.
"And the hair wash and the massage. They're essential." Suddenly Willow's eyes glistened. "And you could undress me if you want."
"Now I know where the heat comes from." Tara laughed. "After the fairy tale. I promise."
"The whole treatment?"
"The whole special-Tara-treatment."