"Tara?" A hoarse voice squeaked through the house. "Tara Maclay. Where are you?" Barefooted but carefully wrapped into her comforter Willow waddled down the staircase. At the bottom she sniffed and wiped her nose before she walked down the hall in search for her girlfriend. "Explain yourself." She demanded into the empty living room. Dazzled by the bright morning light she narrowed her eyes and continued her way.
"I hope you have a really good explanation." She mumbled. "A really good explanation." Following the sound of chatting voices she headed for the kitchen, wrapping her cape tighter around herself.
Her pout grew bigger as she took in the scene that enfolded before her as she entered the kitchen.
Facing each other Tara and Anya sat around the table, both with a steaming cup of coffee in front of them.
"You're awake." Tara's face lit up as she turned to her girlfriend. She was on her way to the redhead but stopped when she saw her face. "Honey, what's up? Do you feel worse? You shouldn't be up." She ran into full mother-hen modus.
The blonde closed the distance and brushed through Willow's dishevelled hair before her hand came to rest at the redhead's forehead. "Doesn't feel hot." She said relieved.
"I don't have a fever." Willow murmured and pulled back, her pout still visible on her face.
"Honey?" Tara asked confused, a small frown building between her furrows.
"I'm mad at you." The redhead crossed her arms over her chest but wasn't satisfied with her action as the comforter hid her protest-action. She had to settle for pushing her lower lip even further.
Slightly confused Tara shook her head. "I'm sorry, baby. What have I done?"
"You prefer to sit here with the ex-demon enjoying a coffee instead of telling me my fairy tale." Only now she acknowledged Anya, her eyes narrowed with dissaproval .
"Good morning, Willow." Anya gave back unimpressed before she took her mug, blew at the hot steam and took a swig. "Mhhhh." She sighed. "It's great." She added with a bright smile directed at Tara.
Carefully the witch wrapped her arm around Willow's shoulder and guided her to the table. Reluctantly the redhead gave in and sat down at the chair Tara pushed her into. "Will you were exhausted. You fell asleep last night in the middle of the tale."
"You could have woken me up." Willow returned stubbornly.
Tara didn't even bother to answer, she just looked at her lover with a look in her eyes that told the redhead that her suggestion wasn't even worth an answer.
Childishly the hacker looked up at her girlfriend. "What? I have to know what happened to them. I don't want Clarissa to marry the evil Count."
"You told her THAT story?" Anya interfered and shuddered at the memory. "Unpleasant memories."
Neither Willow nor Tara paid attention to her. "Eight hours, Willow. You listened eight hours to me telling you a story. You needed a rest and so did I."
"But I want the story." Willow fumbled at fringe, twirling it between her fingers.
"And you get it but only after your breakfast." Tara insisted as she placed a mug and a bowl with fruit salad in front of Willow.
Suspiciously Willow inspected the mug, her nose crinkled in anticipated disgust. There was a smile of relief when she realized that the mug contained pure simple coffee and not the awful tea she had been afraid of.
Tara laughed at the sight of her lover. "It's coffee."
"And I get my story then?" Willow asked.
"I can tell you the story even if it's a boring and painfully long story." Anya offered before she bit into her muffin. "Boring months of serving the queen. You should think a queen would express wishes all day long. 'I wish more jewels, more power, I wish this fraud to be beheaded.' But nothing for months. This queen only demanded but never wished. No manners."
Willow's eyes flashed angrily at the ex-demon. "Don't you dare to ruin the tale. I don't want your contorted version, I want a pure tale of love. Tara?" She turned beggingly to her lover.
Tara nodded. "Of course, honey."
Anya wheezed. "Fine, go for the altered story if you can have the story first hand from an eye-witness."
Seeing the slight panic in Willow's eyes Tara soothed her. "It's not altered honey. I'm just telling the story from an other point of view."
Triumphantly Willow glanced at Anya but the ex-demon wasn't impressed. Tara knew her girlfriend good enough to know that a sick hacker was even more insulted by an unimpressed ex-demon than a well Willow was.
"Why were you there anyway? Did the king cheat on the queen? He must have done something horrible to her." Tara tried to relax the atmosphere.
Anya nodded enthusiastically, satisfied that someone wanted her version. "Oh yes he did. As a young woman she had all her hopes up that she would reign together with him and build a great kingdom known through the entire land. But he was only interested in his hunt never in the kingdom. The poor girl had to do everything by herself. Made her bitter. I could hear her screams of frustration and agony through her entire kingdom." She took another bit. "but after months at this castle I screamed myself. I was near to ripping my hair off. No wish. Not even for a desert. Nothing." The rage came back, glistering in Anya's eyes.
Willow had eaten fast and silent through Anya's little speech but her eyes had never left the magic-shop owner hanging on every word she said. But now there was a small crinkle at her forehead and the redhead nibbled at her lower lip as her mind proceeded an inconsistency she had found in Anya's story.
"I thought you were a vengeance demon for cheated woman?"
Anya sighed at so much lack of understanding. "It's never about the objective cheating just about what the woman feels. And believe me, I seldomly found another woman who felt so cheated as the queen. It's all in the subjective cheating." Her eyes fell on the clock at the wall and the brunette squealed, causing Willow to throw her fork away in surprise.
"I'm going to be late. I will lose money, a lot of money just because of your stupid story." She turned to Tara. "I shouldn't have told you in the first place." With this she took her purse and ran out of the kitchen to waste as little time as possible.
Willow looked after the departing magic-shop owner before she looked down at her fork on the ground in regret. Tara gave her a new one and was rewarded with a Willow-smile. In world record time Willow finished her breakfast and looked expectantly at her girlfriend.
Tara laughed and placed a kiss at the redhead's cheek. "Let me just clean up. Won't take long." She added at Willow's frown. "Lie down on the couch. I'll join you in a minute."
Willow followed her lover's instruction and went to the living room, a happy swing in her walk.
She flopped down onto the couch and shifted her body till she felt comfortable. The sun shone through the windows filling the room with warming rays. Willow closed her eyes and enjoyed the warming sun on her face. She already felt better but she didn't intend to get well before Tara had finished the tale.
She blinked twice against the bright sun when she felt Tara standing next to her. She lifted her head and waited for Tara to sit down before she placed her head into her lap.
"Better?" Tara whispered as Willow closed her eyes lost in the gentle touch of the blonde's finger brushing through her hair.
"Much better." She answered.
"Okay. Where was I?" Tara considered.
His accusing voice filled the whole room. It was reflected from the high walls around her and crashed down on her from all sides. She felt like she was coated with a layer of hate and anger burning deep into her flesh.
No, this surely wasn't god's home. There was nothing indicating the love god should have for his children. With all the fury filling the room there wasn't room for love. Above them in his small pulpit his thin body lay in wait for them like a vulture ready to kill the weakest sheep.
From the first row she had the best view of this palaver the priest called a mass.
Their eyes met and his voice grew even louder trying to shrink her with its volume. But she wasn't afraid of him. With his emaciated body she nearly felt sorry for him and his wasted life. He had given up everything for his hate and now nothing was left except from this empty shell.
God wasn't here for sure. He had been with them the nights they had been outside helping others. There had been enough love to fill this temple of hate. But there had been misery too. Enough misery that after some night she wanted nothing else than to crawl into bed next to Tasha and cry. And some nights she had cried herself into sleep and the blonde had held her till her sobs subsided and she fell into a dreamless sleep.
The two weeks had been exhausting. Too little sleep, long nights in the city and her daily routine.
Everything in her yearned to turn around and look at Tasha. She knew that she sat in the last row next to Nana. She had seen her when she had entered with her parents. And with Count Phillip. Her mother had ordered her to appear at his side.
And now she was forced to sit between them, the Count's knee slightly pressing against hers. Clarissa felt a wave of nausea rising up as he increased his pressure. She didn't want to be here. She wanted to sit next to Tasha and hold her hand. Even though she wasn't impressed with the priest's word, she knew that his words would have its impact on the blonde. She could almost feel her squirm under his words and gaze.
His litany continued and climaxed into a scream as he condemned the sinners. She sighed. At least it would be over soon. One prayer and a song and she could go and join Tasha outside. The sheer thought of meeting Tasha let her heart jumping up and down with joy. Even more because she hadn't been able to talk to her this morning. She had woken up this morning finding the place next to her empty.
Only when she had entered the church she had seen Tasha for the first time this morning. A short gaze and a smile from her had been all before Phillip had pulled her away into the first row. But she had seen the frown at her lover's forehead as she noticed the Count at her side.
Unnoticed by her the prayer and the song had gone by and the holy mess was over. Only the short ride in the coach with her mother back to the castle separated her from Tasha. Today was the day. Two weeks had past, she had fulfilled her promise and now Tasha had to make good her promise.
Phillip offered her his arm to guide her to the coach and she rewarded him with a smile. She was happy why shouldn't she be generous with her smiles.
Her smile faltered when she realized that the Count didn't say goodbye as they reached the coach. Instead after he had helped her climb into the carriage he followed her at a wink of the Queen.
He sat down next to her and closed the door behind him. Her heart beat faster as the trap closed around her. In the narrowness of the vehicle she was sure that the other passengers could hear it banging loud against her chest.
She looked from her mother to the Count and back. A trap. Definitely a trap, she realized. Her eyes searched for help but there were only her mother, Phillip and the stupid maid-of-honor Anyanka, sitting next to her mother. Sweat was already running down her spine. She fought down the urge to open the door at her side and run as fast from this scene as she could. The thick fabric of her dress would hinder her on her flight but she would try. Better to trip over her hem and break her neck than to stay here gazing into the abyss.
Her finger clung into the wooden frame of the window as she leant out in search for help. Her eyes fell on her father who stood next to the vehicle. He didn't even look into her direction as he talked animatedly with the members of his hunting party. Pride spread over his face as he patted his hawk. A stabbing pain went through her heart. He never had been that proud of her. She never had been able to attract his attention like his horse could with a small paw.
No she couldn't expect help from him. Helplessly she watched her father get up his horse and ride away. Her heart missed a beat when she saw who had been standing behind the hunting party.
Tasha stood together with Nana at the chapels door. Supportingly the nun had wrapped her arm around the blonde's shoulder. The witch had witnessed the whole scene, worry visible on her face. Bravely she smiled at Tasha.
"It's alright. Don't worry." She mouthed silently.
"Darling." The cold voice of her mother pulled her back. The lack of any emotion as she addressed her daughter let Clarissa shiver. She realized that her mother didn't look at her child but at a servant who had to obey her order. There wasn't place for something like family ties in her world of power and intrigues.
She was thrown to and fro as the coach started to move. And with every uneven spot of the cobblestones she bumped against him or the wooden wall. Again her fingers searched the wooden frame to anchor herself.
The steel blue eyes of her mother estimated her. "For months now the Count." She nodded at the Count, showing more emotions for him than for her own daughter. "visits you nearly every day and pays you his respects. We think it is time to announce your engagement. Next Sunday after the church." The queen's eyes drifted of to her long pearl necklace. Ritually the queen rolled every single pearl through her fingers counting them.
"What?" Clarissa croaked, her voice left without sound by this revelation. she was nothing more than an animal sold to the highest bidder. And the Count had a lot to offer. At least to her mother. But he had nothing she wanted. She wasn't interested in his property. Everything she wanted stood at the chapel's door.
Still unable to move in shock Phillip took her small, limb hand into his and kissed its back. "I'm glad you finally answer my entreaty." A satisfied smile played around his thin lips as he gazed at the Queen.
She wanted to scream at them that she was still here, that she was a living person not a furniture to be sold and bought.
"But it's too soon." Clarissa insisted. "I, I'm not ready. Maybe in a few months." Her breathing quickened and she felt the bile rising in her throat. She swallowed visibly. Time, she had to gain time.
"Nonsense." The Queen silenced her harshly with a wave of her hand. It was the same hand which had ordered the death of many people with the same gesture. "Six months are enough. We are thinking of shortening the engagement. You two don't have to wait additional six months... Maybe three or two months will be enough this time." She nodded to herself. "It will be appropriate."
"Milady, your generosity is endless." Phillip flattered her and the queen smiled pleased at him.
Why couldn't she marry him, if she liked him that much. Clarissa wouldn't stand in their way. Actually she planed on being a million miles out of their way. If Tasha wanted her to go with her.
The coach stopped. They had reached the castle. The Queen looked at Clarissa and sighed frustrated with the ingratitude her daughter showed her. "I wish only to fulfill your dreams, darling. Your wishes are my wishes." She told her in a sugar-sweet voice.
Suddenly Anyanka yanked out of her catatonia. "Your wish is to fulfill her wishes?" She asked in disbelief. Only the queen' slightly narrowed eyes and the punishing gaze she threw at the maid silenced her.
The audience was over. For the Queen there wasn't anything left to discuss.
Gentleman like the Count got off first and offered the Queen a helping hand. Generously she accepted and her hand sneaked around his arm, pulling him closer. They smiled at each other and started a whispered conversation.
Still in shock Clare watched the Queen and Phillip entering the castle. She didn't even realize that Anyanka had stayed behind with her. Sold. She felt dirty like a coin that had wandered through hundreds of hands. But she wasn't more for them than that. A desperate laugh escaped her dry lips as she thought about her words to the priest. Yes, she really was valuable for her mother.
Only when the brunette maid whispered into her ear from behind she registered her. The closeness of the other woman let her jump.
"What do you wish? Any wish. Just tell me." The seducing voice told her. "I'm your friend. You can tell me."
"What?!" Clarissa turned around and glared at the woman. "Why are you still here? Shouldn't you be with my mother? I thought you never left her side. Go follow her but L-E-A-V-E M-E alone." She spit at her, her face only inches from the other woman's face. But the brunette stayed unimpressed.
The princess sighed in frustration and stormed away. She couldn't even win against a maid anymore.
"Is this your wish?" Anyanka yelled after her, still standing next to the coach.
"No. An order." Clare answered her without turning around. She had to find Tasha. Now.
"This isn't good." Willow complained and sat up to face her lover. "I don't want them to get married. And I don't want Anya to destroy the tale." She added.
"They're not married yet, are they?" Tara replied. Willow rested her head at the blonde's shoulder and snuggled closer when she felt Tara's arm wrap around her.
"No." Willow answered grumpily into Tara's neck. "but I want happiness. Not forced marriage." The vibration of the redhead's voice against her neck caused the witch to giggle.
"Wait and see."
"Tasha?" shyly Clarissa perked into their room. She still hadn't found the blonde witch despite searching her through the whole castle. Actually she had looked everywhere three times by now. With a frustrated sigh she entered her room and closed her door lethargic before she flopped down onto her bed.
With a pout on her lips she stared at the ceiling, searching the gray bricks for a hint where her lover might be. But the stone just looked down at her unimpressed.
"You aren't helpful." She pulled one of her big cushions into her arms and pressed it against her chest.
This wasn't fair. She should have asked her last night. But she had been too anxious about the blonde's decision. Spending the night with her, lulled to sleep in her arms had been more appealing then. But then she hadn't expected to wake up just to be alone and abandoned.
Two weeks. Two weeks she had waited in patience. She had faced the town and it's ugliness. It's sounds and smells. She even had Tasha forced to take the stinking small street again, just to show her how brave she was. Only by memory a bile rose in her throat forcing her to swallow and taking deep breaths. Deep breaths, she even had taken deep breaths to prime her determination.
Cope and adapt. She had repeated that mantra over and over in her head every time she had wanted to run back to the castle or cry at the misery she sawn. But she hadn't she had been strong like Tasha wanted her. Strong and grown up.
She could be grown up, if she had to. But only for a limited time. And two weeks were a very long limited time. She needed an answer. She deserved an answer. Not this, this waiting. Waiting was worse than every answer she could imagine. Except for the 'get-out-of-my-life-I -don't-love-you-whiny-stupid-princess'-answer. In that case waiting would be better, way better. If there wasn't the part of actually waiting...
Two weeks of paying attention to every step she did. Of being painfully aware of every little slip, every small grimace she'd shown unable to hide it in the face of the world outside. The castle had it's own hells but she'd grown up with them. As the princess she'd learned to deal with them. Outside her defined limits that was something different. But she had given her best and more of this. She had worked her ass off.
A new phrase she had learned. A very suitable phrase for her situation.
Had she fooled herself? The little smiles, the approving nods, the caring eyes full of pride, had she only imagined it. Had her mind made up all this to allude her?
Questions, nothing but questions. Once she had been good at questions. Non in her books she couldn't solve. Six months ago her world was simple. Simple ...small... And lonely. Then she met Tasha.
She didn't want to go back to this life. She couldn't. Especially if her mother forced her into marrying the Count. But then she didn't intend to be here when the wedding would take place. She would be far away together with Tasha. If the blonde wanted her with her. She prayed to every entity she knew for this.
Where was she? She needed to talk to her. Make plans. Run away from here.
And the ceiling just laughed at her. Even with closed eyes she could see it grinning. The image burned itself through her closed lids.
With forced apathy she turned on her side facing the more friendly looking cushions. But there weren't just cushions. Strategically good placed on one of them lay a small brown paper like the ones she used in her library.
It lay there, waiting for her to find it. Waving with it's small hands at her, if it had hands and if she had bothered to look at her bed before she jumped on it.
New enthusiasm flooded through her as she sat up and grabbed the sheet hungrily.
'I love you'
Her heart made a happy jump, twirled around and sending an invitation to join the party to her stomach. Without hesitation her stomach joined in; butterflies swirling in it.
She knew the handwriting. Often enough she had stood over Tasha watching her as her hand drove unsteadily over the paper. Absorbed in her task the tip of her tongue sneaked out between her full lips. Often enough she had bent over and clasped her hand over that of her girlfriend. Not to support her hand but just to be nearer and to feel her back pressing against her and to fill her nostrils with the honey scent that waved of her lover. Even the memory brought back the fuzzy feeling that filled her from inside.
She pulled the paper close to her heart to stop it from bursting with hope.
They would be together. Should she start packing? A list with all the things she needed was already made and lay secure under her undergarment in her dresser.
A frown built between her furrows as she realized that just one thing was missing. One important 'thing'. The most important.
She still didn't know where her girlfriend was. Tasha had been here, her letter was evidence enough. But where was she now?
A small weight suddenly appeared next to her causing her to look up and into the green eyes of the black cat.
"Hey there." Her fingers scratched the soft spot behind its ear. "Can you tell me where your mommie is?" The cat rubbed its head against her fingers and purred contently... But it gave her no satisfying answer.
She lifted the cat at eye level. "This is conspiracy. Surrender. No sweets for you ever again." A soft clawless paw in her face told her that the cat wouldn't surrender that it would fight her till death.
With a sigh she settled it back into her lap picking up her caress. But the cat wasn't interested anymore. It tilted its head and examined the letter that lay near at paw. Just as it was about to snap it, Clare intervened and scooped the paper up.
"Bad cat." She lifted her finger accusingly at the cat. "bad, bad cat." Waving the letter in front of the cat but out of reach she lectured it. "Nothing to play with. It's..." Her eyes fell on the words written there but it weren't three anymore... Now there was a whole sentence.
'Meet me at the outside.'
Magic. She was sure it hadn't been there before. And where had the 'I love you' gone to?
As she turned the page the miracle was solved. She only had to turn the page to learn where her lover was. But never considered it.
"Stupid me." She smacked her forehead. "And wonderful cat." Her fingers curled through the cat till it squirmed out of her reach.
"Have to go." She jumped up. "Tasha's waiting." A wide grin brightened her face. As she stormed out of her room, all the worries forgotten.
Only to turn around once more. "She loves me." She told the cat before she vanished again.
Tasha loved her. Clarissa repeated the words over and over in her head while she ran down the corridors to the library. The past worried hours were forgotten. Everything that counted now was that the blonde loved her. Fifteen minutes more, a little eternity right now and then she would be at the library, through the tunnel and with Tasha. Together. Forever. She wouldn't let her go for a single moment again, she promised herself.
Her hands pulled up the hem of her dress as she increased her speed. 13 minutes. Her mathematical mind told her. She could be faster if she stopped to make little jumps but that was impossible. It just happened. Against her own will. She would have a serious talk about this with her body. Later. For now she would be patient with it as long as it took her to Tasha.
Clare turned around the last corner, her heart beating in anticipation.
Just a few more steps and...
"Umphhh." The air was pressed out of her lungs as her back collided hard with the stony floor.
Just a breath ago she was heading to Tasha and now she lay at the floor fighting the dizzy feeling in her head. She lifted her head just to put it back down at the ground. The world should spin around without her. She would stay here, waiting for it to stop.
"Do you think it's an appropriate position for a princess to lie at the floor?" A voice from above asked her.
Clarissa opened her eyes just to shut them again. Maybe if she pretended to be unconscious they would leave her alone. She stayed still for a minute, not moving a single muscle. Play dead, she told herself. 'Don't breath. They will go if you don't answer them. They have to.'
She tuned out all her senses, concentrating just on her hearing. Nothing. Not even leaving footsteps. Maybe she just vanished into thin air. Clarissa was sure that the maiden from hell was capable of this little trick.
Just to be careful she stayed in her position a minute longer, counting the seconds. 'One blonde Tasha, two blonde Tashas...'
Not the best choice to count Tashas if you tried to play dead.
Once again she concentrated on the sound surrounding her. There were only the muffled sounds of people in the garden, their voices carried to her through the window.
She was losing precious time she could spend with Tasha... and the cold from the floor was seeping through her dress.
A cold was the least thing she wanted to get. Not now. If they could stay in the castle she would have voted for a neat little cold. But only a little one. Just the size that she could spend the day in bed, complaining about it and enjoying Tasha fussing over her. Involuntarily a smile crept over her face. Sometimes colds could be pleasant.
But they wouldn't stay in the castle. Her mother and all the other ones wouldn't vanish. She and Tasha had to go. Far, far away. Together. Hand in hand into the sunset. Hopefully she didn't have to stay here till sunset. She couldn't stay this long.
Slowly she opened one eye to peek up, just to stare at two feet standing only inches from her.
"So you're awake." The voice commented enthusiastically.
"Great." Clare muttered through gritted teeth. Now she had two options. Either she stayed at the floor pretending to be dead... or asleep with the maiden staring at her or she could stand up and get rid of her.
Getting rid of her implied that she had to deal with her and to talk to her. She sighed again. The whole world had plotted against her. But she wouldn't give up. Even if she had to talk to Anyanka.
Great. There were over one hundred people (to be exact it were 134) and she had to run into the importunate lady-in-waiting. The one person she wanted to see the least right now.
Well, she wanted to see her mother, the priest or Philip less but Anyanka followed close on her list. Very close. So close you couldn't place a hair in between. Even closer as the brunette watched her with a leer in her eyes like she wanted to devour her.
Clarissa got up and stifled a small moan as her world started to spin again. And her hurting left shoulder didn't lighten her mood either.
But she knew whom to blame. The reason stood in front of her, staring at her with her brown eyes. Well she could stare back as well.
Dark brown eyes darted into her. It was like looking into a deep bottomless well. The abyss that lay in the other woman's eyes crept into her in search for her most inner thoughts.
Involuntarily her hands smoothed down her dress and her eyes followed their path to avoid the gaze. She wouldn't give anything away to this woman.
Clarissa concentrated on her dress again. There were spots from her fall all over the dark green fabric. A particular big one caught her eye. If she could get rid of it the lady-in-waiting would vanish also. She had to.
Then why did she feel like a trapped animal.
A sigh of frustration escaped Clarissa's throat, her eyes directed at the library door behind the other woman. Someone had cursed her, she was for sure. There was no other explanation that she had suddenly turned into a maniac-magnet. Maybe Tasha could lift that spell from her.
Tasha. She was at least four minutes late her inner clock told her. The sand trickling down in her inner hourglass ringed suddenly loud in her ears.
Only positive thoughts. She reminded herself. 'Tasha loves you. Forget that impertinent woman. This behavior was second nature to her. Although she had seen her twice today without her mother. Something that had never happened before. 'Forget it.' Happy thoughts only.
Happy thoughts about Tasha. Of Tasha and her. Her brain flooded her with every single moment she had shared with the blonde. Too fast for her to see a single outstanding moment but it filled her with a calm happiness.
They would be together.
As soon as she got rid of that obstacle in her way.
She could do that, she was the Princess. She only had to order and her wish was fulfilled.
Just wish for it.
"What do you want?" she snapped at the lady-in-waiting.
"Nothing." There it was again, the superior tone in her voice, like she knew of things no-one else in this castle could even imagine. Her smile was cold sending a shiver through the redhead. "I walked along and suddenly you bumped into me. Gave my little heart a big fright."
In an exaggerated move Anyanka rested her hand over her heart and took a deep breath. "But enough about me." The false smile was back. "What can I do for you?" Her head moved forward indicating a closeness they didn't share.
"Nothing." Clarissa took a step back. What was it about that woman, that she always was the one to surrender?
Sadness darkened the brunette's face. "Nothing? Are you sure? You can wish for everything. Just tell me."
"Leave me alone." Clarissa shuddered.
"No, you have to say 'I wish you'll leave me alone'. Only then it's working." The other woman lectured her frustrated. "Say it." Anyanka encouraged her with a small wave of her hand. "It's easy."
"I wish that you would vanish from this earth and every other earth that might exist in an other dimension. And you should suffer everything you ever did to someone. No wait! I wish you into a dimension that only exists of bunnies."
"Willow!" Tara admonished her girlfriend shocked.
"What?" the redhead answered stubborn. "I only fulfilled her wish. She asked for it." She crossed her arms and pouted. "There's no harm in a little wish." Willow mumbled before she grabbed a Kleenex to blow her nose. "and I wish for softer Kleenex. Is my nose red?" She held her nose out toward Tara.
"I like your nose." The blonde answered kissing it. "If we had winter you could go as Rudolph." Tara snickered.
"Hey. Be nice to the sick." Willow pulled up her nose and leaned back. "They have biological weapons. And they will use them." Willow threw her used Kleenex at her girlfriend.
Tara ducked and the 'weapon' missed her. "Don't shoot the storyteller." The blonde admonished her lover. "Who will finish the story if I'm knocked out?" She picked up the Kleenex and threw it into the garbage.
"I could." Willow insisted and wiggled her red nose. "I know exactly how it will end." She took a deep breath to continue but then she stopped, her mind working at high speed. "You're not sick now. You can tell it."
As Clare pulled back the dark green ivy that covered the tunnels entrance and stepped outside. After the dark tunnels were only illuminated by a small candlelight the bright sun-rays hit her unyieldingly. She grimaced and closed her eyes as she stepped into the daylight.
Behind her closed lids the sudden flash of light danced on her retina, reminding her of the dizziness she felt only minutes ago. She took a deep breath and ordered herself to forget the whole morning. The castle and everything that happened laid behind her. Here was another place, another life and she didn't want to mix them. A new life lay before her and she would take it. And hold onto it with everything she had.
She could leave everything behind just like she did with the lady-in-waiting. Her mood lightened and she had to suppress a giggle as she remembered the astonished look on the brunette's face as she just left her without answering to her question. She had been tempted to turn around to watch what the other woman was doing but she held herself back. It would have been an invitation for her to bother her again. A risk she couldn't take.
She blinked a few times to adapt to the change of light and shield her eyes with her hand.
It was an unusual warm day for early autumn. But even the new found warmth couldn't prevent the trees from turning their leafs from green into the different autumn-colors. The world was changing. She inhaled deeply. The fresh, odorless air filled her lungs and rushed through her blood in every part of her body. It cleared her mind and soul and with every breath she took she felt lighter.
The first yellow, red and brown leafs already covered the ground. As a little girl she never had been able to resist to shuffle through them. And the same urge returned now whispering into her ear. Carefully she looked around but couldn't see anyone. Wherever Tasha was waiting for her it wasn't here. The blonde hadn't been precise in her description where to meet her. 'Outside' was a stretchable word. It had been whispered often into her ear when they had met briefly at a floor or a room in the castle. Sometimes in thread of being caught in an intimate moment the word had been formed silently by one of them. And every time the word had sent an electrifying shiver through her, from head to toes.
'Outside' had meant outside the tunnel. Right here. Most of the time. Sometimes they had already met on their way there in the library or in the tunnel. She frowned. Tasha should be here by now but maybe she had been held up.
She could wait. And in the meantime she could make the best out of it and give into her urge. Countless times as a child she had sneaked into the garden to watch the colorful leafs in the trees. And she had waited for them to fall to the ground more than once tempered to help out. Once her small hands had grabbed the thick trunk and she had shaken it. Back then she had been to small and the trees to thick to have any success.
Weeping she had returned in Nana's open arms explaining to her between sobs why she was so upset. The nurse had wiped her nose and had rocked her in her lap and had promised her that tomorrow there would be enough leafs for her to play with. And she had believed her. Nana had never disappointed her.
Clare had never found out how the old woman had managed it but the next morning right after she had woken up she had run into the garden, still in her nightgown. What she had found there had let her stand there in wonder, her eyes wide and her mouth open.
There wasn't a single leaf left at the trees. But the ground was covered in brown, yellow and red. Not a single straw was visible between the leafs.
It had been one of the happiest days in her young life. For hours she jumped and shuffled through the leaf-sea dived into it, threw it up and showered in it.
Today only a few leafs covered the ground but it was enough to remind her of the long forgotten good feeling. And it was enough to shuffle through them.
Clare felt free and happy.
She closed her eyes, stretched her arms like she wanted to embrace the whole world and started to spin around. Faster and faster.
A clear chuckle coming from above her caused her to stop in mid-motion. She turned around following the lovely sound. She would recognize that laugh everywhere.
"Tasha." She exhaled the name of her lover. Clare looked back at the tunnel but no sight of her lover. But she wasn't in the forest either. She frowned and bit her lower lip. She had been sure to hear her laugher. Maybe the hit on her head from her earlier encounter had been more serious than she thought. She touched her head in search for a wound. But besides a small bump she couldn't feel anything.
"Up here." She wasn't dreaming. And now she knew which direction she had to look for.
"What are you doing up there?" Clare asked her girlfriend after she had found her sitting at a ledge next to the tunnel entrance.
"Watching you." The blonde answered from above, a big smile covering her features. "I liked the spinning around." Tasha grinned and whirled her finger around.
Clare put her hands on her hips and pouted. "That's unfair. I thought I was alone. That was a 'I'm alone so nobody can embarrass me'-action and such an action includes no-one to watch. But your a 'one'."
"I hope I'm a one and not a no-one." Tasha answered from her safe place out of reach.
"Come down." Clare ordered, tapping with her foot but Tasha shook her head.
"I feel fine up here." She answered and stuck out her tongue.
"Then I'll have to come up and get you." The princess decided with a mischievous grin. Her hands reached up but even tiptoed she didn't reach the ledge. A frown showed itself on her face as she searched for a another way to her lover.
"I'm not a squirrel." She jumped up but even then she couldn't reach Tasha. "Serious climbing then." She muttered to herself as she pushed up her sleeves and looked for a save foothold.
Carefully she placed her foot at a small ledge and clung her fingers into the rock. But when she tried to pull herself up, her foot slipped. "Ouch." Clare grimaced in pain and shook her right hand to get rid of the burning sensation. She blow at her palm and prepared herself for another try.
"Take this." Her lover's voice stopped her before she could try again. Clare looked up to see a basket been handed down to her.
She took it, the basket heavy in her arms. Clarissa tried to get a view of the goodies inside but a blanket laid over the possible goodies prevented further investigations. She was about to lift it when Tasha stopped her.
"Hey." The blonde called out. "Stop this." Her hands placed on her hips, she stood at the rock, looking down at her girlfriend disapprovingly.
"Who will stop me? You're up there." The princess grinned. "And I'm down here. All alone. By myself..." A mischievous smile played around the redhead's lips. "And this little really heavy basket." Playfully she swung the basket back and forth. "Looks like I'll have a very private picnic. Just me and all the goodies in there." She rocked up and down.
"Poor princess." Tasha laughed.
"In fact I'm. I came here to see my girlfriend and all I've got is this basket. I hope there are enough sugary pleasures in there to compensate my disappointment." She sniffed and made big puppy-eyes at the girl on the rock. "Have you seen her?"
The girl on the rock tilted her head to the right and nibbled at her lower lip. "Let me think. Hmmm. What does she look like?"
"She's a little bit taller than you, has gorgeous hips and a waist just the right size to wrap my arms around her from behind. Then her whole body melts perfectly into mine. And that little sigh that escapes her throat when I nibble at her earlobe before I rest my head on her shoulder sends a shiver down my spine. Her hair is like honey in the sunshine and I have to keep my tongue from sneaking out to taste it. But she tastes way better than honey. The sweetest thing I've ever tasted. But you don't get sick from too much of this goody. There is no tummy rumbling like I get when I've eaten too much of Nana's cookies. There's just the desire to eat more and more."
Clare smiled when she saw the deep crimson covering Tasha's face. Her green eyes searched that of the blonde. When they met Clare could see the blue of Tasha's eyes turn dark with desire. They gazed at each other in silence before Tasha broke the bond and dropped her head in embarrassment. There was a small pain in Clarissa's heart the second the blonde's face vanished behind her golden hair.
"And she has eyes that look right into your soul and capture it forever." Clare continued. Her smile grew bigger when she saw Tasha peeking up from behind her cover. "Her soul touches you and tucks you in to keep you warm and safe. Sometimes I'm afraid that she is too good to be real. That she's an angel walking on earth only for a small time . That she leave's me behind when heaven calls her back."
"I could never leave you." Tasha whispered hardly audible.
The blonde looked intensively at the princess. Suddenly without warning Tasha jumped down from the rock.
A shriek escaped Clare's throat and she stepped forward to catch her girlfriend.
For the second time this day Clarissa found herself lying on the ground. But this time she held a precious treasure in her arms.
"Never do that again." Clare pulled the blonde closer. She could feel Tasha's heart-beat against her chest, her own heart beating in synchronicity. "Heights are dangerous." Her hand sneaked out and tugged a strain of golden hair behind her ear.
The blonde on top of her laughed. "Clare, honey, it wasn't that high and I landed soft. Very soft." She whispered.
Clare gulped audible when Tasha's lips parted and her pink tongue darted out to wet them.
"Are you alright?" Tasha asked concerned and moved to get off the redhead. "Did I hurt you? Where? I, I' m sorry. Can you move?"
"Shhhh." Clare placed a finger on Tasha's lips to stop her. "I'm fine. More than fine if you stay right where you are."
Tasha tilted her head and watched Clare seriously. After a while a half-grin appeared. She bent down and kissed Clare.
"Ahhh that's how I love my girls." The redhead moaned contently when Tasha continued her kissing, her mouth traveling along the princess's neck.
"Girls?" The blonde stopped and looked up.
"Yeah, but you're my favorite." Clarissa breathed. There wasn't enough air in her lungs to form a whole sentence. "Don't stop." She whined with closed eyes. "I'll give up all the others. Every single one. Just for you. I love you."
There was no other sound than that of the wind playing with the colorful leafs.
Clare opened her eyes to find her lover gazing at her lovingly. A hand parted Clarissa's red hair and she leaned into the touch. Every single finger burned trough her scalp right into her mind. She couldn't think of anything but the soft touches of her lover.
"I love you, too." Tasha settled on her arms to get a better look at her girlfriend.
"I know, I have the proof. In black and white." Clare grinned.
"I have a bad handwriting." Tasha blushed again.
"No. It's the most wonderful writing I've ever seen." Clare insisted. Seeing the embarrassment returning to her lover's face Clarissa changed the subject. "So what have you planned? Or was this all? Jumping your girlfriend? I'm not that cheep. At least I want lunch."
"Would a picnic be enough?" Tasha stood up. Immediately Clarissa's body missed the heaviness of the blonde's body on top of her. Glad for at least a small touch she accepted the outstretched hand to pull her up.
To Clarissa's delight they had walked to the small apple grove where they had spent their first night together. Only now Clarissa wondered why they had never come back to this place. It was as wonderful at day as it was at night.
Although the season had changed it looked the same. It were the same old trees they had walked under in that clear night.
Involuntarily she snatched her arm around Tasha's waist and pulled the blonde closer. She buried her face into the honey colored hair and inhaled deeply. Her lover's scent mingled with the smell of the apple trees.
"It's been a long time since we've been here." Tasha voiced her thoughts. "But I thought..." Her feet shuffled trough the long grass. "For the last time... we... uhmmm."
"It's a wonderful idea." Clare answered, eliciting a smile from her girlfriend. "Let's find our tree." She took Tasha's hand and pulled her along with her.
Hand in hand they walked through the grove. Clare remembered every single moment of the first night they spent together. Even with closed eyes she would find their tree. How couldn't she. They had lain under it for hours watching the stars through its top.
Lovingly her finger traced the deep lines the years had dig into the bark. "It's so old." She whispered.
"Can we have an apple grove?" She turned around and asked Tasha.
The blonde had already spread out the blanket and was busy unpacking the basket. She looked up from her work and smiled. "Maybe we should find a place to stay first."
"Oh that's easy." Clare answered and plopped down onto the blanket next to the blonde. "We'll go south. There are a lot of small hidden villages. Far out of my mother's reach. I'm sure we can buy a little farm. I've collected enough gold. It's in my dresser under my under-dresses. It's enough for a farm. I've asked Nana how much money it would cost. Right now we have enough money for three farms. And we'll have enough left for some chickens, sheep and cows." Her hands waved wild through the air. "Oh, we could buy a cow like Louis. First I thought about buying him and taking him with us. But we can't direct attention to us. And a redhead traveling with a beautiful blonde and a cow would be conspicuous. But I want a cow that looks exactly like him. I could teach it little tricks. It could be our watchcow."
"Watchcow?" Tasha interrupted her.
"It could go moo when a suspicious stranger roams around." Clare explained seriously.
Tasha covered her mouth and tried to suppress her giggling. "Honey, I'm not sure there's something like a watchcow."
"Just because no-one ever tried. We'll be the first ones." Clare insisted. "I'll teach it."
Tasha watched her lover carefully. Her green eyes sparkled with enthusiasm and her cheeks had reddened in anticipation. In Clarissa's mind their future was spread out firmly. There was no swaying, no uncertainty.
The blonde leant toward her lover and kissed her on the forehead. "Thank you." She whispered.
"You're welcome. But for what?" Clarissa asked confused. She reached for Tasha's hand and brushed over the blonde's knuckles.
"For a future." The witch swallowed as tears dwelled up in her eyes.
The princess frowned. "Don't cry." She pleaded. She had wanted to show her lover the great future that laid ahead of them. It was a happy, carefree future without tears of sorrow. "I promise you there will never be a reason for you again to cry. I'll take care of this. Only laughter and happiness." She proclaimed as she wiped away the first tear.
"But I'm happy. More than happy."
"More than happy?" Clare shook her head. "What's better than being happy?" She asked unsure.
"I feel complete." Their eyes met and Clarissa could feel the love emanating from the clear blue eyes that looked at her. Against her own will a big grin formed on her face.
"Then 'come' here." She said and pulled the blonde down with her to lay on the blanket. Clarissa laid on her back and pulled Tasha even closer as the blonde rested her head onto Clare's shoulder and spooned her from beside. Every night when they took the same position Clarissa was amazed how good they fit together. They were made for each other. Tasha was right, only together they were complete in body and mind. The well known weight of Tasha's leg over hers was a further evidence. This was a burden she would carry happily through her life.
She closed her eyes and enjoyed the soft feeling of Tasha's hair gliding through her fingers. She sighed as Tasha began to draw little circles on her stomach. With every turn the delicate finger took, Clare relaxed a little bit more.
"You're thin, you should eat more." Tasha's finger stopped her caress.
"I forgot to eat." Clarissa answered.
"What happened?" Tasha asked.
"It isn't important anymore." Clarissa claimed. She didn't want to lose the calm that flooded her for the first time this day.
But Tasha didn't give up. She extricated herself from Clarissa's embrace and propped on her elbow to get a clearer look at her lover's face. "I've seen your look when you drove away from the church. And it wasn't a 'nothing' look it was more a 'help me I'm trapped' look."
Clarissa still had her eyes closed. She knew if she opened them and saw the concerned look on her lover's face she wouldn't be able to ignore the events any longer. But as long as she didn't voice them, she could pretend that they weren't real.
She didn't want them to intrude this haven. In the grove time stood still. Here she could cherish the illusion to be free already. Her dreams and hopes were more real here they won substance. And in wording them, they turned into more than just a daydream she had for the last two weeks. They were getting real, granting her a glimpse of what to come.
A gentle caress at her temple brought her back from her brooding. "You know, you can tell me everything. I can hear them rummaging through your little head." The caress was replaced by a soft kiss.
"Are they're this loud? I thought I had them tied up and gagged." Clare mumbled. "They want to announce the engagement." It was out. She had voiced them but she was still in the grove with Tasha. No guards came to bring her back to the castle. But just to be careful she didn't open her eyes.
"What?" Tasha sat up with a jerk. "When?"
"Next Sunday at the church." Clarissa could sense her lover standing up. Without looking she knew that the blonde paced up and down in front of the blanket. She sighed and opened her eyes. They weren't alone any longer.
"It doesn't matter." She tried to calm Tasha down. She reached out for the blonde but the blonde didn't take the offered hand but at least she stopped her pacing.
"How can you say that? Your mother's selling you to the Count and you? You act like that's nothing." Little red marks covered Tasha's face. Clare knew she had to do something or her girlfriend would panic.
"I won't be there in the wedding night. Or at the ceremony the day before. Let alone the day before, or the week before. I won't even be there for the engagement announcement." She giggled and wiggled with her toes. "My mother can marry him if she loves him that much. My father is seldom here and I'm sure he wouldn't even notice another man in her bed." She shuddered at her own thoughts. "Scary place." She raised her hands in self-defense. "So a nono." Her hair flew around as she shook her head vehemently.
"Don't joke about it." Tasha whispered. "The Count is dangerous. Don't underestimate him."
Clare shook her shoulders. "I won't be here to worry about him. We'll be far, far away. Out of their reach. Forever."
"Honey. You'll have to be careful around him." Tasha repeated.
Suddenly Clare's features darkened. "I won't have to worry because I won't be around him. Right?" She didn't like the fear she saw in Tasha's eyes. It was the same fright she'd seen when she had found Tasha beaten up.
"What's wrong?" she asked alarmed.
"Nothing... But..." Tasha started.
"What 'but'? I'm not good with the 'buts'. I can take 'ands' and 'ors' but I'm bad with 'buts'. Do you realize that after a 'but' only bad things happen? Like when I was five and Nana told me that I could whish anything for my birthday-party but that I had to learn riding because my father whished for it. And then that beast snapped at me. I swore back then that I would never get near one of them again. Except for once but then it brought me to you. Okay one good 'but' but there are so many bad 'buts'..." Tasha raised her hand to stop her.
"Just..." The blonde considered her next words before she continued. "Be careful around him."
The redhead sighed relieved. "He's a pain in the ass." She waved her hand dismissively and leaned back.
"Hey princess watch your mouth." Tasha answered in mocked seriousness.
"I have to adapt to my surroundings or otherwise we'll attract attention. I'll be no longer a princess but one of the people. So I have to talk like them. I have a little book with notes how to talk. After every night I wrote them down and learned them."
Tasha laughed. "You're unbelievable."
"Is this a compliment?" Clare teased, happy that the serious moment had passed.
"Oh yes." The blonde breathed as she returned to her place next to the princess. With Tasha in her arms Clare relaxed again. They stayed silent for a moment before Tasha spoke.
"Yes?" The princess mumbled half asleep.
"Tell me more about our farm. Will we have a grove?" Tasha asked in a tiny voice.
"Of course we will." She kissed Tasha's head. "We'll have the biggest, most reddish apples in the whole country. And every full moon we'll walk through our grove and collect herbs."
"With our watchcow?"
"Yep, can't go out without a watchcow to watch over you."