She had stopped hours ago to bang and kick against the heavy wooden door and to scream at the guard on the other side to let her out. She had tried every way to get out but she was trapped. The door to Nana's door was locked like her own and her room lay too high to jump out of the window. She had stormed up and down her room, her hands clenching and unclenching as she searched for a solution. Then suddenly her eyes had fallen on the breakfast table. Her gaze wandered over the red and orange shimmering fruits. They looked like Tasha had polished every single one as the light danced on their surface. The fragrance of sweet pancakes in all possible forms still filled the room. It was exactly like Tasha had left it to get some sugar from the kitchen.
The sheer sight of it made Clare sick. It reminded her of what she could have had if... If she hadn't disappointed Tasha. It stood for everything she couldn't have and it was the reason that Tasha was... gone.
With a cry of despair her arms wiped over the table, sending everything on its surface shattering to the ground. But her rage wasn't gone after the table was empty. It still boiled in her. Feverish her eyes darted through the room in search for a new aim. Something, anything just to get rid of the mixed emotions that fought inside her over the upper hand.
Clare grabbed the table and knocked it down. The next thing was her chest of drawers. She opened every single drawer, grasping their contents to throw them through the whole room. She didn't care if her best underwear landed in the spoiled milk or on the fat pancakes or if her perfumes ruined the expensive linen. Soon her clothes joined them as she pulled one dress after the other from her wardrobe. She had found her scissors between some apples and a broken perfume bottle. With forceful strokes she drove them through the fabric. She screaming sound of ripping cloth filling the room. Like a mad whirlwind she raged through her room, tearing it apart. Not a single thing was spared.
Once she started she couldn't stop, nothing was spared. And suddenly only one single furniture stood still untouched in her room. It was the biggest one, the centerpiece of the room. Their bed. She run to it ready to tear the pillows apart with her bare hands but an invisible power stopped her mid-action. There she stood, at the bed end staring at the white and red blankets.
Tasha had made it, smoothing out every trace of the night, before she had prepared breakfast. She couldn't touch it. Her hand trembled as she reached out to brush over the silken fabric. Her fingers glided over the material without touching it. She couldn't desecrate it. It was an island in the sea of chaos that flooded her room. And suddenly her rage was gone. Nothing was left inside her as she slumped down next to it crying.
She was too exhausted to carry on. All she could do was to lean against the door, sitting on the cold stone floor of her room. Clare didn't feel the cold of the stones creeping up into her bones. She was already shivering in shock and not even the cold of the darkest winter could compete against it. Even breathing was barely possible, as an invisible iron chain closed around her chest. Thinking was impossible too. Only one thing came without efforts: the tears that streamed down for hours now, scraping their way into her cheeks forever. Her head, too heavy to hold up, was leaned against the rough wood. She had closed her eyes hours ago when the raw power of her fear and anger had left her body, leaving behind an empty shell. There was nothing worth to be seen. And her mind showed her pictures she didn't want to see but had to bear.
She blinked and opened her eyes slowly. If she only could crawl into her bed and pull her blanket over her head. Her bed would still smell of their lovemaking and she had nothing to do but close her eyes and fall into a deep sleep from which her lover's kisses would revive her and she would wake up into a new and better life. But she was too weak to even move an inch. And so she continued to do what she had done the last hour. She pressed her right ear against the door, nearly crawling into the wood in hope to hear something from the other side.
Maybe the guard would talk to a passing maid or ask his relief for new information about the unbelievable story about the princess and her unnatural relationship to a witch that must have gone the rounds by now. Gossip, especially gossip like this traveled faster than the wind. It was impossible that they didn't talk about it. They had to, it was human nature. They had to do it. She had to know, anything even the slightest bit of what happened to Tasha and how she was, was better than this. Better than this silence. That silence that whispered into her ear about the things Tasha had to suffer because of her. And something else whispered to her. Shame.
She hadn't been able to protect Tasha like she had sworn to her and to herself. She had failed both of them. How would she ever face her lover again with this failure resting on her shoulders. And then she realized that maybe she wouldn't see Tasha ever again.
A raw cry escaped her hoarse throat as her mind played through everything that could have happened to Tasha while she sat here unharmed and overwhelmed with self-pity.
"Clare." The sudden voice of another person in her room startled the princess. Blinking through her tears she looked up at the source of the sorrowful voice to see Nana standing in her room in the middle of the chaos.
Clare looked at her in disbelief, her mouth slightly open but unable to speak. She had to fantasize. But Nana didn't vanish. Instead she walked over the ruins of the princess' room. Awkwardly the old woman knelt down next to Clare, ignoring her rebelling old bones that cracked with every movement.
"What have you done?" Nana studied Clare's face and brushed a loose streak back.
Clare didn't answer but stared at her nurse. Everything seemed so unreal and maybe it was just a dream.
Nana's gaze traveled down Clare's body and suddenly there was a frown on her face. Carefully she took the princess' right hand into hers and lifted it up into Clare's view. "You're hurt."
Clare looked down and realized that her hand was bleeding from a small gash. She had hurt it in demolishing her room. Although she saw the blood she couldn't feel the pain that went out from her hand. The physical pain was too small to reach her through all the other pain she was feeling right now.
With a slight shook of her head Nana reached into her pocket and pulled out a small white handkerchief she wound around Clare's hand.
"Tasha?" was the only word Clare's troubled mind could form.
Nana's face darkened as the felt Clare's inquiring look at her. For a moment she lowered her head before she looked up again.
Clare began to shake violently as Nana's silence filled the room. "I have to know, please." She pleaded.
"There isn't much." Nana answered evasively.
Clare grabbed Nana's wrist in despair, she didn't realize the death-grip she had. "Anything. I can't..." She drew in a sharp breath, the sudden rush of energy leaving her body as fast as it had come. Her grip loosened and her hand fell down into her lap.
"They called the priest. He was with your mother for over an hour, than he went back to his church. I've heard that he started to gather evidence." Nana explained. "They even searched your library. But don't worry, your bags are safe, they won't find the tunnel."
"Evidence?" Clare heard her words but they didn't make sense to her. 'Evidence' what for. If they listened to her they would have all the evidence they needed but her mother preferred to believe Phillip.
"For the charge against Tasha." Nana continued. "They'll accuse her of witchcraft. The court will be held tomorrow." Shock washed over Clare's face at the words.
"No." She tried to get up, her hands grabbing at the door to pull herself up but her legs wouldn't obey her, wouldn't carry her weight and she stumbled back.
"We have to rescue her." Clare tried again to stand up but fell back onto her knees. Frantically she looked around her room, searching for help and suddenly she realized that the door to Nana's room was wide open. "Help me." She ordered Nana and together they stood up shakingly, supporting each other.
But when Nana realized what Clare had in mind she stopped and turned herself to stand between the princess and the open door. She rested her hand on the redhead's shoulders and stopped her. Clare didn't look at her but at the door. At the way out of here and to Tasha. "You can't go out." Nana's voice cut through her.
"Why not." Now Clare looked at her nurse. "Tell me one good reason I shouldn't go to rescue Tasha." She spat out.
"Because you can't save her right now and you will endanger us all." Nana argued. "You will harm Stephen who is at guard outside your door right now and let me slip in. You endanger me, because I came to you. You will make things more complicated for yourself and you will harm Tasha."
Clare looked at her, like the old woman had slapped her and staggered back. "There isn't a possibility to reach the dungeon unseen or to reach Tasha's cell, let alone free her." Nana reached for the princess. "At the dungeon's there are at least three guards at any time and they're well paid and loyal to the king and queen. And the priest just waits for an occasion like this. We have to be careful or everything will turn worse. There's no chance. Not now. I know it hurts you but everything you can do for Tasha right now is to wait."
Slowly the reality sank in and Clare saw the truth behind Nana's words. For a moment she swayed back and forth before her knees gave in and Clare collapsed to the floor again. She rested her hands against the floor to steady herself. She needed all her strength to breath in and out to stay conscious as the world crumbled around her.
'Harm Tasha' the words echoed through her head and she pulled her hands over her ears and closed her eyes to shut it out.
With soft strength hands rested against hers and pulled them down. "Look at me." Nana asked as she lifted the princess' face. Nana's fingers clasped her cheeks and the old wrinkled thumbs wiped away the tears, only to make place for new one.
"It's my fault." Clare whispered as the tears traveled down her cheeks.
Nana shook her head vehemently and sat down next to her. "Don't you ever think this." She admonished her.
"You don't know what happened. If we left yesterday nothing would have happened..." Clare tried to explain but was interrupted again.
"And maybe they would have found you out on your way through the city. We don't know what would have happened. And Tasha would never accuse you of what happened. The Count attacked her and you did everything to stop him. I'm proud of you."
Clare looked questioning at her. "Oh, I heard the Count's version. I think there's no-one in the castle who hasn't heard his version. And even though I don't believe a single word he said he told enough for me to know the truth." Nana shifted her position and slid closer to take Clare into her arms. Carefully she wrapped her arms around the smaller girl and pulled her away from the door and against her chest. For a single moment Clare closed her eyes and inhaled the scent of her childhood deeply. And like always she felt herself calm down. Her heart was still racing against her chest and her tears still trailed down her cheeks but a soft calm quieted down the worst tremble and allowed her for the first time to form coherent thoughts.
"How is she?" Clare pulled away slightly to get a closer look at Nana's face.
But Nana shook her head. "They brought her down to the dungeons. I don't know what happened there."
"But you have to." Clare wept. "You know everything that goes on here."
"Even my powers are limited and they end at the dungeon's gate." Nana explained. She was sorry for both of her children but she couldn't change the situation as much as she wanted to.
"Will they... he.. the priest... does he torture her." Clare whispered fearful.
"Oh no honey." Nana pulled her back against herself. "He can't do anything against her as long as she isn't convicted of witchcraft. We have to wait and think. We'll find a way to save you both. She's safe right now." She didn't add that he would torture her after the conviction. But both of them, Nana and Clare knew that a charge for witchcraft was as good as a conviction. There wasn't any chance that Tasha would be exonerated. The only thing that the court bought her right now was time, precious time. And this time would end tomorrow after the court was held.
Tara frowned as she realized that Willow hadn't said a single word for some time now. It was... Well it was so not Willow. Especially with what was going on in the fairy tale. Her lover had commented throughout the whole story so far but now? Nothing. Just... silence.
"Honey?" the blonde asked worried and frowned. Willow was laying next to her, her whole body tense. Her arms were over her chest, her lower lip shoved into one of her trademark pouts and her chin rested on her chest. Tara sighed inwardly. Grumpy Willow. Grumpy Willow mixed with sick-as-a-dog Willow. A dangerous mixture. A mixture she had to deal with now.
"Honey, what's wrong?" she tried again to get Willow's attention that was directed at the wall in front of her. She brushed an imaginary strain out of Willow's face using the opportunity to check the warm forehead.
Still no answer, not even the slightest move.
Tara sighed. This time audible. "Spill it before you're gonna explode." She requested.
A low growl escaped the redhead's lips and she shifted a little bit but still didn't answer.
"Willow!" This time she admonished the redhead. She had a slight suspicion what was bothering her lover. "Spill it. It's eating you up."
Willow sat up straight and looked deep into her lover's eyes, a trace of disapproval in her deep green eyes. "Of course it's eating me up." She spat out. "What do you think. The Count nearly raped Tasha." She raised her hands. "but I said nothing. Nope, not a single word." She closed the imaginary zipper at her mouth. "You told me often enough not to interrupt the story. So I stayed calm, the kind of calm where you don't say a word, not the being calm inside part. But it isn't getting better, only worse. A court? They have no chance. But I said nothing, so you'll continue." She fell back onto her pillow and crossed her arms again. "So continue... I want the bad part of the tale to be over as soon as possible, before I do something ill-considered, like beating the count to death or I'll tie him at a horse to drag him over the whole kingdom. I'm sure it's a big kingdom. Or we take two horses and tie him to both of them and then..." Her hands tore the count into two parts. "But I'm saying nothing. Not a single word." She repeated her words, the pout back on her face.
"Oh Willow." Tara began.
"Don't 'Oh Willow' me." The furious redhead warned her. "I'm doing the staying-calm part here and the 'Oh Willow' thing doesn't help it. Go on."
The waiting was eating her up. Clare shifted uncomfortable in her seat anxious not to touch the filthy bodies next to her. She couldn't bear their touch. Clare was caught between her mother on her right side and Phillip on the left. Her father was absent again, somewhere hunting.
She clenched and unclenched her hands in the try to work off some of the tension that cramped her body. The urge to reach out and slap the count, to scratch his eyes out and skin him alive was nearly overwhelming. But she had to stay calm, stay calm for Tasha. A false move could be devastating for her lover. The redhead closed her eyes and breathed deeply in and out.
She had learned that little exercise from Nana years ago as a child, when she was overexcited about a new book or a new discovery and had breathed too hard. Most of the time the world had spinned round and once she had even passed out. On that occasion the old nurse had decided that it was time for her to learn the exercise to control her breathing.
Clare blocked her surroundings from her mind and tried to imagine a calm and safe place. Anything to take her away from here. In the past it had been her library or Nana, she had fled to in her thoughts but the former safe places had been replaced. Replaced by Tasha. She hadn't needed her exercise since she had met Tasha. The blonde's nearness was everything she needed to calm down and be excited at the same time. And it wasn't any different this time, when different pictures flooded her mind. Tasha in the apple grove under their tree, Tasha standing at the open window at night, illuminated by the cool moonlight, Tasha's full lips slightly parted, closing the distance before they captured her own.
Love filled her as picture after picture of her lover played before her. She had to be strong. For her. Any ill-considered outburst from her would worsen her lover's situation. Although how it could get any worse she didn't allow herself to think about. She had to be strong now. Yesterday she had failed in being strong. There had only been pain and hurt... but no strength when she lay in her room.
She had sobbed in Nana's lap for hours till her nurse made her lay down into her bed that still smelled like Tasha. The old woman had pulled the blanked up and tucked her in. Then she leaned down; her old hand brushed a strain of red hair out of Clare's forehead and replaced it with a soft kiss.
Desperately like a small kid, afraid of the darkness that surrounded her, Clare had grabbed the bony hand, green deep pools pleading the woman to stay with her, to protect her form the monsters that weren't under her bed but outside her door. But she although knew that the old nurse had to go, that she already stayed too long and that every minute here with her could lead to unveiling. Stephen's shift would end soon and Nana had to be gone by then at the latest.
Then she would be alone again, alone with her fears. For a moment Nana had left her room to get something from hers. When she returned she carried a mug and a small phial from which she trickled some drops into the hot water. She swivelled the mug and held it out to Clare.
Suspiciously at first Clare had looked at the mug and then at Nana. She didn't want to take anything that would cloud her mind. She needed it clear for tomorrow.
"Drink." Clare remembered that determined voice from her childhood. She had never been able to disobey it. It was a voice Nana only used when necessary and it had seldom been necessary cause Clare had been a good child. And now the voice was back, tolerating no protest.
Hesitantly Clare had taken the mug from Nana's hands but before she pulled it to her lips she had looked again at the nurse, a silent question in her eyes.
"It'll help you sleep, no more and no less." Nana had promised her then. "You need to be strong tomorrow and you won't be strong without sleep."
Nevertheless she hadn't slept easy. Her dreams had been filled with the events of the past day. Images of the Count touching Tasha, her lover's whispered words when they had separated them. Her mother as she listened to Phillip and her furious destruction of her room were mixed with memories of happy times, when Tasha had kissed her or had held her in the night. Her mind also showed her different things, like the priest searching through her library, destroying her books as he pulled them from their places onto a big pile, to burn them. But the worst were the images of Tasha, sitting terrified in a dark corner of a wet and flighty cell. She whispered her lover's name as she tossed about in her sleep but Tasha didn't answer.
She had awaken alone and dizzy. After a moment of confusion about the mess in her room and why she had awoken alone the painful memory returned.
And now she was here. In the court. The big room had already been overcrowded when she entered it. The heat and smell of that many bodies standing close to each other had struck her and made her stumble back but the guard at her side had held her and led her to her seat in the front row.
When they had crossed the room she recognized many faces. The inhabitants of the castle were there and a lot of people she had met at night out in the streets of the city. If they knew it had been Tasha who helped them or if they were just there for the show she couldn't say. But somehow she hoped they knew what a wonderful person Tasha was and that they were here to give her the strength she had given them before.
The inevitable mass of gapers were there too, they stretched their necks to get a better look when she walked by and whispered to each other, excitement glittering in their eyes. She detested them. She had detested them from the first night on, as she strolled with Tasha along the main street, tavern next to tavern. She had learned to recognize the face of the pleasure-seeking mass. And today it looked her straight in the eyes. They came here to be entertained and Clare knew the priest well enough to know that he wouldn't disappoint them. His audience here was three times bigger than the one that filled his church every Sunday. He wouldn't miss that opportunity.
But there were other familiar faces too. Far in the back, pressed against a wall she saw Elizabeth. Her heart skipped a beat as she saw the old woman in the crowd. She shouldn't be here. It was too dangerous. If the priest saw her it might be enough for him to accuse her of witchcraft too. Elizabeth herself had told her how dangerous he was and that he looked suspiciously at everything the soulwomen did. Till now he hadn't found any evidence against them. But in a dangerous and distrustful world like today it might be enough to be in a room with a witch, even if there were one hundred other people.
Their eyes locked and Clare shook her head slightly, motioning her to leave. The old woman smiled sadly at her but stayed. She knew the risks but had decided to stay.
As Clare's eyes traveled further through the room they met Nana's clear gray gaze. The nurse had obviously watched her for some time, waiting for the princess to acknowledge her. 'Be strong' Nana's eyes whispered to her. She nodded barely visible and the two women held their gaze till Nana turned slowly around to face the judge's table.
Clare followed her gaze. Everything was ready and waiting. To both sides of the judge's table stood a court usher. With an expression of disinterest they stared into the mass, radiating their superior feeling. But as big as they might have felt under the big with colors and pathos overloaded paintings on the walls they were as small as everyone else.
Each one of the six pictures that covered the walls all around retold one origin of the kingdom. Painted history to impress the folk to teach them humility for their leaders. But the folk had to look up to be impressed and no one wanted to miss the entrance of the main players. These people weren't impressed with history or affectation.
Their interest today lay with the witch's trial.
The mass became more and more restless, whispers growing louder until the noise filled the hall's arch in anticipation. The indifferent growl built up till Clare could feel the vibration of sounds in her bones. The growl rushed through her veins increasing her already hardly bearable tension.
Sometimes a single voice, a conversation broke the indifferent noise that surrounded Clare and every time she whished she didn't have to hear the gossip the voices discussed. They told each other horrible stories about what Tasha had allegedly done. And with every new voice that broke through her barrier Tasha's atrocity grew till she sat next to the devil himself at his table.
She couldn't take any more. She prayed for the trial to begin just to stop the voices that gathered in her mind. Nothing could be as terrible as these voices. Every minute passing by added to her torture.
She had to see Tasha, had to witness with her own eyes that the blonde was unharmed.
Finally the door to her right opened and for a second the room fell silent just to burst out in cheers as the priest stepped into the courtroom.
Unimpressed of the tumult he caused and without giving his audience a look, the priest passed the hall to the table at the left. Just a few steps behind him, in a slightly too long habit, a young and nervous looking priest, his arms loaded with books and papers, followed his older superior. His eyes darted hunted through the room, the numbers of screaming people visible frightening him. A disapproving gaze from the old priest and the young man flinched but then he hurried to the old man to hand him his papers.
With a small grunt as answer the priest began to search through his records sorting it in three piles, he had set up before him on the table. He still didn't look up or at least noted the encouraging shouts from the audience.
The lion was here, waiting for its prey.
And then the next door opened, this time to her right. The door Tasha had to come through.
Like everyone else Clare racked her neck to get a better look. The room fell silent as their attention was drawn to the door and the dark floor behind it.
And then she saw her. Guided by two guards that held her by her arms she walked into the room. It pained Clare to see her chained up, standing between the two huge guards. She looked so small and fragile, even more as her body had lost its spark. Not once, not even as she entered the room she looked up, her head stayed downcast, her shoulders slumped down. She even wore the same ruined clothes she had seen her last in, now covered by a woolen shawl, Clare had never seen before. At least she didn't seem to be hurt or injured. Clare searched every inch of her lover for any sign of torture but to her relief she found none.
She needed to see Tasha's eyes, needed to look into the blue pools, even if she could only guess their shade from the distance. If Tasha looked up, their eyes could met and she could send all the love and hope she had to her lover. She wanted to give her the strength she needed to get through this trial. For once she wanted to be the one Tasha could lean onto. She wanted to be strong for her. But how could she do this, if her girlfriend refused to look up.
Tasha knew she was here and still she didn't search the room for her. In her mind she called out to her, praying to her to look up but Tasha didn't react. She had reached the table at the right side in front of the judge's seat. The blonde sat down, shamefully hiding her hands in chains under the table.
Tasha was so close to her she only had to walk over to her, not more than 10 maybe15 steps and she would be with her, she would cup her face and force her softly to look up at her, to acknowledge her. Just 20 steps more and they would be out of this room.
Clare felt her fašade crumble down around her. Where her strength should be she only felt emptiness. She didn't need the deep blue pools to look at her to give Tasha strength, she needed her strength. She was dependent on it, like she always had been. She couldn't go through this trial without Tasha acknowledging her and promising her, that everything would be fine at the end... Somehow.
Fixated by her lover's sight Clare hadn't noticed the judge entering the room. He was already at his seat, in his right hand the small stick and at his side the silver shimmering judge's sword to pass sentence.
The stick was the one thing Clare really dreaded. If the judge broke it at the end of the trial it would seal her death. Just the thought of this sent a shiver through her body. She knew that being only accused of witchcraft was as good as the sealed death penalty.
But the stick was unbroken right now and as long as it stayed this way there was hope. And it was all she had.
With a disapproving gaze and a raised eyebrow the judge silenced the room in an instant. He was known for his sense of justice but he was also known and feared for his tough actions and nobody was keen to be on the receiving end of his actions.
He laid his insignia on the table in front of him and read through the paper that one of the ushers had handed him. He looked up from the paper and at Tasha, to examine her carefully. Feeling his gaze the blonde shrank even more. A small frown whooshed over the judge's face and he read the paper again before, he gave it back to the usher with a nod.
The charges that were raised against Tasha didn't surprise Clare. For a witch trial there was nothing new or revealing. The same accusations like always, dancing with the devil at a hill at full moon, bewitching people with her evil eye. Every single charge was ridiculous and Clare would have laughed out loud if it weren't for the threat of death these accusations implied.
After the usher had ended the judge began to speak. He leaned forward at his table and with a paternal voice he addressed Tasha. "You've heard the charges against you. Do you plead guilty or not?" He asked her.
All eyes in the hall turned to Tasha but the blonde didn't answer. She didn't even seem to notice that the judge had talked to her. "Girl," there again was his soft voice, like he tried to capture a bird, afraid it might fly away if he startled it, or like he would talk to his grandchild. "Did you understand the serious accusations you are charged with?"
This time Tasha looked up and their eyes met. For a moment he and Tasha gazed at each other before the judge broke the contact and Tasha lowered her head again.
Heavily the man sat back before he gazed at Tasha again. A moment passed before he talked again. "She disclaimed an advocate?" he asked the court usher, receiving a nod as answer.
Of course there was no advocate to defend Tasha. No advocate was stupid enough to defend an accused witch, at least as long as he didn't want to be the next he had to defend in a trial against witchcraft. Not all the money she had collected for their farm could have bought Tasha an advocate, Clare knew as well as everyone else in the room.
Tasha was at the priest's mercy and he was for sure a man who didn't know this word. And now it was his time to demonstrate it.
The priest stood up and turned to the audience. For a long moment his eyes traveled over the gathered people, a small smile spreading over his thin lips. It was a cruel smile that never reached his eyes and that turned Clare's stomach into a knot.
She had never in her whole life seen this man smile and she hoped she would never see it again.
"Your honor, those present... This person." His outstretched finger, formed like a claw, pointed at Tasha, causing the blonde to flinch. "is accused of witchcraft." He made a pause fraught with significance to lock his eyes with some of the audience's that were directed at him, giving them the impression he would talk to them personally. "She is dangerous." He continued. "She harmed a lot of people, honest people like yourself and if we don't stop her." Here he took a deep breath. "She could harm you, your wife or..." He fixated a young mother, cradling her baby in her arms "...or even your innocent children." Under his inquisitorial eyes the mother squirmed and pressed her child closer to her chest in an act of protection.
"These innocent people will tell you themselves about the devilish things she did to them One by one they will tell you what devil lives among you good people."
"Burn her." An old woman screamed from the back, followed by approving cheers.
The words cut right through Clare's heart. Never before she had experienced so much hate. They didn't know Tasha, they just had the priest's words to trust. But even now before he showed them his evidence and his witnesses they wanted to believe him.
Their cheers and shouts grew louder, each of them trying to outdo the other. Every new scream added to Clare's pain. She gazed at Tasha, worried how the blonde might react. But she seemed oblivious to the fact, that the audience wanted her death. Her gaze directed at her lap, Tasha stared at her hands, her right thumb brushing over the rings of her chains. The action reminded Clare of the old women, she had often seen in churches on their knees, saying their Rosaries lost in their thoughts.
"Please look up." She sent mentally to her lover. And still Tasha didn't react. It hurt her more than the screams demanding her lovers death. She needed her to look up. Tasha was the strong one of them and now she needed her strength more than ever although it was selfish of her. She needed that deep blue eyes to look at her and tell her that everything was going to be alright.
Never before she had felt this lonely especially not with Tasha. Physically they were in the same room but the blonde seemed in her own world and she was not allowed into it.
The loud knocks of a sliver sword on a wooden table brought her out of her thoughts and silenced the tumult.
"Silence." The judge's severe voice echoed through the court.
After the calls had subsided the priest continued, presenting his witnesses. People who never had met Tasha before in their lives outside this court proclaimed she had bewitched them. They reported that she had looked at them at the street and one week later a cold had knocked them down. Of course it wasn't a normal cold. It was worse and different, the slime they coughed had a different color or they could feel the devil lingering at the corner of their room. She had touched them and within a month a healthy and flexible person suddenly got gout or rheumatism. Tasha was responsible for the death of a cow or a harvest ruined by rain or hail. Some of them even had seen her riding on a broom through the night, of course naked, to meet the devil at the a near hill.
As many witnesses the priest presented, as many lies Clare heard this morning. But the mass loved them and believed them. And every single word that had left the witnesses' mouth was written down by the clerk, saving them for eternity. Indifferently he wrote everything the liars said down. He didn't distinguish between truth and lie. For him it were just words.
For the first time in her life Clare hated words. Books, pages filled with words, thousands of words, maybe millions of words had filled her library and she had read them all over and over again, believing every single one. How many lies had she trusted frankly?
The thought that someone someday would read about Tasha's trial and would believe the written words made her sick. She could taste the bile on her tongue as she gulped.
People who didn't know a single thing about Tasha, who never had looked into these soft blue eyes or heard her gentle voice would claim to judge her.
Judge her like the people in this court.
It was bad but maybe she could find a way to prove that the witnesses were lying. These false testimonies were all the priest had. Tasha had never harmed anyone.
But the priest wasn't finished yet.
"Any other witnesses?" The judge asked him.
Slowly the priest raised from his seat and flipped through his papers, as if he had lost the overall view with that many witnesses. Like he had lost track of Tasha's unforgivable sins.
His finger traveled down a long list of names till it stopped nearly at the bottom.
"Yes." He answered, then he turned again to the audience. His audience. "We already heard people that barely know the witch, but nonetheless out of her corruption she harmed them, bewitched them. If she did these to strangers, what did she do to her own family? To the people who loved her nevertheless what she had done?"
Clare's eyes widened in disbelief. Family? Like in father and brother? No he wouldn't, he couldn't...
For the first time since the beginning of the trial, this nightmare Tasha had lifted her head. With big, shocked eyes she stared at the priest, as he called her father in.
Tasha still stared at the priest when her father entered the room and for the first time this day Clare got a look of her lover's face. What she saw shocked her. Within a day her lover's face had aged in fear. Dark shadows under her red rimmed eyes indicated that she hadn't slept but wept through the night. Her face looked thinner than yesterday, her cheeks hollow. A night in the dungeons had been enough to drain Tasha of the full life she had radiated only yesterday.
Yesterday. The day before this had been full of hopes and dreams for both of them and suddenly everything had turned into this contorted dream version. A living nightmare instead of the life of her dream. A bad deal. And Clare would do anything to turn back time.
For sure Tasha's father wasn't here to make anything better. He was exactly like Clare remembered him. Although she had only seen him from the distance and hidden behind a curtain in the coach at the day she and Nana had saved the blonde, she remembered every detail about that man. His image was burnt into her mind as the man who had tormented Tasha throughout her life. It was this face Tasha saw in her nightmares she had woken from screaming during her first weeks at the castle. Countless times she had held the blonde and had rocked her soothingly back to sleep, promising her to be safe.
Her lover's stutter, her insecurity and her ignorance of being a beautiful person. That had been everything he had given her. It was enough for one life. She didn't need any more presents from him.
Tasha's father eyed his daughter suspiciously as he passed her. Under his look the blonde shrank back into a small heap. Her face hidden as much as possible by the big woolen shawl around her shoulders, she looked like a scared mouse afraid of the big leery cat that with one strike of its paw could destroy her or play its gruesome game with it for hours.
The priest could barely wait to start his questioning while Tasha's father sat down. Never before Clare had seen the old man that excited. Destroying, not saving people was his mission, his element. Elisabeth had been right, his god was the one of punishment not of rescue.
"Is this your daughter?" The priest's claw-like finger pointed again at Tasha, ready to tear her apart with his bare hands if necessary.
The short look at his daughter before he answered barely hid the disgust the farmer had for her. "Yes."
"Is she a witch?" A gasp went through the rows at the priest's blunt question.
"Yes." No pause, no hesitation. As fast as the priest had asked the other man answered him and a smile that built up around the priest's thin lips showed his satisfaction with the answer. The two of them were a good team. It must have taken the priest hours to prepare the simple minded farmer for this question-answer-game.
Clare couldn't stand it any longer. Things couldn't get worse for Tasha. She'd been quiet long enough and it hadn't helped Tasha the slightest, she realized. The word of the princess had to be worth something. Just a few words and she could save Tasha. And she was good at words. She could change the outgoing of this trial with some words. And better now than never.
She was about to stand up, her mouth already open to interfere when her mother's fingers closed around her hand, squeezing it hard. Out of pain and surprise Clare yelped and fell back onto her seat. She tried to wriggle her hand out of her mother's steely grip, but the queen increased the pressure, keeping her in place.
"Don't you dare." Her mother whispered to her, without turning her eyes from the trial as she spoke her threat. With big eyes Clare looked at her mother. Nothing in her mother's posture betrayed her last action. It looked like she followed interested the trial while she hold her daughter's hand in support. In a very painful support.
"You think it can't get any worse for your little witch?" Her mother asked. Her voice sounded sweetly as if they were having a little chat over the weather or a polo play. "Think again before you do anything." Then her mother turned to face her and smiled coldly. "Right now I'm not interested in what is going to happen to her. But I might develop an interest. And you know how personal I can get."
Without waiting for a response the queen directed her attention back to the priest signaling that their little conversation was over. Just to remember her daughter of the promise she had given her seconds ago the queen increased her pressure on Clare's hand, rubbing her bones against each other. Clare bit down on her lower lip, exchanging the pain for an other and to keep herself form crying out. She didn't doubt that her mother could brake her hand if she wanted to. She had done it before to a clumsy maiden, punishing her for a too hot cup of tea. Her mother was a person of steel. In mind and body.
Finally when her mother was sure she had convinced her daughter, she withdrew her hand to play tenderly with her long pearl necklace.
Clare cradled her hand in her lap and rubbed it her other hand. Hundreds of needles pierced through her hand as the blood and feeling returned to it. She was desperate. She wanted, needed to help Tasha but her mother had made clear that any interferring from her side would cause more suffer for the blonde. And her mother always kept her promises.
"You are a pious man. Why did you never notify the authorities of your daughter?" The priest asked Tasha's father his next question.
With played meaning and shame the witness looked down as if to collect every bit of strength that was left in his worn-out body from the hard work at the field. "Despite of everything she did to me and my son, she is my daughter. We thought we could handle it, ... her problem ourselves."
He looked really smitten with remorse but Clare knew well enough how he had handled Tasha's 'problem'. She would never forget how she had found Tasha in her destroyed hut, her arm broken and her face beaten up.
"But you couldn't." The priest continued for him. "All the love you gave her wasn't enough against the devil's lure." In a gesture of sympathy the priest patted the farmer's shoulder. Both seemed uncomfortable with the gesture but their audience was touched by the poor father's hard fate.
"No, it wasn't." the farmer shook his head. "We prayed for her every night on our knees and begged her to stop. But she laughed at us and mocked the Lord. She wouldn't come to church with us and moved out of her father's house to live her sinful life in the small hut." He crossed himself before he continued. His voice was barely audible, forcing the crowd to hold their breath to catch his words.
After a deep intake of breath indicating the heaviness of all this, he continued. "One night we heard laughter and screams from the hut. Hellish lights streamed out through the windows and we could see dancing ghosts in the smoke of the chimney. I told her the next day that I wouldn't allow the devil to come to my land any longer and that I would report the church everything I've seen. She laughed into my face and spat at me, threatening to kill me and her brother... like..." A theatrical pause before he continued. It seemed the words didn't come easy for him, like he still loved his daughter and wanted to protect her in spite of everything she allegedly had done to him and his family.
The farmer looked up at the priest in search of reassurance. "Her mother died when she and her brother were still little. It was a slow and painful illness that took her form us. I could see the life of my wife being drained by an unseen force. It was painful but I always thought it was god's inscrutable ways which took her from us and to the Lord's table. But on this day my daughter told me the truth." His voice was nothing more than a whisper and even Clare, sitting in the first row could only imagine half of his words.
He knew his daughter well enough to know how to cause her the most pain, more than any torture could. "She...... she killed her own mother. It was her doing as she allowed the devil to drain her and damn her soul into eternal damnation." A single tear streamed down his cheek and he gulped audible. "She was a good wife and hasn't deserved this."
Clare's heart stopped. Her eyes searched Tasha but all she could see was the big gray shawl and blonde hair, the head downcast only inches away from the table's surface. The woolen heap trembled softly, barely visible but Clare had seen it often enough, too often.
At Tasha's first time at the castle she had often found the blonde hunched up in a corner, her legs pressed against her chest and her head resting on her knees, her whole body trembling softly. It had always taken her hours to soothe the blonde and wake her from her semi-shock state.
How could a father feel so much hate for his own child? Weren't parents supposed to love their child? Shouldn't they be the ones taking away the nightmares at night instead of causing them?
Her gaze fell at her mother at her right side. Involuntarily Clare brushed over her hurt hand, it still burned from the deathly grip. They both hadn't had luck with their parents.
The crowd had its own understanding of good parenthood. They felt sorry for the poor broken man in front of them, who had lost his wife to the dark prince. And they knew who was responsible for it.
The witch. The daughter shaped witch and they wanted her to suffer for it.
"Burn the witch!"
"Kill her!" The shouts demanded Tasha's death, more fiercely than before. Their hate rushed at her in waves, everyone hitting like a punch.
And suddenly even through the noise there was a new voice drowning out the screams for death. Clare's head snapped back to see Tasha's brother among the crowd. She hadn't noticed him when she had come in but now he was huge in the crowd as he stood up, his beefy body tall in the crowd.
"She tried to kill me too two days ago." He screamed and tore his shirt open to show his chest.
A gasp of disbelief sounded through the hall as all eyes turned to him. He visible enjoyed the sudden attention. "That was her. She tried to strike me with a fireball." He turned around to show the dark violet and blue bruise that covered his whole chest.
All around him the people stood up to circle him and get a better look. With great gestures he told them his version of the night two days ago when he had met them. Of course his story differed from the real happening and he didn't mention with a single word Clare or why Tasha had casted the spell. Tasha had suddenly stood before him attacking him with a fireball as he had crossed a small street. Only his fast reaction and of course god's grace had saved him from death.
More and more people got up to gather around him and to comment on the witch's evil deeds. Soon enough everyone was up, the hall resembling more the market halls at Saturdays than a court. Alarmed the queen's guard gathered around the queen's small group to protect them from possible infringement, blocking Clare's view.
The crowd had found the reason for everything bad that had happened to them lately. They had heard of all the things the witch had done to people like them. Maybe they had passed her unknowingly at the street too and she had bewitched them also. It would explain all their misery.
And Daniel worded their thoughts, his fist raised as he accused his sister: "It's all her fault."
Her mother's earlier threats were forgotten as Clare jumped up, ready to throw herself at the bully.
But an authoritarian voice tolerating no contradiction stopped her and all the other around her in mid-motion. "I'll have the court cleared." The judge threatened as his eyes traveled through the room, staying for a moment with everyone to let them feel his disapproval. "I won't allow you to turn my court into a fair. This is a room of justice not some circus to entertain you."
Their heads lowered in shame and fear of his next action. But heavier than his words was the silence that followed afterwards as he waited for them to sit down again. He wasn't a man of rage but everyone had heard the undertone of anger in his voice and they knew to follow his order.
Nothing was heard but the sound of feet and the creaking of wood as the crowd retreated back to there seats. They didn't want to take the risk of being removed and to miss the sentence or even worse have to pay a fine from the little money they earned.
Satisfied that his will was done the judge waited just a little longer to see them squirm under his eyes.
Only then he turned to Tasha.
"You've heard the evidence. Do you have anything to say in your defense?" He asked her, his voice betraying nothing of his previous anger.
Tasha looked up through her golden hair that hung loosely in front of her face. But before she answered the judge, her head turned slowly into Clare's direction. The princess's heartbeat increased as their eyes met for the first time. Green met blue and for a moment the other people around them vanished, leaving behind just the two lovers.
A wave of love rushed through Clare as her eyes drank greedily from the blonde, every single line of her face and every facet of the dark blue pools. And then she realized that something was missing from the deep blue. It had always been there, even on the day she had found Tasha beaten up. There had always been hope.
"Tasha." The redhead whispered.
With the expression of regret her lover's eyes pleaded her to forgive her. But for what? She furrowed her brows confused. She knew that Tasha hadn't done a single thing they accused her of. There was nothing she had to ask forgiveness for.
And then their connection broke and the overcrowded room around them returned as Tasha tore her eyes away from the redhead and to the judge with all her willpower.
"No." Tasha answered him. She took a deep breath and her voice quavered as she continued but she held his gaze. "I'm guilty." Then her head lowered again and the blonde's body closed itself in. There wasn't anything to add, she had said everything they needed to hear.
And a storm broke out. Screams, yells and cheers filled the high hall multiplied as the sound echoed through the room. Only a few had stayed at their seats, mostly people Clare remembered from their nights out in the city. The majority though wanted Tasha's death, they wanted revenge for their poor life. They wanted someone to pay for it.
Suddenly an apple hit Tasha, a cry escaped the blonde as she cringed in pain. Guards closed around her as more and more objects were thrown. Fruits, bread but also mugs and even stones. Only the ring of guards around her protected her from serious harm.
This time the judge's authority wasn't enough to keep the mass at bay as the first ones reached the guards pushing against them to reach the blonde.
Clare heard the judge yelling his orders but the guards were too few to do much more than to withdraw slowly. One of them had grabbed Tasha and had pulled her behind him to escort her to the exit as the others kept the crowd at distance.
"No!" Clare screamed and jumped up. She wouldn't allow them to take Tasha away. She had to speak to her, had to understand why the blonde had lied. "I don't forgive you!" she screamed in hope that Tasha would hear her through all the other voices yelling at her. "I don't forgive you!"
Clare didn't come far as strong arms wrapped around her waist and pulled her back to push her roughly back onto her seat. She screamed, punched and fought against the power that held her down.
She looked up at her opponent to realize that the Count was holding her. The one who was responsible for this. He and his lies. With an aimed slash her fingernails dug into skin, leaving behind red streaks as she trashed about, wanting to hurt him as much as to get free.
"Bitch!" He let her go to reach for his right cheek and to wipe away the blood.
Clare used the opportunity to slip through under his arms. She came up behind him and was through the line of guards that protected the queen before any of them could react.
Out there the chaos was even worse. From everywhere people pushed and shoved. An elbow hit her chin, feet stepped on her hem as she forced her way through the wave of violence in Tasha's direction.
She stretched her head to get a clear view of the blonde and to make sure that she was still unharmed and protected by the guards.
"Tasha!" Her hand reached out although she knew that she was still too far away to reach her. But Tasha must have seen or heard her cause suddenly Tasha looked up and their eyes connected.
Suddenly something hit her really hard in the face, turning her world black even before she hit the ground.
"Willow?" Tara hugged her lover closer to her chest when she felt the redhead tremble uncontrollable in her arms. "What's wrong? The fever?" She didn't dare to loosen her grip at Willow to reach up and check the small woman's forehead.
Clenching her teeth Willow shook her head. It took her a moment to find her speech again. "I know what it feels like to be burnt at the stake. It's..." a new wave of shaking racked her body as the memory returned.
"Oh honey." Tara leaned forward to place a soft kiss onto fire-red hair. "I'm, I'm sorry." She furrowed her brows as pangs of remorse rushed through her.
"No, it's not your fault." Willow had felt her lover stiffen behind her and tried to reassure her. Her hands closed over Tara',s absently brushing over the blonde's knuckles. "It's just... The scene brings back memories. Bad ones." She shook her head shuddering. "My own mother tried to burn me. I know she wasn't herself but under the influence of Hńnsel and Gretel. Not that she's a very caring person when she is herself." Willow frowned.
"She loves you. In her own quirky way, but she loves you." Tara rested her cheek against her lover's head, rocking her softly back and forth.
"I guess." Willow was skeptical but needed to trust her girlfriend.
"Should I get you something to drink?" Tara asked, loosening her grip at Willow to get up.
"No." Willow's hand grasped hers. Their fingers entwined and Willow pulled the blonde's arms tighter around her and snuggled closer. "Stay." She whispered, lost in Tara's scent that surrounded her.
"Everything will turn out just fine, won't it?" She mumbled as she felt her muscles relax and the trembling subside.
"It's a fairy tale, honey." Tara answered.