Tara stepped out into the noonday sun after having sought refuge under a grove of trees for the majority of her walk into Ballylumford. She was dressed as she always was, in her gray peasant's blouse and skirt, with a light blue cloth bodice to keep her shirt from billowing in the wind. Her hair was drawn up in a soft chignon and against her chest she clutched a small wicker basket, currently empty, which she was on her way to fill at market.
"Good morrow then, Missus Tara", called Winifred O'Laney from her small fruit stand. "And how are you this fine day?"
"Well, thank you, Winnie", Tara replied with an easy smile.
"And how is that husband of yours?" Winnie inquired.
"He fairs well, also."
"Oh, that is not what I have heard", the woman replied, a wicked glint in her eye.
"Why, what have you heard", Tara asked, suddenly flushing slightly.
"That he is not happy in the home... in the bed", Winnie responded, her voice low. "More importantly, that you have not been honoring your wifely duties. That he has not known the comfort of your bed for nearly six seasons now."
"Such... things... ridiculous things you hear in that foolish gossip's court you keep", Tara said, defending her place. "Besides, you know I have not been well..."
"Pish-tosh", the woman retorted, "The only thing that should keep you from your husband is if your belly were swollen up with his son. I am only looking out for you, child. If things continue as they have been... the town is not unaware, it will be disgrace and the stake for you."
"I would ask that the town keep its nose out of my and my husband's personal business", Tara stated firmly.
"It is only because of Japheth, your husband, that you have survived this long." Winnie bit out pointedly. "You are lucky that he loves you so... Enough to forgive you your past sins."
"I have never done anything wrong in my life."
"You worshipped the Devil."
"Never! Simply because my mother was the wise woman of this town, that you all would suddenly find issue with her methods. She birthed nearly every child that is now a man in Ballylumford. She cared for the sick, and your son too, when he fell ill with the consumption. If not for her healing words, he would be dead. And yet, now that she is dead, you spit on her grave and her legacy. You spit on me!" Tara's words flew from her mouth before she could stop them. Winifred could do nothing more than absorb the verbal assault. Finally after a long moment of silence, the older woman spoke again.
"I think it's best you be getting your apples from Morgan. Your money is no good here."
"I think I'll be heading home now", Tara replied softly, turning away and up the dirt road back to the mill.
Winifred watched her go, her gaze unforgivable and piercing.
Tara walked along through the tree-covered grove, thinking of all the opportunities she had lost, or had never been afforded at all. And how things would be so much better if only she knew why she was so incapable of fulfilling her wifely role. If only she hadn't been born with an adventuring heart and with a need to know things that she didn't understand and couldn't even begin to describe. She allowed her mind to wander off into a daydream, letting her generally quiet and pure thoughts drift to other less beseeming possibilities.
"I shall marry the miller's son
Tara blushed at her own boldness. Never had she thought such wild and unscrupulous thoughts before. Perhaps the long overdo respite from her duties as wife was starting to wear thin on her as well. It's not that she did not care for Japheth, for she did greatly, as a sister may care for her brother. Having grown up with him side by she side, she could think of him as nothing else. And although she had succumbed to the pressures placed on a young woman during their honeymoon, she had not since let Japheth into her bed again. Here it was a year and a half later, and even the townspeople were starting to talk. But something, however indescribable, forced her to turn his advances away every time.
As she approached the mill she spied her husband hauling a fresh bundle of hay over toward the mill wheel. Japheth was not unattractive. Tara knew this, though his handsome physicality did nothing for her. She paused a moment to watch him work. His shoulder-length black hair was drawn up into a tail by a piece of cut leather. He had removed his shirt in the heat of the day, and his upper body gleamed with sweat, the sheen of it causing his defined musculature to glow in the sun. He was wearing his working pants, old brown knee breeches that he had worn full of tears and rips, and Tara sighed as she knew she would have to sew another set of patches as he had presently torn a new gash to his right pant-leg.
"So, I do make you sigh every once and a while", Japheth grinned. "A man always knows when his woman is taken with him by the way she sighs as she gazes upon him."
"You've torn your pants again", Tara stated, "I'll have to mend them."
"Is that so", Japheth replied, dropping his tone as he approached his wife. He placed his hands on the bowstring at the front of his pants. "Shall I give them to you now, then? Perhaps you'll have them ready by dinner."
"No!" Tara said, stopping him before he had the chance to drop trou. "I mean, don't be silly. You're still working. I'll mend them Sunday, while you're at church."
"You won't be going?"
"Not when I have pants to mend", Tara smiled and turned to go up into their small cottage.
"Tara", he called, following her up the small dirt path. "May I come to you tonight?"
"Oh, Japheth", she answered apologetically, "I've... I've got a headache."
"Yes", Tara explained, "Perhaps if you let me look at my mother's old herb recipes I'd be able to remedy it."
"Tara", Japheth said firmly, "I've told you, I won't allow that witchcraft in my home. Your mother was a good woman, but she practiced the Devil's art and I'll have none of it."
"Well, until I cure this headache..."
"You'll what", he interrupted, "Deny me my rights to you as a husband? What have I done, Tara? What have I done to cause you to despise me so? Have I not always given you everything you've asked? Have I not always claimed to love you? Do you not love me?"
"I care for you, Japhie", Tara sighed, "I just... If I could only... Please let me at my mother's books. If... if you give me her books, then..."
"I need to think about it", Japheth answered, "But... later." He turned and went back to his work.
Tara shook her head in frustration. Stepping inside the small cottage momentarily, she grabbed a small shawl before heading out into the woods. Since she had not been able to purchase food for dinner, she knew she would have to forage in the forest. Fortunately, their home was not far from the tree line on the coast, and she knew where several small groves of fruit trees were hidden nearby.
She clutched her wrap around herself, and trudged into the woods filled with frustration.
Tara presently found a small orchard of pear trees, and set about to picking half-a-basket full. Her brain continued to fume with utter aggravation, and she even went so far as to curse to herself under her breath. Suddenly her mumbled thoughts were interrupted by the sound of music coming about a half a league east of where she was standing. She was able to make out the sounds of a concertina, pipe and bells and that they were headed in her direction. Tara paused from her work, and tentatively walked toward the melody. As she neared the tree line on the beach, she saw the source of the happy tune. A small band of gypsies was encamped at the edge of the woods, and they were laughing and dancing to their own music.
One of the gypsy women caught Tara's attention, and she gazed at the young girl in curiosity. The girl had a tousled mess of fiery red hair on top of her head, and as she laughed and clapped to her brethren's gleeful melodies, her pale skin seemed to glow under the implied heat of her hair. She's not a gypsy, Tara thought. Feeling herself being stared at, the young woman lifted her gaze and caught Tara by the eye. Tara blushed and quickly stepped to hide behind a tree, embarrassed. But the young maid was already up and approaching the miller's wife's hiding place.
"I see you there", said the redhead, playfully. "Come on out. Nothing to be afraid of. I'm not the kind that bites."
"I didn't think you were", replied Tara, emerging.
"I saw you watching us", the maid continued, "What is it you find so interesting?"
"You", Tara replied honestly.
"Me", said the girl, smiling openly. "Why?"
"Well, you're obviously not one of them", the blonde stated. "You are not of a dark complexion as gypsies so often are. You are fair-skinned and light of hair. I couldn't help but wonder why you were with them."
"They are my family", the girl answered simply.
"Not by birth", Tara stated.
"By marriage, then?" She asked, though finding it unlikely.
"Certainly not", the gypsy girl declared. "The day I marry one of them is the day I die."
"Oh", said Tara, still confused. "But, still you have not answered my question. How you came to be with the gypsies."
"They took me in after I ran away."
"Everything." The redhead clarified, "From my mother, my father, my fiancée... my life."
"You were engaged?"
"Yes. To the butcher's son. An ugly brute of a man who was no better than the pigs his father raised for slaughter", the girl said, shuddering at the memory. "Well, I knew that was simply not the life for me. So I ran away."
"What kind of woman are you that you would so freely abandon your responsibilities", Tara asked, mystified.
The red-haired gypsy simply smiled a coy little smile and explained:
"I'm your average ordinary kind of woman
"You see", the redhead said, finishing, "I'm really nothing special."
"Oh but you are", Tara replied before she could stop herself.
The gypsy girl smiled, her eyes twinkling wickedly, "What's your name, Princess?"
"I am no Princess", Tara blushed.
"What's your name anyway?"
"Well, Princess Tara, it is an honor to meet you", the girl said, bowing slightly.
"And who are you?" The blonde inquired.
"Willow", she answered simply.
Again Willow smiled, and Tara flushed under the enchanting woman's gaze. She looks at me as though she could see through me, she thought to herself.
"So, Princess", Willow continued, "Is this your kingdom?"
Tara laughed and sighed at the same time, "I'm not a Princess."
"What are you, then?"
"The miller's wife", Tara clarified, thinking her frustration with her situation was only slightly evident.
Willow's face fell slightly. "You aren't happy." It was a statement and not a question.
"I didn't say that", Tara answered almost briskly, in surprise at so easily being found out.
"Not with your words", the gypsy explained, "But with your eyes... You feel you don't belong here, you feel you don't fit in."
"How can you see all that?"
"Because I felt the same way once too", Willow replied, taking a step toward the blonde. "Not knowing why... just knowing that somehow I was meant for different things. Meant to be with different people." Another step. The women were now less than a breath from one another, but for some reason Tara could not find it in her to move. Something compelled her to stand her ground. Willow looked deep into Tara's eyes and dipped her head, leaning in.
"What are you doing", Tara asked suddenly, snapping out of her reverie.
"I'm going to kiss you", the redhead stated matter-of-factly.
"Why?" Tara was now starting to panic a little.
"Because I want to", Willow answered. "Don't you want me to?"
"No... ye... no... I mean... I don't... a woman does not kiss another woman as she would her husband", Tara blurted, trying to bring herself out of her flustered state.
Willow stood back up. "Who told you that?" She asked.
"It's not something you are told", Tara tried to explain, "It's something that you know." Willow appeared perplexed. "At least in Ballylumford." Tara added.
"I am not from Ballylumford", the gypsy smiled.
"Where are you from?"
"Everywhere." Willow stated. She paused a moment before continuing. "Come with me. Us. The gypsies. Let me take you away from this small place. Show you bigger and better things. Things you were meant to see and do."
"I cannot do that", the blonde replied. "I hardly know you. I have a husband and... a mill."
Willow leaned in again, "They do not have you." This time she completed her motion, and kissed Tara softly on the lips. At first Tara did not respond, but quickly she found her lips were working against her mind as she shared the soft connection with the other woman. Slowly, Willow pulled away and smiled again. Smiling must be her favorite language, Tara thought to herself, unable to prevent herself from smiling in return. She had felt something in that small kiss, something powerful and indescribably wonderful.
"Come with me", Willow entreated again.
"I cannot", Tara sighed.
"You deserve to be free. A caged bird cannot sing. Think of all the things I can show you", Willow said, taking Tara by the hands and pulling her onto the beach.
"I can show you the world
Willow waved her hand in the air and a stream of golden sparkles filled the space in front of them, trailing her fingertips. Tara gasped in amazement, stepping into the glistering waterfall and finding herself lifted into the air with Willow at her side.
"A whole new world
They continued to soar through the air over the beach, dancing through the clouds.
Tara, "Unbelievable sights
The two women lightly touched down on the sand earth, breathless. So thrilled with the experience, Tara impetuously leaned over to kiss Willow on the cheek. The gypsy turned her head in time to catch the blonde by the lips, drawing her closer. Tara couldn't help but respond to the attention and leaned into the embrace. Suddenly a sharp whistle pervaded the air, startling the girls apart from each other. Willow and Tara looked in the direction of the sound and saw one of the gypsy men whistling through his teeth and waving in Willow's direction signaling her home.
"I must go", Willow quickly explained.
"What? Why?" Tara asked, confused.
"They're calling me", Willow replied, "We must be breaking camp. Moving on."
"We'll be leaving tonight when the moon is high", the redhead went on, "Meet me here, on the beach."
"I cannot", Tara apologized, her heart breaking.
"Do what you must. But I will always remember you, Princess Tara." Willow smiled again, kissing Tara's palm before running off in the direction of the camp. Tara stood dumbfounded a moment before returning to the edge of the woods, pausing to collect herself.
"What was that?
Tara nodded to herself resolutely as she quickly gathered up her small basket of pears and started back in the direction of the mill. She had made a decision. She would give Japheth his son. She would be a good wife and mother. And she would cherish this peculiar moment for the rest of her life as the one moment when she had been truly happy.
As Tara made her way down the small dirt path back to the mill house, she did not notice the piercing black gaze of Japheth as he stepped out from behind the large tree where he had been hiding, and watching everything unfold.
His brow furrowed and his jaw clenched with jealousy and confusion. Surely, he had not truly seen what he thought he had saw. He began to ponder his musings out loud to the world.
i>"She wouldn't, therefore they didn't.
Japheth nodded to himself in confidence and began to make his way back to the mill. He was calmer now and found his breathing to be easier, the roaring heat of his anger momentarily quelled.
"Capable, pliable women... women
As he reached the small dirt path up to the front door of his and Tara's small cottage, he felt a wave of rage re-assert itself. His muscles rippled under sudden tension and his eyes grew an even darker black. His face became red as he began to brood over the possibilities of what he had seen.
"That headache, that stupid headache!
Japheth burst through the front door and into the cottage, startling Tara who was by the fire preparing dinner. His mind was ablaze with the fury of jealousy and betrayal. A deep growling voice in the back of his head suddenly made him aware of what he must do. He began to stalk toward Tara menacingly.
"Japheth!" Tara had screamed when her husband had burst into the small home. She had been preparing a special stew in the hopes of setting the tone for the evening. That night she had decided to give herself over to her husband willingly, albeit reluctantly. But the fiery and piercing hate she now saw in Japheth's eyes terrified her mortal soul.
"I'm sorry, Tara", Japheth said, his voice strangely deep, as he grew closer to his wife. "I'm sorry it must be this way."
"What m-must be?" Tara asked, trying to control the fearful stutter in her voice.
"I've been patient", Japheth continued, "But you are my wife, and you owe me the respect of a wife."
"Silence!" He bellowed, roughly taking her by the arms. "You think I don't know?"
"Know what?" Tara pleaded, "J-Japheth, you're hurting m-me."
"You are my property, and I shall do with you as I please." He spit out, swinging her around and dragging her toward the bed, tearing the hem of her skirt in the process. Tara cried out at the sound. "You WILL give me what I am due." He ranted, thrusting her forcefully onto the feather down mattress.
Tara lay in the bed, clutching the wool sheet tightly to her breast. Japheth lay asleep beside her having worn himself out with his earlier activities. She was terrified to move or even breathe, but she knew she had to get out of the bed, out of the house, even if for just a moment to collect her thoughts.
Slowly, ever so slowly, she slid out from under the covers, wincing slightly at the aching pain between her legs. Grasping her under-dress from where Japheth had unceremoniously thrown it on the floor she quickly put it on. Picking a shawl up from off of one of the chairs by the supper table, she wrapped it around herself and carefully slipped outside onto the front porch.
Feeling the cool earth beneath her bare feet, she stepped down the dirt path to the edge of the cottage's front lawn. Looking up she saw the moon in the sky glowing full and bright. Just shy of midnight, she thought as a gentle breeze ruffled through her loose hair. She clutched the shawl more tightly to her chest and sat down on a tree stump near the edge of the path.
Why?, she kept asking herself, Why did it happen? And more importantly she wondered, Will it happen again? She looked back over her shoulder at the cottage door, and then out again to the dark woods beyond. "Mama", she muttered softly to the wind, "What should I do?" She let her thoughts drift back to all the memories and thoughts and advice her mother had ever given her and an answer began to slowly form itself in her head.
"When I was a girl, I had a favorite story.
Tara stood, and without looking back, raced into the woods and toward the beach.
Interested in the music? Here's the song list for Act One!
** -- Altered or additional lyrics by DarkWiccan
1. "Miller's Son" by Stephen Sondheim from A Little Night Music - Tara