Willow stood with her back to the gypsies as they finished up re-packing their small encampment. Her eyes were plastered to the tree line, waiting and watching, in the hopes that the young woman she had come across earlier that day would make an unlikely appearance. She felt the heat of the fire fade as her brethren kicked out the flames with sand. The shore was suddenly now very dark except for the glow of the moon overhead. Willow looked up and gazed at the full orb, noting its position. The sound of shuffling feet approaching her from behind only confirmed what she already knew.
"It is time", an old, but gentle, woman's voice said softly.
"I know", replied Willow, turning to face the older woman.
"Did you think she would come?"
"I do not know what I thought, Emilia", Willow answered. "She was different. Like me. At least I thought she was."
"Come now", Emilia said, wrapping her shawl-covered arm around the younger girl and leading her away, "You may ride in the wagon with me and we can talk."
"Thank you, Mama", the redhead sighed. Emilia had been the first of the gypsy folk to accept her into their tight circle and had become a sort of surrogate mother to the girl.
They approached the small covered wagon and Willow helped Emilia up the step into the back. She was just about to hop in herself when she heard a strange noise coming from the trees. Willow whipped her head in the direction of the sound and saw Tara running toward her.
"Wait!" Tara cried as she saw the gypsies beginning to pull away. "Wait! Please!"
Willow abandoned the wagon step and raced toward the blonde meeting her halfway.
"You came, Princess!" She announced with glee. Tara nodded out of breath. Willow paused a moment taking in the sight of the woman before her. "You're only half-dressed. You have no shoes."
"I know", stated Tara, "I left in a hurry. It was not exactly planned."
"Did he hurt you?" Willow asked, her nostrils flaring, "Your husband. Did he hurt you?"
"It does not matter now", Tara leveled, "Now I am here with you. But, we must leave quickly before he discovers I am gone."
"Of course", Willow replied, taking her hand, "You can ride in the wagon with Mama and I."
"Adopted", the redhead quickly explained hopping into the wagon's bed and extending her arms to the other girl. "Here, give me your hands."
Tara complied and grasped Willow's hands, allowing the gypsy to pull her up into the back. She grimaced as the stretching movement caused the pain in her low pelvis to declare itself again. Willow caught the action and her face fell with sudden horror.
"He did hurt you", Willow breathed, her eyes wide with anger and pain.
"Mama", Willow said, turning to the older woman who thus far had remained silent. "Mama, he hurt her."
"Bring her to me, child", Emilia instructed.
Willow gently lead Tara over to the older, jolly looking, woman who was resting in the back of the wagon bed. "Tara, this is Emilia", the redhead introduced.
"Hello", Tara said shyly.
"Hello, Dear", said Emilia, "Come sit next to me." Tara did as told while Willow looked on. "Give me your hand." Tara extended her hand palm up, expecting the gypsy woman to read it as she had heard they did those sorts of things. Instead, Emilia simply took her hand and held it softly between her own.
"Hmm", the old woman sighed after a moment, "Your mother was a witch, yes?"
"A midwife", Tara clarified.
"A witch", Emilia confirmed, smiling, "And a good one. She taught you many things?"
"Not really", Tara explained, "Some herbal remedies. But she died before..."
"I see." Emilia paused a moment and then gently placed her hands on Tara's belly. "He took you with force, but with out injury. Be thankful his seed did not take root."
Tara silently shook her head in understanding, a single tear running down her right cheek.
"I think I shall ride up front for a while", Emilia said, slowly rising to her knees, "Give you a moment to talk." She grunted a little as she pulled herself onto the front bench seat of the wagon, next to the driver.
Now respectively alone, the two young women regarded each other in silence.
"Are you alright?" Willow asked after a moment.
"I think so", Tara replied.
"May I sit next to you?"
"Of course." Willow did so.
"May I hold your hand?"
"Yes", Tara smiled. Willow took Tara's hand and held it gently.
"I'm very glad you are here", said Willow, stroking Tara's hand softly with her thumb.
"I am too", Tara replied.
"May I kiss you?"
"I do not know", the blonde answered honestly. "I am not sure what all this means. Except that I have left everything that I had ever known, and can never go back. I do not think that I am yet ready for whatever comes next."
"I understand", Willow said, looking Tara in the eyes, her own filled with love and acceptance.
"I'm sorry, I..."
"I understand", Willow interrupted, showing there was no need for explanation. "All that matters is that you are here... I do not need anything else... I only need you...
"My days are brighter than morning air
Willow reached up and stroked a stray hair from Tara's face, pausing to draw her hand down the girl's cheek, cupping her chin softly for a moment before pulling away again.
"Yes." Tara said after a moment.
"What, Princess?" Willow asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
"Please stop calling me 'Princess'", Tara clarified, whispering back.
"Anything for you, Prin...Tara." Tara smiled at the faux pas. She felt her eyes soften and begin to close as Willow leaned into her. Their lips met softly and Tara feared that she might faint as a powerful wave of emotions struck her all at once. Happiness, joy, love, passion, fear and excitement suddenly rode through Tara's body like a torrent. She reached up and grasped the back of Willow's head for support, her fingers tangling in red hair. Willow deepened the kiss slightly before reluctantly pulling out of it and gazing into Tara's eyes lovingly.
"Was that too fast", she asked.
"It was amazing", Tara replied, catching her breath. "I have never felt anything like that before. Why did you stop?"
"Because I have never felt anything like it either", Willow admitted, "And it frightened me a little."
"It frightened you", inquired Tara, worried.
"Yes", Willow confirmed, "But, in the good way." She smiled, Tara smiled too, she had understood. "You should sleep. We have a long road ahead of us."
"I'm afraid that if I close my eyes, I will wake up and this will all have been a dream", said Tara.
"It is a dream", Willow answered, "But one that has come true. I will be here while you sleep. I will be here when you wake. I will never leave you and I will always find you."
"I believe you", whispered Tara, stifling a yawn before chuckling, "and I am quite tired."
"Sleep", Willow soothed.
Tara nodded and pushed herself down into a more comfortable position, laying her head on Willow's lap and closing her eyes. Willow gently ran her fingers through Tara's long blonde hair, comforting her to sleep.
Soon the gentle rocking motion of the wagon caused the redhead to drift off as well and her hand came to rest on the other girl's shoulder. Emilia glanced back and smiled at the two girls, watching them dream.
"Goddess", she prayed, "Smile upon them. Rarely do souls find their mates."
"Tara", Willow said, nudging the sleeping girl gently, "Tara. Tara, wake up!"
Tara slowly opened her eyes and blinked them protectively against the sun. She glanced up into Willow's eyes and smiled softly. The redhead raised her hand and gently ran it through Tara's hair, then drew a delicate line down her cheek with her fingertips.
"Is it the new day?" Tara questioned.
"It is a new world", Willow grinned in response.
"Where are we", the blonde asked, sitting up.
"Half-way between no where and everywhere", came the gypsy's enigmatic reply.
"Which is to say we are..."
"Here", Willow chirped.
"Why do you always speak in riddles?" Tara inquired, her eyes glowing with amusement.
"I do not speak in riddles", Willow explained, "I speak the truth. Sometimes the truth can sound like a riddle."
Tara smiled and leaned in and kissed Willow lightly on the lips. Willow grinned, her green eyes gleaming in the morning sunlight. She took the blonde gently by the hand and led her to the edge of the wagon.
"Come", she said, "There is much to do before the day is out."
Willow led Tara over to where Emilia was sitting working on a new tunic for one of the men.
"Mama", the redhead smiled, "it is time for Tara to begin her lessons."
"Lessons?" asked the blonde, somewhat confused.
Emilia smiled and took Tara from Willow's grasp, leading her into the woods, the redhead close behind.
Emilia, "You've never been away from the sea, child.
The day was spent teaching Tara the ways of life on the road. Together Emilia and Willow taught her how to identify medicinal flora and fauna as well as the poisonous or dangerous ones. They showed her how to read the trees for direction, and speak to the woodland creatures for guidance. All day long, Tara watched Willow intently, a joyous smile never leaving her face. She could not believe that she was truly this lucky to have found her. Willow grinned happily, dancing about the forest glen where they had stopped for camp that day, gleefully explaining to Tara every little thing that she herself had learned since living with the gypsies.
At one point Emilia sent the two girls off to collect firewood. Willow led Tara slightly off of the path and happily set to work collecting fallen twigs and branches. Tara quickly followed suit, but found herself more an more distracted by the other girl's lithe form as she moved through the wood, stooping and stretching for her bounty. Tara's mouth went dry and her heart began to beat a deep thrumming that seemed to settle low in her belly. She had never felt anything like it before and it excited her terribly. She blinked self-consciously when she noticed that the redhead was now looking back at her curiously.
"Are you alright?" Willow asked, stating her concern.
"F-fine", Tara replied, her voice breaking slightly.
"You look flushed", the gypsy noted, stepping forward and tenderly placing her hand on Tara's cheek. The contact caused the blonde's heart rate to accelerate further and she faltered in her step, almost appearing as though she might faint. "Tara!" Willow alarmed, moving to catch her, "You must be overworked. The sun is high today. Let us remove to the camp, you should lie down."
Tara could only nod as Willow placed her arm around her waist, gently guiding her back to the camp site. Emilia noticed the blonde's sudden pallor, and rushed to meet the girls.
"Is she alright?" she asked worriedly, taking Tara's other hand and helping her to sit.
"I believe the heat of the sun has weakened her, Mama", Willow explained, "she's not used to such hard work."
"I'm fine, really", Tara tried to assure them, gently batting the redhead's fretting hands away. She blushed a little under the attention.
Emilia eyed the young girl, and laughed inwardly to herself. She recognized Tara's flush as not that of exhaustion, but that of passion. "Willow, my dear, I think it would be best if you and Tara had my tent tonight..."
"But, Mama, where shall you..."
"Tut-tut", Emilia interrupted her. "I shall sleep in the wagon. I am used to life on the road, and Tara is not. In my tent she shall have a good bed and you will be more able to attend to her... needs."
If it were possible, Tara blushed even more furiously than before, whereas Willow seemed to remain blissfully ignorant of Emilia's implications.
"Well, Mama, if you feel it's best", she shrugged.
"I do", Emilia replied solemnly, tried very hard not to give into the wicked grin that threatened to overtake her face. "Now Willow, you go about your chores collecting more wood. I shall take Tara and see if we have any suitable clothes lying about. Can't have her running around in her under dress when we reach the next town."
The redhead nodded obediently, and after placing a small departing kiss on Tara's forehead, scampered off to collect more wood.
"Come, child", said Emilia, extending her hand to the young blonde, "Let us see what we have that will suit you."
"I'm sorry to be so much of a bother", Tara apologized, allowing her hair to fall into a curtain shrouding her face.
"Nonsense", assured the old woman, using the tips of her fingers, to lift Tara's chin back up so she could look her in the eye, "Anyone who can, in less than a fortnight, cause my little Willow tree to glow with such happiness is certainly not a bother. And never will be."
Tara blushed in response as Emilia took her gently by the hand and led her over to her tent.
Soon the night fell upon the day and the gypsies settled into their evening routine of sitting around the campfire singing songs and telling stories while they feasted upon the days trappings, roasted rabbit and game hen.
Tara sat across from Willow at the fire, watching her new friend laughing and clapping with the others, occasionally sending a glance and a smile her way. Tara watched the way the firelight danced across her companion's face, causing it to glow along with her red hair. The blonde blinked a few times, trying to catch her breath and calm her blush as she suddenly realized that she had found herself mesmerized momentarily by the movement of Willow's breasts beneath her blouse as she laughed.
Willow looked over and saw Tara looking down and away. This caused the gypsy to furrow her brow in concern. She lifted herself up from her seat and crossed over to Tara.
"Are you alright?" she asked.
"Oh, yes. Simply tired", Tara offered as explanation.
"Have you need to retire?"
"The day has been long", Tara admitted.
"Come to bed then", said Willow, innocently extending her hand in invitation.
Tara swallowed a hard gulp at the myriad of images that suddenly flew through her brain, not a single one puritanical in the least.
"You go on, I will follow in a moment", she said finally getting her bearings.
"Alright", said Willow, turning to go.
"Wait", Tara said swiftly, "On further thought, I would rather go first."
"Alright", Willow agreed again, helping Tara to her feet and then stepping aside so the blonde could pass.
Tara went ahead and into Emilia's tent. Willow watched her go, a contented smile gracing her lips. She paused a moment and then followed.
Outside the tent the moon was beginning its decent into the horizon. Daybreak would soon be following, it's purple-orange embers announcing the new morn. Inside, Tara lay awake beside Willow, watching her flame-haired companion sleep. Willow was curled onto her side, facing toward the young woman, her expression completely relaxed, with the exception of a small smile curling her soft mouth.
Tara suddenly felt a surge of emotion wash through her, pulling her body and soul toward this woman across from her. She felt her hand rise up, unable to stay it, and softly, she brushed a few errant strands of auburn out of the smaller girl's face.
Willow stirred from her slumber. "Tara?" She muttered sleepily.
"Shhh", Tara replied, capturing and holding Willow's gaze. She leaned up and kissed the gypsy tenderly on the forehead, before relaxing back to her original position.
"Between the very dead of night and day
Tara slowly brought her hands up to the drawstring of her blouse, pulling on it slowly, almost as if she was afraid, her hands shaking slightly.
"Before the cloak of night reveals the morn
Willow watched mesmerized as Tara's blouse fell off of her shoulders, one side falling low enough to reveal a naked breast. Willow swallowed a gulp, feeling her heart beginning to pound inside her chest.
"And in the moonfall all sound is frozen still
The gypsy tentatively reached out with her hand, brushing the inside of the fabric near the swell of her soon-to-be lover's breast, causing the rest of the cloth to slide down to the blonde's waist, revealing her pale skinned abdomen to the night air. Tara's breath momentarily caught in her throat.
"Lingers the veil of nightshade
Tara allowed Willow to learn the landscape of her newly revealed body, still watching the redhead's gaze with her own. She stretched out with her own hand, running her fingers again through scarlet hair, almost gripping it this time, pulling Willow's green eyes from her chest to her own blue.
"Betwixt our hearts let nothing intervene
Slowly now, knowing that Willow understood the full depth of her meaning, she began to draw the girl closer, cradling her neck with her hand, pulling her near. Their lips almost touching as she whispered the last.
"So that soon I only see but you"
Willow completed the last millimeter of distance that separated them, capturing Tara's mouth with her own in a deep and passionate kiss. Tara gave into the embrace as she finally accepted that here in Willow's arms, despite being so far from where she had been born, she had finally come home.
Japheth sat alone in his small cottage. It had been six weeks since his wife had run off to God knows where. He did not know where she had gone, but he knew very well whom she was with. The house stank of the rancid meat that had spoiled in the kettle pot. The furniture was broken and in a shambles, scattered about the floor. He was the laughingstock of the town. His good name disgraced, his honor broken. He always feared it would come to this, but not for the reason that it had.
He felt the demon in his blood begin to boil like a fire. His entire life he had fought it, kept it at bay, cursing the name of his great-great-grandfather, who had been cursed himself with this abomination. The first of his line to carry demon in his blood; a punishment for trespassing onto a demon's land so many years ago to steal food.
That is why he had married Tara. To keep the demon inside him docile and silent. She had always calmed him, always kept him at peace. Despite the frustration of not knowing her bed, she still offered him an alternative to solitude. She belonged to him, and he would have her back.
He felt the demon's rage begin to grow again, and he fought it desperately, though it threatened his sanity.
"Another stifling day with Tara still away.
Japheth suddenly found himself horribly out of control. In his rage he lashed out at the few pieces of furniture still in tact, reducing them to shreds and splinters. His face began to contort to something inhuman, green-scaled and bony. He tore at his shirt, revealing his scaly, snake-like abdomen, even as his arms and hands contorted to match, great claws now stretching out from his fingertips. He screamed in agony at the change as his eyes turned a liquid black. Now fully transformed, he paused a moment, sniffing at the air.
Letting out a mighty howl, "TAAAARAAAAA!", he set off in pursuit of the scent.
** -- Altered or additional lyrics by DarkWiccan
1. "With You" by Stephen Schwartz from Pippin - Willow