Willow stood behind her father's throne, gazing unnoticed out of the large leaden glass window, whilst the Festivities carried on all around her. She cared little for the performance going on before the mélange of party guests, and entertainers who were standing in large semi-circles around the grand ballroom. Two of the entertainers were, at that moment, performing a play-act for the king, about which there was much gaiety within the crowd. Willow, however, saw no humor in the cumbersome brothers, and an anxiety like concoction that had been coiling in her stomach since she awoke that morning was showing signs of erupting into a blemish upon her father's bash. There was something very wrong in the air that day, and it made Willow uneasy.
The need to run outside; run out into the snow and lose herself, was getting steadily harder to ignore and to make matter's worse, there was no sign of reprieve from her current placement. Perhaps, she thought, if she was to run outside, much to the chagrin of her father and his guests, she would freeze to death, if she was lucky. The macabre thought made Willow giggle, and her father turned to study her.
"I'm glad to see that you're finally getting into the spirit of the season, daughter. It does a father good to see his only child enjoying herself." He paused for effect. "Isn't it a grand party?"
His words were more of a statement than a question, so Willow made an inarticulate sound of agreement and nodded her head to match, which appeased him.
"Just think. One day you and your husband will host parties as grand as this one," the king said pointedly.
But Willow wasn't in the mood to indulge her father in his plans for her future. "I have no wish to marry."
"If you do not choose someone to marry, than I shall choose for you. And I shall not be as generous with my choosing. If you are not careful, you will end up with the very next soul that wanders through the garden, be it man or woman; rich or poor." The king laughed in peals at his own joke, throwing his head back to reveal pearly white teeth set against a graying length of beard. It was Festivities and he was having a jolly old time.
"I would prefer it to be a woman, and poor would be of no consequence," Willow said almost under her breath, but loud enough to be heard; her father, however, was still laughing heartily and didn't notice her. Willow suspected he'd already had a fair amount of mead and roast beast--which combined, was a sure way to put the king into a grand old mood. After his laughter petered into a stately cough, the king did, however, make comment on the latter part of her declaration, conveniently ignoring the more telling component.
"Poor is good enough for the common folk, daughter, but a woman of your rank needs a man of suitable wealth and upbringing. Preferably a prince of some kind."
Willow groaned and rolled her eyes. Her father loved her, surely, but he knew her not at all. She didn't care about wealth and upbringing, and she certainly didn't care for men at all. And it wasn't her father's fault that he didn't know these things about his daughter for Willow never told her father or anyone for that matter about her deepest thoughts and feelings. The truth was, she was lonely.
Never allowed to leave the castle, Willow had to live her life vicariously through the many travelers who would come to the castle in search of rest and sustenance. Her father, being as kind as he was, always made a place for these providential people, and whenever Willow sat by the fireside listening to their tales of dragon slaying, and riding the countryside on wild mustangs that ran like the wind, she wished with all of her heart that she too could live such a life as they. If it was good enough for the common folk, then it was good enough for her. But her father would never see it that way, and though it was true that he was a good king, and that he loved his people and the country he ruled, her father, like most dignitaries, felt as though women of standing should not marry below their station. Oh he would invite the poor to dine at his table and he did feel a heaviness for their plight, but to allow them to marry his daughter was quite another matter.
Willow was still lost in thought when a movement out in the courtyard caught her eye, and she again turned to peer out the window. It took only a moment for the image to register in her brain, but infinitely longer for her to comprehend what was about to take place.
Outside, masked by snow, stood a man of usual build, who, to anyone else, would have looked like any other traveler who passed through their garden on any given day, but Willow could tell that there was something very different about this man, yet she couldn't pin-point what it was until he withdrew his hand from behind his back.
In his hand was a lightweight wooden bow, primed to the tip with a glistening and sharpened metal arrow. Willow could see it clearly then, and their eyes met--hers and the assassin's.
Assassin, Willow barely knew the word, there was no one in the land who hated the king enough to kill him, after all his name was Good King Wenceslas. He was a good king. That's how he got the name.
What Willow didn't realize in time was that the assassin was not there to kill the king. His mark was Princess Willow, for it was well known in the usually peaceful land of King's Court that Good King Wenceslas was no more capable of producing another child as a bull was capable of bearing calf. Therefore, if he killed the princess, there would be no successor and so, when the king passed away, he would be the last king to ever rule.
Glass shattered and when the arrow hit, it struck the princess just below her rib cage. Willow felt as if the wind had been knocked out of her and as she sank to her knees beside her father's throne, her blood covered the white fur cuffs at the hem of the king's crimson robe.
At first she had been afraid as she waited for the pain; only there was no pain, just a sense of not being able to draw breath and an almost pleasant warming sensation at the point of impact. She was about to die and she knew it. And the knowledge of this felt like a soft hand, coming through the shattered remains of the window to rest peacefully on her chest. It was so pleasant and so warm that she thought if Heaven were only half as good as that, then she was okay with dying. The only regret that she had was that she would never experience riding a wild mustang over the plains of King's Court, or know what it felt like to be in love and be loved in return. With that thought Princess Willow took her last breath.
The stunned frenzy of party goers ran about, trying in vein to organize help for her. Willow felt her father kneeling at her side, while wet tears plunked like raindrops from his eyes.
Tara, a poor adventurer who made her meager living as a huntress, was at that very minute tracking a dragon through the King's Forest-- a dragon that had been causing a bit of trouble in a small province in the southern hills of King's Court.
She had been commissioned by the townspeople to dispatch of the dragon and so far she'd tracked the beast by following the trail of melted snow the dragon left behind him as he plodded and stomped his way through the sparse forest. It was obvious to her that this dragon was a young thing who could not yet fly as the trail of melted snow had yet to cease.
She knew it would not be a difficult kill once she actually caught up to the rogue dragon, but it was time consuming to track him all that way, and she was feeling a little tired. It was at this moment that Tara thought she spied a light just ahead, a glimmer in the steel blue sky just beyond the trees.
And that was how our heroine found herself in view of the castle on that fateful day. She'd come through the trees to see that the light she'd noticed had in fact been a lamppost that was situated just outside the massive castle. This was the estate of Good King Wenceslas, of course, and Tara laughed at her good fortune, for it was known throughout the land that travelers were welcome in the home of the king. In fact, there was a fellow traveler up ahead, standing three feet or so back from the large picture window adorning the ballroom.
Tara could see in through the window from the angle at which she stood and she peered in some distance behind the traveler into the ornately decorated room. Inside, the castle was alive with feasting, music and laughter. Tara praised her good fortune once more, for having brought her by way of the castle, and she smiled to herself at the merry scene.
But good fortune is a tricky creature, and what first looked like a harmless traveler peeking into the windows at the feast of Stephen with a wanting temptation in his eyes, upon closer inspection, gave Tara cause to be suspicious. Her years of tracking had taught her to notice the signs of one up to no good, and something about the lone figure piqued her intuition.
She approached from behind, careful to keep a distance from the man who suddenly seemed more menacing than he had only a moment before. Tara could see the stiffness in his body as he studied the party going on inside the ballroom.
Tara's eyes followed the man's gaze inside the room to where they were fixed on one in particular. Stunning, Tara thought to herself, when she saw, for the first time, the gorgeous woman standing behind the King's throne, her delicate fingers resting so lightly atop the fancy chair. Tara thought that the woman carried herself as a princess and therefore must be a princess, besides there was no one in the land so bold as to touch the king's throne without being blood kin.
Tara was so caught up watching the princess that she momentarily forgot about the suspicious man in front of the window, and it was only when the princess turned and their eyes seemingly met that she remembered herself. However, Tara soon realized that it was not she the princess had seen, but that the princess had spotted the man who had, in that instant, pulled a bow and arrow, as if from thin air, and had launched the arrow through the window, shattering the glass and the princess with one stroke.
Tara watched the girl fall to her knees and she felt a quivering in her stomach like something was about to be taken away from her--something she hadn't yet known. There was blood everywhere and for a brief second Tara's world stopped spinning and time stood still. The princess was going to die, that was for certain, Tara could see death in the air around her, and for an instant there was fear in the princess's eyes. But Tara was something of an apprentice magician, and could perform a few feats of magic now and then. And though she was no Merlin when it came to sorcery she could, however, do a few common-place spells. One of which was a Peace Giver spell.
Tara slowed her breathing and focused her energy through the shattered window and into the princess's broken body. Their eyes met for the first time, and Tara saw a calm wash over the princess. They stayed linked that way until the king's doctor and magician arrived and knelt over the fallen princes on either side, blocking Tara's view of her.
But where had the assassin gone? Tara looked around to see that the man had fled. There were footsteps pressed into the snow that lead into the trees. Tara didn't care that he had fled, she would find him regardless and when she did, Tara knew that the king would have his head.
As it turned out, dying wasn't at all what Willow had thought it would be. It was a lot more painful, and a lot more like she remembered living to be. Even the people in heaven seemed to resemble people she knew when she'd been alive. Her only reprise, even in death, was that she slept a lot. And in her dreams the same soft hand that had wrapped around her in her last few moments, came to her again, taking away the pain of her injury once more.
But Willow had not died, after all, instead she had been saved. The royal doctors had arrived in time as had the royal magician, and together they'd saved her life. And while she drifted in and out of a fevered sleep, induced by the potions and herbs she was being made to drink by the pottering magician, the search for the assassin continued.
After the attack, when the king's men had been unsuccessful in capturing the criminal, the king had declared that a large sum of money would be awarded to anyone that could produce the assassin, either dead or alive.. Though the king would prefer that the criminal be brought in alive so that he could order the beheading himself. Usually the idea of such a grisly deed was unpleasant for the king, but in this case he would take great pleasure in making sure this man paid for his crimes, for he had nearly taken the life of his only child, and for that, there would be dire consequences for the guilty. The king had an idea he might even like to pull the switch on the guillotine himself.
Three days later the man was turned over to the court and found guilty. He died at the hands of the king on the seventh day, after spending time in the castle dungeon where he consumed stale bread and stagnant water for several days before his execution.
The criminal became yet more interesting when the king set eyes upon the assailant's captor.
She could not have been older than his daughter, in her nineteenth year maybe, but no older. The young lady was surely a vision, and the king smiled when he saw her, something he hadn't done since the day his darling daughter was wounded. The young lady was clearly a peasant of the Court and came bearing the name Tara. She wore her hair down, pinned at the top with a tortuous shell comb, but allowed to flow down her back in cascades of golden blonde.
When Tara had entered the throne room wearing men's pants and a tailored white shirt with ruffles about the front, and tucked into the hem at her belt, the young woman had bowed at the waist, the way a nobleman would do. The king found this interesting. So after paying the woman for her service, the king asked her to stay at the castle on the grounds that he would like for her to meet with the princess, as he was sure Princess Willow would feel poorly if she could not thank Tara properly for all that she had done.
Tara accepted the king's invitation, and the next day she found herself standing before an ornately carved four-poster bed in the Princess's chambers, looking down on the most exquisite creature she had ever seen. And she had seen many creatures, from mermaids that frolicked along the surf of the great salted sea, to larger-than-life dragons that could fry a soul on a cold day with the power of a mere sneeze. Yet in all of her travels and in everything she'd seen and done, she had never once felt so at one with the cosmos as she did in that very moment, watching the princess sleep.
Up close she was so soft looking, Tara thought, and when the guardsmen exited through the heavy wooden doors, leaving them alone, Tara sat carefully on the edge of the bed, next to the sleeping beauty. She remembered well the thing she'd witnessed only days ago and the thought of it made her sick.
Tara let her fingers run like gossamer over the woman's pale cheek. You're a rose; a sunset; Tara thought, mesmerized by the steady up and down motion of the princess's chest. She wanted to place her hand over the bandages and the bloodspot that was soaking through the linen and lace nightgown the princess wore and take away everything inside her that hurt. She could do as much and was about to when the princess's eyes fluttered, opening slowly to the dim light in the stone walled room. A yellow glow burned from a candle sat beside the bed, which gave Princess Willow's green eyes demure flecks of gold. Her long, silky, red hair was bathed in the same golden light, and Tara wanted to reach out and run her fingers through it, but she knew that she couldn't do that, as much as she wanted to, for if she started she may never stop.
Tara shook her head to clear the fog that had been steadily creeping in from the moment she'd come into the chamber. Her livelihood depended on a clear mind, and she'd certainly never been so touched by the mere sight of a woman before.
Once the princess had awakened fully, Tara introduced herself and bowed at the waist, much the same as she had done for the king. She was rewarded with a smile from Princess Willow, and was instantly warmed.
Tara stayed with the princess for much of that night while they talked a little and then the princess slept. When she felt her eyes growing heavy and she felt as if she might fall asleep Tara excused herself and retired to one of the castle's many guest chambers. A handmaid came and poured a bath for her, and Tara sat in the warm water, scrubbing her body with soap which smelled of the princess.
Festivities continued throughout the next few days and each night Tara, the king, his page, and hundreds of guests filed into the ballroom for large banquets, filled with all kinds of foods, most of which, Tara had never even heard of much less eaten before.
Throughout the course of each night she would be asked to regale the guests with tales of her adventures, and she would do so merrily, but when the music would start and the guests twirl onto the marble floors for dancing and merrymaking, Tara would sneak away, and go to the Princess, where she would either sit and watch the other woman sleep or they'd talk endlessly into the night about nothing and everything all at the same time.
It was magical and mystifying and Tara knew that her heart had been taken by Princess Willow, and had almost told her so on a few occasions, but something always stopped her. Perhaps it was because she knew she couldn't stay; there were still dragons to slay and bad men to bring to justice; her work would never be done. She would stay for as long as the princess was in need of her, and then she would be gone, like a leaf blown away by the wind. That was just the way it was.
On the eighth day of Tara's stay, Willow sat up in bed for the first time. Her head felt woozy but other than that there was no pain. She longed to get up out of bed, but the guards outside her chamber door had strict instructions from the king to keep her in bed until the royal doctor was sure she had completely recovered. Willow hated it. And the only relief she felt was when Tara came through her door each night to keep her company.
Since meeting the blonde, Willow had begun to feel strange sensations under her skin and around certain parts of her anatomy which she had never quite felt before. Suddenly there were tingling sensations and melt-y sensations and fuzzy warm feelings of happiness and excitement whenever she was in close proximity to the blonde beauty, and Willow wondered each night, when Tara left her chamber, if it could be love that she felt for her.
Of course Willow knew, deep down in her heart, that it was indeed love that she felt for Tara and she also knew that Tara felt the same for her. For it was true that she came religiously each night into Willow's chambers where they would sit comfortably with each other, as if they had been doing so for many years. Yet as comfortable as they appeared to be with each other, there was something that nagged at Willow's heart.
In all the time they'd spent together they had never once touched, and Tara would leave each night, retiring to a chamber many corridors away from Willow‘s. And even though Willow really wanted to ask the blonde to stay, and perhaps even sleep together with her in the same bed, she could never seem to gather enough courage to do so.
That was the way it was, until one night when the wind was howling fiercely outside her bedchamber window, and Willow, having awoken from a nightmare in which she'd been shot again, got out of bed and made her way carefully to her chamber door. It was ajar and she was able to press her eye to the crack between the wall and the slab of wood and see out into the stone corridor without much trouble. Conveniently there was only one guard that night, and he had fallen asleep at his post-- a crime punishable by death if the king ever found out. However, Willow had no intention of telling her father anything, her only want was to make it past the guard without waking him. Which she did, for she was a very clever princess.
Tara was half dozing when Willow came through her doorway. The sight of the beautiful princess made her think that she had indeed fallen asleep, and was dreaming. But the look in Willow's eyes concerned Tara and she knew then that this was no dream. Something was terribly wrong. Tara sat up in bed then put her feet to the stone floor. She barely noticed the cold. The redhead seemed to falter momentarily and Tara thought that the princess might turn and run out the way she had entered.
"What's the matter, sweetie," Tara said carefully making her way over to where the redhead shivered in the glow of candle light that shone in through the doorway.
And then Willow did run; only first she had reached out and taken Tara's hand.
They ran like the wind down the long stone corridor while the moon's light shone in segments along the stone floor, lighting their path with its stuttered shades of gray. There were torches lit at the far end of the corridor and Tara thought that the princess was surprisingly agile for someone with such a serious injury.
When Willow did stop, they were in the courtyard, near the iron gate. Aside from the gate, the courtyard was surrounded by a thick stone wall that stretched high above them. Tara wondered then if Willow had ever even seen the countryside which her family ruled over; or if the only sights she'd ever seen had come from fancy publications and from the stories of travelers during their passing. When Willow turned to face her, she was crying and Tara's thoughts instantly ceased. She saw the princess's tears glistening in the moonlight and she thought that perhaps she'd done something wrong--something she wasn't aware of, and was instantly heartbroken.
"Oh darling." Tara didn't know where the endearment had surfaced from, it had just come, accompanied by her hand stroking the back of Willow's long red hair, and her other hand slipping around the other girl's back to draw her near.. .gently and with great care, Tara tried to comfort the crying woman, as she would have done a tearful child--only Willow was no child; which was made painfully obvious to Tara by the way her own insides seemed to ignite at the softness pressed against her.
Willow's tears turned quickly into sobs as she looked at Tara. Her dream had affected her more than she had admitted to herself, but she felt safe with Tara and when she'd awoken, she knew that there was no one else she would rather be with.
"Thank you, m' Lady," Willow sniffed against Tara's shirt, and then withdrew from the other woman's embrace. She felt a little better for having cried a bit.
Tara blushed. She had never been called a lady. She had always been berated for her shapely body and less than delicate ways.
"Why do you do that?"
"Do what?" Tara was concerned that she'd done something to offend the princess.
"Hide your smile behind your hair the way you do? I don't like it."
"My smile?" Tara said honestly.
"No; not being able to see it."
Tara's hand came up to cup Willow's cheek. Her palm was warm against Willow's skin; oh so warm and Willow felt herself melting into that touch. But then there seemed to be a melting all over her body and she was completely struck by it.
They were close now, really touching for the first time, and Willow thought she could feel Tara drawing nearer still, if that was possible. Or maybe she was just imagining the way the other girl's breath had stilled and the way her heart thudded in her chest, almost audibly, if Willow listened properly. But there was something else she needed to get out before she could allow what she thought was about to happen between them to happen. "I'm afraid," Willow said suddenly and she shivered not because of the cold, but because she longed for Tara's arms to come around her again. Which they did.
"Princess, the criminal is dead and gone. Your father saw to that himself," Tara said compassionately. She held Willow close to her, breathing in the fresh lily scent of her. "The king will not let you come to harm again; and neither will I," Tara said honestly.
"I am not afraid of the criminal."
"Then what frightens you, darling?"
"You are going to leave and that will hurt more than any arrow in my chest ever could," Willow admitted her true feelings for the first time, for she had known since she had admitted to herself that she was in love with Tara, that the blonde would not stay. There was wildness about her that Willow knew she could never hope to tame. Tara was a true adventurer, a warrior for the good fight, and with that came many responsibilities.
Before Tara could form a response to the princesses heartfelt words, they heard the sounds of the guardsmen stomping heavily down the hall.
Willow suspected that the guards had heard their voices in the garden and were on their way to sweep the area for suspicious persons. She didn't think that they had become aware of her disappearance as she knew there would have been more of a commotion if they had. So she and Tara slipped through a secret entrance that only Willow knew about which lead to the corridor with the still sleeping guard, and her very own bedchamber door.
They went quietly into Willow's bedchamber. Out of breath, and panting heavily from the scare of nearly being caught, Tara and the princess pressed their backs up against the heavy wooden doors.
But Willow couldn't seem to catch her breath, and she found herself growing lightheaded. She'd not had that much exercise in a long time, and it was proving almost too much for her frail body.
Tara saw Willow's face grow pale, and knew in a moment that the redhead was going to faint. Tara stretched out her hand, wrapping her arms securely around the slim waist before her, tucking the smaller woman into her body. She felt Willow's heartbeat slow, unbelievable and then pick up speed as it righted itself. Tara was worried for a moment that Willow wouldn't regain consciousness; there was something in the beat of her heart that worried Tara so.
But Willow came back and the color returned to her cheeks, and even so, they didn't let go of each other. And as the seconds drifted into minutes, there was a heat between them that begged for release. Tara had never felt such an overpowering urge simply to touch and the way Willow was pressing against her caused a friction that could not be denied.
Soon they were kissing and their clothes discarded around them, in piles on the cold stone floor. That night they would give in to the feelings that had been boiling inside of them for so long.
The bed was warm, and Willow's naked body warmer still. So warm it nearly consumed Tara in a smoldering heat as her fingers searched, finding delicate wet folds, secret places she'd only ever imagined existed before that moment. And Willow's moans only added heat to the already burning flames behind her desire. Tara had never wanted to possess anyone so completely.
Willow's body stiffened and a feeling of such total bliss eclipsed her physical body, even her heart remained a steady beat in her chest and the world beyond her ornately carved bed ceased for one moment, while Tara's fingers pulsed inside her, pushing her further into a shattering stratosphere of their combined making. She had never dreamed that anything could feel as wonderful as this.
"You're so beautiful." Willow stroked absent circles on the bare skin of Tara's stomach. It was an innocent statement, meant to skim the surface of the feelings rolling around beneath the exterior of her body.
"Don't say that." Tara turned away, feeling suddenly sensitive and vulnerable. The nakedness of her heart surpassed the nakedness of her body.
"Why?" Willow lifted herself up on one elbow. It was her turn to wonder what she'd said wrong.
"Because it's not true. You don't have to lie to me. I'm just a poor traveler."
"But I'm not lying," Willow said in the tone of a scolded child. "I don't have to lie. Whatever I say is gold." To prove this, she pulled out a golden leaflet from the side table drawer. "See? Gold." She handed the leaflet to Tara, who, took it and traced the engraved quotes with the tip of her fingers, fingers, she noted, that smelled distinctly of Willow's sweetness. Tara chuckled and handed the leaflet back.
"I'll have the heads add it officially to the list: Hear ye, hear ye! Tara Maclay is the most beautiful woman in all the land; and possibly throughout the provinces of heaven, as well." Willow grinned, love and laughter shining in her eyes.
"Stop." Tara laughed, rolling back towards Willow. And then the laughter ceased and she gazed seriously into Willow's deep green eyes. "I never imagined I'd meet anyone like you." She brushed a stray strand of Willow's hair away from her face, and smiled dimly when Willow curved her pretty lips into Tara's palm. "You're almost too lovely to look at. Kind of like looking into the sun; if you keep your eyes steadfast, you'll mar your vision," Tara said this with incredible warmth. And Willow's eyes were on her, watching her, and touching her with silk everywhere they landed.
"Why do you travel so?" Willow asked, stroking the outer side of Tara's rose colored nipple. She watched as the sensitive tissue grew taunt and beaded like a pebble.
"Because you can't see the world in your own backyard," Tara said dreamily. She'd caught Willow's fingers and brought them up to her lips. Willow's skin tasted warm and salty-sweet.
"Haven't you seen all the world yet?"
"Miles to go," Tara said wistfully, the light leaving her eyes muted as they basked in the low tones of post coital bliss. "But that is neither here nor there, darling," Tara said, suddenly rolling Willow forcefully beneath her so that she was on top of the princesses small-framed body, though she was still mindful of the princess's wound and made sure to keep her weight off the injury.
"But it will be," Willow said somberly. She wasn't quite ready to give in, even though Tara had begun a delicate sort of kissing down the side of her neck which was driving Willow to the point of madness.
"Not for a while," Tara said in between kisses.
"When?" Willow panted.
And that was the end of the conversation. Tara kissed her way down Willow's body, with a few long stops in between, and when she took Willow with her tongue and fingers neither woman was thinking of anything beyond that very moment and the pleasure they both felt in each other's body.
For the next seven days they spent their time together in much the same way. During the day Tara would attend Festivities and in the evening she would go to Willow and they would hold each other or make love, or simply sleep peacefully next to each other. And toward the end of festivities the king had even begun allowing Willow to attend the parties for a few hours at a time, accompanied by Tara, of course.
Everyone was glad to see the princess recovering so smoothly, but no one more so than the king himself. And even he had to admit that Tara's company had done wonders for his daughter's complexion and overall happiness. In fact, seeing them together started him thinking on other matters. He hardly noticed that Tara was not of Royal standing, for she certainly carried herself well-- in fact if he didn't know the truth he doubted he would peg her as anything less than a dignitary.
The king absolutely adored his daughter and he made a jolly fuss over her each and every night, so much so that Tara knew Willow was almost relieved when her time was up and she could kiss her father on the cheek and retire to her chambers. Tara made no argument of this either, because she knew that her time with Willow was drawing to a close, and that each moment was more precious than the last.
Festivities came and went like a newly fallen snow on a sunny day. The Great Tree had been lit, cheese and wine consumed, and that night, Willow awoke with a terrible feeling in her stomach. She knew that Tara had gone. And she lay there with emptiness inside of her until the sun lit the horizon and light flushed the stone walls in golden hues. She remained in her chambers for three days and three nights, sobbing into her pillow, missing Tara so much that it felt as if her heart had been carved from her chest. She had been right; the loss of Tara hurt more than the arrow ever had.
It started with a whisper or two and pretty soon the whole of the castle's residents had taken notice of the princess's dire condition. Everything seemed to stop as maids and dignitaries alike fussed over her night and day, forcing her to eat when it was meal time, and to bathe when it was time for that as well. Willow did as she was told, but spoke to no one. Nothing mattered if she could not have Tara by her side. This grayness went on for the better part of four more days until one morning Willow got out of bed, trudged down the stone steps to the marble hall and ordered a coat, hat, and gloves from the door matron.
"Where are you going, daughter?" the king wrung his hands in distress. He'd never seen his daughter look so determined and it gave him cause to worry. In fact he'd been worried since the huntress had left nigh upon eight days before. He knew that she and his daughter had become close friends, but the extent of which hadn't become clear to him until after the huntress had gone. It was obvious to him now that his daughter had fallen in love. But love made people do crazy things, and this was what worried the king.
"I'm going to find Tara and bring her back."
"You can't go out there alone," the king pleaded, momentarily forgetting that he had the power to forbid her go. Or maybe something inside him knew that even if he forbade her it wouldn't stop her.
"I'm going." There was no arguing with her. She was not going to lose Tara; if the blonde wanted to be poor and hunt dragons then Willow would be poor and hunt dragons with her. And she didn't care what her father had to say about it. King or no king, she could not live without Tara by her side.
"Then I'll lead the way," The king said in a definite voice. For he had already, a few days past, had his Page discover the location of the tracker's lodging. She was staying in a cave beneath the mountain, many miles from the castle.
The wind was howling outside the gates of the castle. The king took a step and his Page behind him, the girth of their bodies shielded the princess from the more harsh flurries that blew past them. Behind them, keeping pace at a distance was the king's army.
They marched like that for many miles, until it seemed nearly hopeless that they would ever find Tara. The snow had surely covered any tracks she may have made on her journey as it was quickly covering the tracks made by the king, his men, the princess, and the page. It was becoming clear to everyone but the king himself, that it would be impossible to find her in this blizzard. And it was only when the princess could go no further that the king conceded defeat.
Willow felt a hollow sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach and a desolate numbness, which had nothing to do with the cold, took over her, freezing her from the inside out. She was certain Tara was gone, and she may never see her again. Willow stopped walking and began to cry.
The king scooped his daughter into his arms and together the search party headed back toward the castle.
Willow was downtrodden and her heart thudded like a lead stone in her chest. She would never love again, she thought dramatically as she headed back to the solitude of her bed chambers. But what greeted her when she opened the door caused her heart to skip a beat. Standing in a lean next to the fireplace with a glass of brandy in one hand and her booted-up feet crossed in front of her was Tara.
Willow was overcome for a moment and there was so much she wanted to say--so many words, but the only to surface was what had hurt her the most. "You didn't even say goodbye." Tears welled in Willow's eyes, causing them to sting. Relief at seeing the blonde again was quickly replaced by hurt and then by anger. How dare Tara leave her in the manner she had. But then Tara came to her and took her in her arms and the relief that had fled moments before circled around again, and Willow melted into Tara's embrace. Tears spilled onto Tara's linen shirt.
"I didn't think I could. It hurt too much." Tara nuzzled into Willow's red hair, smelling the scent of lily and frost. She could feel Willow's frail body shudder against her and was instantly overcome with the shame of her actions. She needed to explain to Willow; offer the woman in her arms some explanation, so she said the only words in her heart. "Maybe I was searching for something I didn't even know existed before this moment. All this time, maybe I was searching for you," Tara said breathlessly. She was so incredibly happy to have Willow back in her arms again. She felt as if she'd come home.
"So you're not leaving again?"
"Not if you'll have me. Will you? Have me? Before you answer, Princess, keep in mind that I have nothing in this world to offer you but my love and life."
"I have nothing but the same, m'Lady, for all this..." Willow waved her hand about the room "...belongs to my father. I have never earned anything; therefore I am as hapless as you." Willow grinned, realizing her joy at that very thought.
"Touché," Tara said softly, leaning with more intent into Willow's body.
They kissed passionately, and hours later, after much reuniting, Princess Willow and Lady Tara stood before the king, clinging to each other with one sole request at hand. They wished to be married.
The king was taken by their plea, "I will allow this marriage to take place only if it is agreed that I will be provided with an heir to the throne. You may go about that any way you choose."
The king was using his stern king's voice, but Willow could detect the benevolence beneath his words and she could tell that he was just as grateful to see Tara again as she herself had been.
"I believe I can help with that." The magician stepped forward, coughing at the confused faces leering at him; obviously he hadn't meant help, help. But there were potions. "I mean, there are potions one could take! I could help with the potions!"
The king laughed heartily. "Then let the ceremony begin!"
As Princess Willow and her heroine, exchanged vows, a silence fell over the onlookers, for no one in King's Court had ever seen such a display of pure love as they witnessed that day.
However there was one vow that the onlookers were not privy too: It was something private between Tara and her princess and was whispered softly into Willow's ear
"Someday you'll ride a wild mustang across the countryside of King's Court, and I'll be at your side to make sure you don't fall."
"I vow it."
At the end of the ceremony as the king, his page and the newly married couple lead the procession out of the ballroom there was heard a singing by the country men that had filed outside in the castle garden, for they had heard of the king's good deed and of the newly married couple and wished to offer blessings upon the Princess and her bride.
The king was pleased by this display, and invited the poor peasants into the great hall for a feast of meat and wine. And as the king looked about on all his many blessings the song of his own father came to his mind. And he knew it to be true.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
There was never a more celebrated king in all of King's Court as our own Good King Wenceslas.