"You're here" she panted, sitting up.
"I am. You knew I would find you, sooner or later."
There wasn't much more to say. The redhead crossed her arms and waited patiently for the other girl to slide up from her enormous bed and reach for her sword.
"Don't you want to change clothes?" the redhead lifted one of her eyebrows and smirked.
The other girl shook her head, making her blond hair sway around her like a yellow wave. She was barefoot and wearing just her nightgown, while the other girl was completely dressed in her family's armor, just without the helmet. The green badges on her shoulders were significant enough.
Shrugging, the redhead gave a few random steps and pulled out her sword. This was going to be fun. Sneaking into Lady Tara's bedroom (getting into the castle had been dead easy) and killing her before the great battle... it was a great idea. Her father would be proud.
Tara took her sword out of its sheath and swung it before her. She should have guessed that something like this would happen. It was evident that they would try something before the official battle. Something like murdering their enemy's daughter in her sleep. Tara's only surprise was that they had sent this girl, the only daughter of the neighboring king: Princess Willow.
"Why did they send you?" Tara asked "When I kill you, your kingdom will be powerless. Chaos, treason, internal wars... My father's kingdom will be the more powerful without even fighting."
"Oh, and what makes you think you'll be capable of killing me, Lady Tara?"
"Some things I just know."
The bedroom was large enough for a sword fight, and it had little furniture. Tara was quite an austere person. Only the bed, a marble writing table and chair and a bulky dresser. These things were placed against the walls, so there was a more than decent space in the middle. Willow grinned and then nodded. Tara returned the nod; she knew it was time.
She leaped, swinging her sword over her head and slammed it against Tara's, who was already expecting the blow. She gritted her teeth and held her sword in place, not stepping back, until Willow herself retreated. The redhead grunted and tried a side blow, which was also repelled.
Wow, she was totally amazed with Tara's dexterity. Never she would've thought that the girl she had met some time ago and re-seen one month ago could be such a sword-woman. Unlike her, Tara would never be queen because she had an older brother, so Willow didn't really see a reason for the long hours of training Tara must have endured to achieve those... skills.
It was Tara's turn to smile. She knew Willow's thoughts as if she could read them. The redhead was surprised, and was using all her strength to counter her blows and savage attacks. Good.
"Come on, Princess", she scoffed, kicking at Willow's legs while she fought her sword "They say the Slayer's given you lessons. Where are those skills?"
All Willow could do was snarl and try to fight back. She was too busy to fight and talk at the same time. But it was true, even if she couldn't answer: the Slayer had been training her. Their swords clashing again, she snatched Tara's wrist and pushed, trying to throw her to the floor.
I know what you're trying, Tara thought, letting herself be pushed. As soon as her back touched the floor, she grabbed Willow's arm to hold her in place and kicked her stomach with both feet, propelling Willow across the room and onto the bed. The blonde grasped Willow's sword and ran to the bed before the other could get up or know where she was. She crossed the two swords with Willow's neck between them, not pressing hard but touching the skin. If Willow moved, the blades would slit.
"Now what?" Tara smiled.
"Now kill me", Willow answered, seriously determined.
"You underestimated me, Princess. You thought you could sneak into my chamber, in the middle of the night, and slit my throat or something. Did you really think that I was another helpless damsel?"
Willow wanted to shake her head, but the swords would have cut her neck, so she just said "no". It was true, she had never considered Tara just an uptight damsel, a maiden like the others.
"Really?" Tara whispered, climbing onto the bed and onto Willow.
The redhead opened her eyes wide when she felt Tara sitting on her abdomen. Or, more precisely, straddling her.
"What are you doing?" she blurted out.
"I'm going to make this fight just a touch fairer."
With that, the blonde threw Willow's sword to the other side of the room and, using her own, cut off the green badges that represented the colors of Willow's family. Then, she cut the leather straps that held the armor together and lifted the breastplate, throwing it too across the room.
Willow felt exposed, as a cool breeze blew where her armor had been. She was completely defenseless now, and still, she stared at the high ceiling and remembered the first time she saw Tara.
She was nine, and was playing with the town boys in front of the church, instead of going to Father Marc's lessons about the lives of the saints. She didn't care about saints, it was just stuff her mother wanted her to learn. She and the boys were acting out imaginary battles with wooden swords and, as far as she knew, they thought that she was a boy too, for she often shunned her dresses for the more comfortable attire of boys. Really, she couldn't care less if they thought her a boy or a girl; what angered her was hearing comments on the strangeness of her hair color.
Suddenly, their game was interrupted by the arrival of two ladies on horseback. They were so similar-looking that they could be no other than mother and daughter: long strands of braided, golden hair and blue eyes that looked like jewels.
The mother called the boys to her, but only Willow and the eldest boy obeyed.
"Take our horses inside and I'll give you a coin" the woman said, kindly, "Is Father Marc inside?"
"Yes ma'am" Willow answered, and nervously held the girl's horse still while she dismounted.
The girl smiled and thanked Willow, but the redhead just stood there uneasily, holding the reins and not wanting to touch the horse.
"My horse is harmless" the girl said, stroking its white forehead.
"I-I'm... scared of horses."
The blond girl laughed, but not cruelly, just surprised, and then did the strangest thing. She took the horse herself, like the lowliest servant. Willow dropped her mouth open and walked with her to the stables.
"How old are you?" the little blonde asked.
"Ten. What do you want to be when you grow up?"
"I want to be a knight" Willow said, grabbing her wood sword in her little hand and slashing the air.
"Well then, if you want to be a knight, you'd better get over that horse-fear."
"Yes, you're right. What do you want to be?"
Little Tara smiled mischievously and pulled Willow close, to whisper in her ear. "I want to be a witch."
Willow opened her mouth again, and tried to explain to this crazy girl that witches were still burnt at the stake, but the blonde's only answer was a more mysterious shrug.
"What's your name?"
"Tara. What's yours?"
"That's a beautiful name. Beautiful tree."
"Thanks, but yours too. Maybe someday I could show you the actual tree I got my name from. It's beside the bank of a lake, barely out of town."
"Great, yes, we should certainly go some time. Now my mother and I have to see Father Marc, so... goodbye, Willow."
The remembrance was bittersweet now. Her horse-fear was over, and she had managed to be the knight she dreamed to be. Yes, she was a woman, and yes, her hair was weird (red), but she had made it, and silenced every digressing voice against her. Even her father had finally consented it and given her an armor. Willow rolled her eyes and looked at Tara. Her blond hair had darkened slightly, but she still resembled that little girl. Deep inside she was still tender and kind, like her mother; Willow was sure, even if she too had changed.