The royal palace of Litefaray was like a dream. During the day, the sun’s rays gave the castle even more of a sense of grandeur. Tall, white turrets marked the corners of the well-built structure. A drawbridge lay over a moat that was filled with crystal clear water. Through the arched entrance, one could see a brick-paved courtyard with noble servants busily going about their duties.
The horse-drawn carriage carrying Tara and Willow stopped in front of the drawbridge. Before Willow could declare their location, the driver announced their arrival and opened the carriage door. Willow followed Tara out and then they both walked side-by-side through the entryway. A bald man in a white suit immediately greeted the witches.
"Welcome to the palace ladies," he said in a loud voice, "Follow me please."
Willow linked her arm around Tara’s as the doorman led them across the courtyard. They observed other servants dressed in brightly-colored clothing walking quickly in all directions. No one seemed to notice the three of them heading straight towards the back of the castle.
After moving through several corridors they reached the throne room where the king and the queen sat in silence. After hearing about the unfortunate incident at the entrance to Litefaray, the large man who had only recently begun to show signs of aging already looked as if he had lived for over 50 years. His companion didn’t seem to be any better; her crying added years to her appearance as well. The rulers looked up at Willow and Tara with grim faces.
"Are you the two witches from Sunnydale; the two who have agreed to bring our daughter home to us?" the king calmly asked.
Tara spoke first. "Y-yes, your majesty."
"We want to help rescue Annabelle," Willow added.
The queen cleared her throat before she spoke. "We are certain that it is the dark king who kidnapped our princess. He wants to take over the kingdom, and logically, holding her hostage would force us to sacrifice our territory in exchange for our daughter. However, no one here has ever proved that they could get past the evil that protects him. You two are our only hope since you are not from this land."
The king and queen then looked at Willow and Tara with pleading eyes. "Do you think you are prepared for the challenges that await you?" the king inquired.
Tara and Willow looked at each other, nodded, and together answered, "Yes."
The king and queen breathed a sigh of relief as they thanked the two women. "Now we will feast before your early start tomorrow," the queen announced.
With that declaration, the king and queen rose to their feet and gracefully made their way to the spacious dining room. Willow and Tara trailed behind them.
As they took their seats at the long wooden table decorated with colorful floral centerpieces and candelabras, waiters brought plates of food to the hungry group. Tara’s eyes widened as the sheer number of dishes surpassed any amount she had seen in one place.
"W-wow, there’s more food here than there ordinarily is at Thanksgiving or Christmas at Buffy’s house!" Tara whispered in amazement to her girlfriend. The moment Tara realized what she had said, Willow sighed and looked down.
"I’m sorry sweetie," Tara said sincerely, "I didn’t mean to bring up Buffy..."
Willow solemnly answered, "No, it’s okay. It’s good to remember the fun times."
Tara reached in front of her and lifted a small dish. She quickly tried to change the subject as she cheerfully asked, "Do you want to try some marmite with your bread?"
Willow’s expression slowly changed as she responded, "You know I only like the brand they sell at Ambermart back home, silly."
Tara giggled as she remembered their trip to the store. Some overzealous employees were giving out samples of marmite on top of white bread, declaring it to be the latest rage to come from England. She and Willow had decided to try a bite. While Tara couldn’t stand the taste, Willow had found it quite tasty.
"Oh, okay," Tara smiled as she withdrew her offering, "I wonder what other kinds of food there is to eat."
Tara’s question was answered as soon as she looked around on the table. There were plates of food from all of the basic food groups, and they each looked delectable. She sampled almost every dish with Willow until they both couldn’t eat another bite.
"Thank you for the delicious meal," Willow and Tara uttered graciously.
The king and queen smiled before Willow and Tara excused themselves from the table. Another man in a white suit was waiting at the door by the dining room to escort them to their room for the night.
From Willow and Tara’s point of view, the bedroom they were to stay in was at least twice as big as their room on campus. A crystal chandelier hung in the center of the ceiling, providing the room with scattered beams of light. To the right, a large bed with a canopy and translucent curtains occupied a significant portion of space. On the opposite side was a wooden dresser next to a couch and an antique desk with books.
When the two witches were alone, Willow gave Tara one of her signature wide grins. "I wonder what we should sleep in," Willow thought out loud with her eyebrows raised.
Tara hesitated for a second before answering, "Um, I think we better look for something to sleep in...maybe there’s something in that dresser over there." She walked over to the set of drawers and opened the one on top. Inside were two neatly folded matching nightgowns.
"Oh, here are some pajamas Willow," Tara spoke with both a sigh of relief and a hint of disappointment. She added, "I guess we should take turns taking a shower too; I’ll go first."
Willow nodded at Tara before she disappeared into the bathroom. While Tara got ready for bed, Willow sat down on the couch and idly skimmed a book from the desk. She couldn’t focus her attention on the contents of the pages in her hands, as being alone with Tara in a new place encouraged her mind to wander. The redhead found herself thinking about how lucky she was to have someone like Tara in her life. After Tara was mentally lost because of Glory, Willow had realized just how deep her feelings were for the blonde witch. As she took care of Tara every day, she cherished the occasional instances when Tara seemed to briefly come back to her, giving Willow just a little more hope that she would find her Tara again – that balance would return to her life. When Tara softly spoke Willow’s name after Willow had attempted to take Tara’s mind back from Glory, Willow knew that her girlfriend had returned to her. Ever since then, the two were inseparable as Tara helped Willow grieve over Buffy’s death.
Willow’s drifting thoughts dropped back down to reality when Tara emerged from the bathroom in a sleeveless blue nightgown accompanied by her characteristic half smile. She gasped at the sight before her eyes. "You look like a princess Tara," Willow sighed. She got up from the couch and gave Tara a kiss on the cheek before entering the bathroom herself.
Tara decided to sit on the bed and ponder over her surroundings. She pulled the thin curtain back and tied it with a rope before she found a comfy spot to rest on in the middle. Even though she was still a little nervous because of this new place, Tara was comforted by the fact that Willow was with her. When Tara was trapped in her mind after she refused to tell Glory the identity of The Key, Willow gave her strength and love as she cared for her. Even though Tara could rarely let Willow know that she understood what was going on and that she really did hear whatever Willow said to her, Willow constantly stayed by her side.
Tara became lost in her thoughts about Willow until Willow cleared her throat. Tara looked towards the bathroom door and grinned at the woman standing there. "Now who looks like a princess?" Tara asked rhetorically.
Willow smiled a goofy grin as she turned off the bathroom light and slowly made her way to the bed. Tara yawned, prompting Willow to do the same. "Those really are contagious," Willow joked as she sat on the edge of the mattress.
"I guess we should go to sleep then..." Tara said, her voice trailing off with the last couple of words.
Willow reluctantly agreed: "We do have a big day tomorrow." Then her eyes brightened up as she exclaimed, "but we have to have a snugglefest then!"
Tara happily sighed at her girlfriend’s enthusiasm while Willow climbed into bed and untied the rope, letting the curtain close behind her. Willow cuddled up against Tara, who was already lying on her back. In response, Tara wrapped her left arm around Willow, pulling her as close as possible without squishing her. Willow draped her right arm over Tara’s chest and rested her head on her lover’s shoulder so she could both feel and hear Tara’s heart beating; it gave her a sense of peace.
Tara gently broke the silence, "Do you really think that we can rescue Annabelle, Willow?"
Willow sleepily replied, "We can do anything together." Willow proceeded to comfort Tara by caressing the arm around her. Tara sighed once more before she kissed the head next to her and fell asleep.
Back to Chapter 2 :: On to Chapter 4