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Crossover Fic: The Witch's Promise Chapter Four

For the first time since April 28th I’m posting fic – for various reasons, mainly to do with Real Life, my writing has slowed right down this year. Sorry. Here is the fourth chapter of my BtVS/Conan crossover The Witch’s Promise. Willow, trying to bring back Tara from death in ‘Seeing Red’/‘Villains’, is offered the chance to divert her to the Hyborian Age instead of to the realms of the dead. She accepts – but now Tara is stranded in a far-off, and long ago, alternate past.

Crossover between ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and the ‘Conan’ stories of Robert E. Howard. Rating R. This is the chapter where the femslash really gets going. 6,750 words.

The Witch’s Promise

Chapter Four

“We will find no better site to camp for tonight than this,” Roshan declared, “and, though it wants yet an hour ‘til sunset, I say we should stop here rather than pressing on.”

The grassy clearing certainly appeared to be an ideal place to spend the night. An outcrop of rock sheltered it at one side and trees screened the other sides. A stream emerged from the rock and ran along one side of the glade, expanded into a little pool, and then disappeared into the woods. The clearing wouldn’t get much sunshine, except perhaps at high noon, but that wasn’t a disadvantage in an evening campsite.

“It looks almost too good to be true,” Tara said.

“Indeed, for such an inviting spot to be deserted could mean that it is the abode of savage beasts or demons,” Roshan said, “but such is not the case. I camped here before, on my way to Aquilonia, and I will show you how I knew it was safe. Come.” She swung down from her horse, Tara followed suit, and Roshan led Tara to the pool. “See,” Roshan said, pointing at the mud at the water’s edge. “Otter spoor. They are harmless creatures, too small to be a threat to us, but they would not stay here if there was a nearby lair of wolves, or bears, or something worse. And their presence means that humans must come here rarely or they would trap the otters for their fur. We may sleep in safety.”

Tara felt a momentary revulsion at the thought of killing otters for their fur, cute and harmless creatures as they were, but forced herself to put aside her emotions and think rationally. In this age, with no artificial fabrics or central heating, fur would be a vital source of warm clothing. The practicalities of life in this environment left no room for sentimentality about animals. Except, perhaps, for dogs, cats, and – as illustrated by the obvious affection Roshan displayed toward her mare Forouzan – horses.

“I left the otters alone,” Roshan went on, “for I have little skill at skinning beasts and their pelts would have lost most of their value if I had taken them. Better to leave them alone, to serve as sentries who would give warning by their absence if this place was no longer safe, than to kill them for profit. Also,” Roshan said, her lips curling in a warm smile, “they are friendly and playful creatures, like unto innocent children in many ways, and it would be a shameful deed to slay them except in dire need.”

Tara smiled back. To hear the fierce warrior maiden displaying a softer side gave her a warm feeling inside. Roshan was not only competent, and attractive, but was a nice person too. The kind of person who… Tara forced aside the thought that had popped into her mind and made herself think about Willow instead.

“Once we have seen to the horses,” Roshan said, “perhaps you would teach me some of your fighting skills? There is time yet before the sun sets and this grass,” she waved a hand in a gesture encompassing the glade, “will make for a soft landing if you knock me down.”

“It’s much more likely that you’ll knock me down,” Tara said. “I’m really not very good.”

“You are too modest,” Roshan said. She looked down at the ground and a pout came to her lips. “We must tether the horses at the edge of the clearing at first,” she said, “or the landings could be too soft for comfort.”

Tara frowned. “I… don’t understand what you mean,” she admitted. “Too soft for comfort?”

Roshan grinned. “I don’t know about you,” she said, “but I would prefer not to land in horse manure.”

- - - - -

Tara clambered to her feet and brushed grass from her jeans. “You’re learning fast,” she said.

“The credit is yours,” Roshan said. “You are a good teacher.”

“Well, you know what they say,” Tara said, shrugging. “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”

“That does not make sense,” Roshan said. “How could one teach something that one could not do?”

“Uh, they could know what has to be done but not have the co-ordination to actually do it,” Tara said. “That’s me, pretty much. But you’ve got any amount of co-ordination.”

“I was a dancer before I took up the sword,” Roshan said. “I have trained to be nimble since I was a child.”

“You’ll need to keep practicing those moves, now,” Tara said. “They have to become part of your, uh, muscle memory. That’s the part I could never manage.”

“Yet you managed when it was needed,” Roshan said. “Yes, I will practice. Also I see how some of those moves could be applied to fighting with a sword. Step, and turn, and guide the opponent’s blade past my body instead of trying to pit my strength against that of a man twice my weight. And it will bring his flank into a position where it is perfectly placed for the thrust of a dagger in my left hand. I will try that out some other time, however, for it grows too dark for us to continue now. It is time to light the fire, and eat, and then to bed. In the morning we shall ride on. We should reach Khorshemish before dusk tomorrow, Ishtar willing, and then once again we can sleep in a proper bed.”

And the elephant in the room was back, tossing its huge head and waving its trunk, and it was… pink. A great big gay elephant. It was getting harder and harder to ignore. Once they were back in a double bed, with only a bolster between… Xena Warrior Princess, with the Xena/Gabrielle subtext made explicitly text… and Tara, she’d have to deal once again with the temptation to throw the pillow out of the bed and… Tara resolutely sought for something else to keep her mind occupied.

Her gaze fell on the horses, her as-yet-nameless bay and Roshan’s buckskin mare Forouzan, tethered at the far side of the clearing. They were standing close together, much closer than the length of the tethers made necessary, and as Tara watched she saw Forouzan lift her head and nuzzle at the other mare’s neck. They certainly seemed to have become close friends… or, Tara found herself thinking, could horses be lesbians?

- - - - -

“I’ve decided on a name for my horse,” Tara said. “I’ll call her ‘Binky’.” Breakfast had consisted of hard black bread, cheese, and an apple; she had eaten only half of the apple and now presented the remainder to the horse on the palm of her hand. The newly-christened Binky seized upon it with alacrity and munched contentedly.

Roshan tilted her head to one side, frowned slightly, and shifted her glance between Tara and the horse. “That is not a name I know,” she said. “What does it mean?”

“It, uh, doesn’t really mean anything,” Tara answered, “or, if it does, I don’t know the meaning. It’s just a name. Sometimes children in my world call their favorite toy animal, or even a comfort blanket, ‘Binky’.”

Roshan’s eyebrows rose. “It seems… undignified,” she said. “She may not be trained for war, unlike my Forouzan, but she is no mere plaything.”

“It’s also the name of Death’s horse in some of the tales of my world,” Tara expanded.

“Oh?” Roshan’s frown turned into a wide grin. “You have magical powers, and some skill in fighting, but you are a long way from being the incarnation of Death. Also, Tara, you are much too… nice.”

“Uh, thanks,” Tara said. “Actually the Death in those stories is… well, ‘nice’ isn’t quite the right word, but he’s not a bad guy. He just does his job as best he can. He… sort of likes people. Sometimes he tries to act like a person but doesn’t quite get it right. He adopted a girl once, and she married his apprentice, and now he has a granddaughter called Susan. She sometimes does The Duty for him, when he’s taking a vacation or standing in for the Hogfather or something, and, well, she’s not all that much like me but at least she’s a girl.” Her mention of Susan Sto Helit sparked an idea, something that might be useful later, and she fell silent and examined the idea in detail.

Roshan spoke again but Tara, lost in thought, missed most of what she said and only vaguely gathered that Roshan was still criticizing the choice of name. “Uh, well, I tried to think of the names of famous horses from my world, like Seabiscuit, and Bucephalus, and, uh, Shadowfax, but the only ones that came to mind were all stallions,” Tara said. “The original Binky is a stallion too, and he’s white and my horse is a bay, but Binky sounds like a girly name and doesn’t mean anything to do with color. And at least there won’t be any other horses around these parts called Binky.”

“I suppose not,” Roshan conceded. “Very well, then, call her Binky if you must.”

“I will,” Tara said, and then moved on to the idea that had just struck her. “I’ve thought of a spell that could help us get to King Conan, maybe make it a little less dangerous, if you’re still set on rescuing him.”

“My intentions have not changed,” Roshan said. “A spell? That is good to hear. Will you summon an elemental of the Earth to break open the walls of the dungeon?”

“Uh, nothing that powerful,” Tara said. “I was thinking more of a spell that would make people take no notice of us.” She saw Roshan’s forehead creasing in apparent puzzlement and elaborated. “We could walk past the guards and they wouldn’t, uh, challenge us or anything.”

“Ah,” said Roshan, breaking into a beaming smile. “That would be useful indeed. My thoughts had been of evading the guards, moving only when their patrols took them away from our path, but I feared that this might be impossible. My intent was to reconnoiter first and only go through with the rescue if I deemed that it was within our capabilities. I am not as rash as I may have seemed to you, Tara, and I would not press on if I judged that we would be doomed to failure.”

“That’s a relief,” Tara said. “You had me kind of worried. I had pictured you trying to fight your way in, swinging on chandeliers and that sort of thing, and I didn’t think it was going to work.”

“No, I am not so foolhardy,” Roshan said, with a grin. “I take risks, true, but only when I cannot find another way. It is my belief that the guard will be light, despite the value of the captive, with the army being away attacking Aquilonia. The lucky chance that sent us to the battle in time to witness Conan’s capture means that we will be in Khorshemish long before they could expect any rescue. I think there may well be weaknesses we can exploit. Your spell will make that much easier. And I will be careful.”

“Careful is good,” said Tara. She pushed away the muzzle of the horse now known as Binky, who was nuzzling into her cleavage in a fruitless search for more apples, and began to saddle the horse ready for the next leg of their journey.

“Indeed so,” Roshan agreed. “And, speaking of being careful, there is something of which I must warn you. Once we reach Khorshemish I advise you to leave the talking to me. Many of the citizens understand Aquilonian, it is true, but as an apparent native of a nation with which Koth is at war you’d be treated with suspicion. That wouldn’t be a good idea in the circumstances.”

“Probably not in any circumstances,” Tara agreed. “I couldn’t keep the notice-me-not spell going all the time and we could hardly rescue King Conan if we were arrested.”

“Quite so,” said Roshan. “Therefore we should try to blend in. I will buy clothes in the local style once we arrive.” A smile bordering on a smirk flickered on her lips for a moment, an expression that Tara read as meaning ‘I know something you don’t’, but it was quickly replaced by a sober frown. “With your coloring you could easily pass as a Brythunian,” Roshan went on, “and Koth has no quarrel with Brythunia. Well, apart from them taking Brythunian girls as slaves, I suppose, but everybody does that.”

“Slaves?” Tara froze rigid in the middle of removing Binky’s saddle. “That’s horrible!” The distraction caused her to lose her grip on the saddle and it almost landed on her foot.

Roshan shrugged. “To be a slave must be horrible, and I would not own slaves myself, but it is the way things are,” she said.

“Then they shouldn’t be,” Tara said. She retrieved the saddle, set it on Binky’s back, and began to fasten the girths.

“There are some countries in which there are no slaves, or very few,” Roshan said, “such as my own land of Yarmouk, and in Nemedia there is a law that serfs who live within the city of Numalia for one year are set free. That does not, of course, apply to slaves taken as prisoners in war.”

“There are no slaves where I come from,” Tara said. “There used to be but a hundred and fifty years ago there was a great war to set them free. The anti-slavery side won.”

“That will not happen here,” Roshan said. “The rich need their slaves, for they will not do their own menial tasks, and they have the power.”

“If they’re rich they can pay their workers a wage,” Tara said. “It works much better that way. Really. We found that out in my world. Slavery isn’t just cruel, and degrading for both the slaves and their owners, it’s inefficient too.”

“It is not me you have to convince,” Roshan said, “and speaking along those lines in public could be dangerous. They would say you were trying to incite a slave revolt and you would be killed. However speaking to King Conan, if we are successful in rescuing him, may well prove fruitful. I think he could be persuaded to introduce a law similar to the Nemedian one I mentioned, but more widely applicable, if you put your case well. There are fewer slaves in Aquilonia than in most other Western kingdoms and Conan has no love for slavery. He is a wild Cimmerian barbarian and his people value freedom highly.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Tara said, and then something in Roshan’s last words struck her and she froze in the middle of fastening Binky’s girth straps. The implications of the king’s name hadn’t really registered on her before, as there were Conans in Irish mythology and of course there was the TV show host Conan O’Brien, but put it together with ‘barbarian’ and it rang an unmistakable bell. Her eyes widened. “Wait a minute. Did you just say he’s Conan the Barbarian?”

- - - - -

Willow sat at one of the tables in the Magic Box and glowered at the screen of her laptop. Anya, behind the counter, glowered at Willow. Xander avoided both their gazes and devoted his attention to an X-Men comic. Buffy chewed on her lower lip as she flipped through a reference tome. Dawn sat with her head lowered, motionless except when she turned pages, totally absorbed in her reading; Buffy had been suspicious at first, suspecting that Dawn had gotten hold of something like a demonic Kama Sutra, but a glance over Dawn’s shoulder had revealed that the book was a manual of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu with scorch marks around the edges of the pages; Spike’s, no doubt, retrieved from the wreckage of his crypt. It wasn’t relevant to the matter at hand, and Buffy wasn’t thrilled about her sister studying combat, but it was relatively harmless and at least it was keeping Dawn quiet and out of everyone else’s hair.

“This is getting me nowhere,” Willow complained. “I gave up on the demon books, and tried Googling the things the Keeper said to me, but all I found were things about Conan the Barbarian.”

Xander laid his comic down and raised his eyes to Willow for the first time in an hour. “Uh, Will,” he said, “why is that getting nowhere? Maybe it’s the answer.”

Willow clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. “How could a stupid movie be the answer?”

“I don’t mean the movie,” Xander said. “Why can’t Tara be in Hyboria?”

“Because it’s not a real place,” Willow replied, rolling her eyes.

“How do you know it’s not real?” Xander asked. “The guy who wrote the original Conan stories said that he sometimes thought that he wasn’t making it up. It was more like he was listening to this barbarian guy telling his life story and he was just writing it down. Suppose that’s exactly what it was? Like, Robert E. Howard had a kind of mental link to the, uh, Hyborian dimension.”

Willow’s forehead creased deeply. “But the movies are just dumb,” she protested. “There couldn’t be such a place.”

“The first movie’s not that bad,” Xander said, “but the books are much better. They make a lot more sense. Like, Conan was never a slave in the original stories. That would be dumb. How would he have picked up all those barbarian skills pushing a millstone around for years?”

“Books?” Anya enquired, scornful disbelief evident in her tone. “Are you claiming that you actually read books, Xander?”

“Well, yeah,” Xander said. “I started with the comic books, of course. The Savage Sword of Conan. Writing by Roy Thomas, artwork by John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala, it was a total classic of the Bronze Age.”

“Bronze Age?” Dawn set aside her martial arts book and stared at Xander. “They had comic books before twelve hundred BC? In, what, hieroglyphics and cuneiform?”

Now it was Xander’s turn to roll his eyes. “The Bronze Age of Comics. From the Seventies until about eighty-six. From Conan to Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. Of course that was before my time, so I had to pick up second-hand copies, and I couldn’t always get the ones I wanted. So I hunted out the book versions of Conan. And, hey, they were even better than the comic books. At least the ones actually written by Howard were. Some of the knock-offs were just total crap.”

“Huh? So Conan the Barbarian is real?” Buffy said. “That’s crazy talk.”

“No, wait, Buffy, it makes sense,” Willow said. “It could be in another dimension. The Keeper of Darkness said he was sending Tara to the Age of High Adventure and that’s what the little wizard guy calls it in the voice-over at the beginning of the movie. And the Keeper said Olaf had prospered there and, hey, he’d fit right in with Conan.”

“Yeah, with the quaffing ale by the barrel and the smiting people with hammers,” Xander said. He glanced across the table to an empty chair and his forehead creased. “This is where Deadboy Junior would make with a smart-ass comment, if he was here,” he remarked. “I hate the guy, yeah, but the place doesn’t seem the same without him.”

“It sure doesn’t,” said Dawn. “Why did he have to go to Africa anyway?”

“That’s exactly what Giles wants to know,” Buffy said, “although I’ve no clue why Giles thinks it’s important.”

“It’s not important,” Willow said sharply. “What matters is working out where Tara is and then finding out how to get her back.” Her brow furrowed. “Hmm. If we have a location maybe Fred could help. I’ll give her a call later.”

“Fred?” Buffy queried.

“She works for Angel,” Willow explained. “I met her when I went to tell Angel you were… dead. She knows about dimensional travel.”

“That sounds cool,” Xander said.

“It’s not so cool when you get stuck in a demon dimension, and made into a slave, like Fred was,” Willow said. “And I’m worried about something similar happening to Tara. It must be horrible for her in a dimension of muscle-bound barbarians swinging battle-axes.”

“Yeah, Tara’s not exactly Valeria, or Bêlit of the Black Coast,” Xander agreed. “She’ll be totally out of place.”

“Goddess!” Willow exclaimed, sitting up very straight in her chair. “Tara might have to go around in a chain-mail bikini!”

- - - - -

The women Tara had seen in Aquilonia had dressed in a vaguely medieval manner that wouldn’t have been out of place at a Renaissance Fair or an event of the SCA. The basic layout was an ankle-length woolen dress or smock, drab for the poor and embroidered for the rich, sometimes with a secondary knee-length dress or tunic worn over the main one. She’d noticed a few women clad in a more comfortable and attractive style, a looser and more flowing gown of cotton or silk topped by an embroidered corset like the one Tara now wore, but those dresses were just as long as the woolen ones. Koth was another country and they did things differently there. Now Tara could see the reason for Roshan’s smirk when she’d said that they’d have to dress like the locals while in Koth.

Kothian skirts must have been very easy to make. Start with a two-inch wide strip of cloth and make it into a belt. Take a dish-towel of matching material and stitch it, by the narrow side, to the front so that it hung down to just short of the knees. Stitch another dish-towel to the back. Voilà! A Kothian skirt. The wearer’s legs were exposed almost all the way up to the hip-bone, the sides of her bum-cheeks showed, and when she walked she’d keep revealing glimpses of her inner thighs. There was an ankle-length variant – Tara deduced, from the quality of the cloth and the amount of jewelry visible on the wearers, that it was favored by the upper classes – but the two strips weren’t any wider and still gave just as many flashes of thigh as the short version. The only underwear you could wear with such skirts, without it showing at the sides, would be something like a thong. Tara hoped that was what they wore but had a horrible feeling that they might be going Commando.

Above the waist things weren’t much more modest; they wore just a single strip of cloth around the upper body, at breast level, fastened by a knot at the back to form a band resembling a strapless bra. Tara had seen pictures of somewhat similar garments in Roman mosaics but in Ancient Rome they hadn’t been everyday outerwear. The cloth bands, which were fairly narrow, didn’t seem to offer much in the way of support and not a great deal of concealment either. Obviously whoever had designed the national costume of Kothian women had started with a mission statement of ‘Let’s see how much skin we can put on display’.

It wasn’t only teenage girls and young women who wore such skimpy outfits; mothers with children, old ladies, and little girls all dressed in more or less the same style. Some of the older women, and those with large busts, wore a broader breast-band as a minor concession to practicality over fashion; conversely a few of the prettier girls had tied their cloths in a second knot between the breasts, or passed the cloth through a metal ring at that point, to give extra emphasis and a touch of cleavage. All the women had bare midriffs and in several of the exposed navels Tara saw the glint of jewels.

It was warmer here than it had been a couple of hundred miles north in Aquilonia, approximately equivalent to late summer in California, but the difference in the climate wasn’t significant enough to fully explain the difference in the style of dress. It had to be cultural.

And, of course, the scanty clothing was exclusively for the women. The city guards were clad in thigh-length hauberks of leather covered with overlapping steel scales, with cloaks hanging from their shoulders, and most of the civilian men wore baggy hip-length tunics over tight hose; very little male skin was on view. Not that Tara had any aesthetic objections, as she’d rather look at women than men any day, but it did seem very sexist and unfair.

“It’s easier to buy clothes here than in Aquilonia,” Roshan said, the smirk reappearing on her face, “as they’re a lot… simpler. We wear much the same styles back home in Yarmouk and I already own suitable outfits. I didn’t change into one before we arrived because breeches are more comfortable for riding.”

‘And because you wanted to surprise me,’ Tara thought, but all she said aloud was “It’s a shame your clothes wouldn’t fit me. That would have been even easier.”

“I don’t think we’re much different in build,” Roshan said, “but I’m taller by perhaps three or four inches.”

“And I’m bigger in the, uh, bust, although that probably wouldn’t make much difference, thinking about it, the way those clothes seem to work,” Tara said. “I could do with more clothes anyway, I guess, so we’d better buy some.”

Roshan nodded. “Indeed so. First we shall stable the horses and then find a clothing vendor. After that we shall go to the public baths, which I think will still be open, and we can change our clothes there before seeking out an inn.”

A bath sounded heavenly, although the ‘public’ aspect of it was slightly disconcerting, but Tara didn’t voice her qualms. She kept silent while Roshan was dealing with business at the stable, as Roshan had advised her, but the rationale behind that advice turned out to be erroneous. Once they had left, and were walking toward a shop Roshan knew, Tara raised the matter.

“Roshan,” she said, “you told me I wouldn’t be able to understand the language here. Well, I do. I’m hearing it as another of the languages of my world, one I learned at college, and I understood every word. And I can read the writing on the signs.”

“You speak Kothian?” Roshan queried, in that language.

“I do,” Tara confirmed, also switching languages. To her ear they were now speaking Italian, which she’d done as part of a Language minor, and the magic seemed to have upgraded Tara’s fairly basic grasp of the language into total fluency. “I’d call it something else, back home, but I guess it’s Kothian here.”

“That will make things much easier,” Roshan said. “I wonder… do you speak any other of our tongues?”

Tara thought for a moment. “Probably,” she said, “if the magic has worked the way I think it must have done. Let’s see.” She switched to French, which she had spoken rather better than Italian back in California, and tried a couple of phrases.

“Ophirean,” Roshan said. “I speak that too and it may well be very useful. I wonder…” She spoke a few words that were totally incomprehensible to Tara.

“Sorry, I didn’t get that at all,” Tara said.

“That is a shame,” Roshan said. “I spoke in Shemitish, the other tongue of Yarmouk and the one I speak with my family, and it would have been pleasing if you had understood. Is that all of your languages?”

Tara tried Spanish, in which she had been quite fluent, next.

“Zingaran,” Roshan declared, “and I would say that you speak it better than I do. Any others?”

“One more,” Tara said, and quoted from a song lyric in Scots Gaelic.

Roshan frowned. “That is not a language I speak,” she said, “but I think I recognize the sounds as being Brythunian. If I am right then the impersonation I have suggested will be even more convincing.”

“That could be kind of useful,” Tara said. “Uh, what’s Brythunia like?”

“It is a country of farmers and hunters,” Roshan answered. “The men are dour and stupid, it is said, but the women are beautiful and spirited. They do not follow Ishtar or Mitra there but, instead, worship the nature goddess Wiccana.”

Tara’s eyes widened. “So do I,” she said. “That’s… neat. And what do Brythunian women do when they’re out of their own country? Besides being slaves, that is?”

“Mostly they work as weavers, for their skill at that art is widely famed,” Roshan replied.

Tara smiled. “That’s good,” she said. “I can use a hand loom. I wouldn’t say I’m exactly skilled, it’s something we only do as a pastime in my world these days and I’m way out of practice, but I could talk the talk. Right, as far as the people here are concerned, I’m a Brythunian weaver.”

“Indeed so,” Roshan said. “Tara even sounds, at least to my ear, like a Brythunian name. This is an auspicious start to our stay.” They had reached the shop, or rather market stall, by this time but Roshan paused before approaching the merchant. “I had planned to teach you one phrase of Kothian, which could well have proved useful in this city,” she said, “but it seems that now it will be unnecessary.”

“Oh? What was that phrase?” Tara asked.

Roshan grinned widely. “It was ‘Please take your hand off my knee, I prefer females’.”

- - - - -

The public baths were segregated and there was no question of Tara having to use that deterrent request. At least not with that specific wording; Tara was the object of attentions from a curvaceous Kothian woman of early middle age, apparently a lesbian cougar, almost to the extent of having to use ‘Please take your hand off my knee, I prefer males’ to discourage her. Eventually Tara’s lack of response, together with a series of glowers from Roshan fierce enough to have intimidated the other kind of cougar, caused the woman to give up and go away.

“I don’t get it,” Tara remarked, once she and Roshan had left the bath and were drying themselves in private. “Why was she trying for me? I mean, I didn’t think it was so very obvious that I… like women. And, well, you’re a lot, uh, more attractive than I am.”

“You underestimate yourself, Tara,” Roshan said. “You are beautiful and, in this land of dark-haired people, your fair hair is an exotic novelty. I expected that you would be the object of male attention. That you caught the eye of a woman is not really more surprising. In this country they are more open-minded about such things. They do not believe that to be attracted to members of your own sex automatically makes you a witch.”

Tara found herself wondering if Roshan had, on her previous visits to Khorshemish, ever shared a bed with any of the local girls. She put the thought aside; it was none of her business. It wasn’t even as if they were dating. They’d just been thrown together by circumstances and found that they liked each other. As friends, platonic friends, that’s all. And maybe if she told herself that enough times she’d actually believe it.

She finished drying herself and examined the clothes Roshan had bought for her. There were undergarments, after all; abbreviated panties that did indeed closely resemble a modern thong but, as elastic was unknown in this world, they fastened with laces. Tara knew a bit about the history of clothing and the thong seemed rather anachronistic. She guessed that the Kothian costume had evolved from something like an Apache breechclout, a single strip of cloth looped twice through a belt, a system that formed its own built-in loincloth-style underwear. Over time this had been slimmed down in the crotch area, for comfort and ease of movement, and then it had occurred to someone that the center piece needed washing more often than the front and back sections. Making the middle into a separate garment would have been a logical development.

Now that Tara wasn’t faced with the prospect of having to go Commando, or to wear her slightly grubby panties and have the sides of them visible between the front and back skirt strips, she felt a little better about wearing a costume that would make her look like a cross between a harem girl and a Sunset Boulevard hooker. And at least everyone else would be wearing pretty much the same thing.

As was Roshan, now, as she had dressed while Tara had been scrutinizing her new clothes and theorizing about their evolution. Roshan’s Kothian outfit, green with an embroidered decorative pattern in red, suited her very well. She, as Tara might have expected, followed the practice of threading her breast-band through a copper ring at the center to make her bust more prominent. The outline of her nipples was clearly visible through the fabric.

Naked, Roshan had looked altogether too good for Tara’s peace of mind; dressed in Kothian style she still looked good, but now Tara could look at her without feeling pangs of guilt and disloyalty. Although why should she have those feelings anyway? Willow was thousands of miles and thousands of years away, they might never see each other again, and Roshan was right here. Maybe…

“Do you need any help with your clothes?” Roshan asked.

Tara realized that she was staring at Roshan, blinked, and looked away. “No, I can manage,” she said. “I was just thinking about… things.” She began to dress; the simple and scanty nature of the attire meant that it wasn’t exactly a laborious task. After donning thong and skirt she paused before putting on the top. Should she wear her bra under it? The bra, like the panties she’d been wearing, was a little grubby after continuous wear and being washed only in a stream without soap. She decided against wearing the bra, wrapped the strip of cloth around herself, and began to tie the ends together at the front.

“I too have been thinking,” Roshan said. “I have learned much that may prove useful.”

Tara raised her eyebrows. “In the bath?” She rotated the cloth band until the knot was at the back, checked how it felt, and then turned it around again and re-tied it slightly tighter.

“While you were occupied in fending off the attentions of that… lecherous woman,” Roshan explained, “I was listening to the gossip. I heard that King Conan was brought into the city at noon today, in chains, and paraded through the streets.”

“A triumph,” said Tara.

“Indeed so, for the glory of King Strabonus,” Roshan said, “and his treacherous ally Amalrus of Ophir. And, above all, for the glory of the wizard Tsotha-lanti, who is the puppet-master pulling their strings.”

“The power behind the throne, we call it,” Tara said.

“A good name,” Roshan said, nodding her head. “They are staying only one night in the city, I gather, and on the morrow they will set off to rejoin their army for the conquest of southern Aquilonia. And that,” she said, a gleeful smile coming to her lips, “will give us our chance to rescue Conan.”

- - - - -

“And so we have to rescue Angel. Uh, and Cordelia too, I guess.” Willow completed her account of her telephone conversation with Fred in Los Angeles, folded her arms, and stared at the other Scoobies.

“Well, I’m all in favor of rescuing Angel,” Buffy said, “but I don’t see what we can do that the guys in LA can’t. It’s their turf, they know the ground and have all the contacts, and if they can’t find him I don’t know that we’ll be able to do any better.”

“Are you sure this guy Fred can bring Tara back?” Xander asked. He didn’t openly say ‘Well, I’m not in favor of rescuing Angel’ but his expression said it for him. Buffy gave him a medium-intensity Death Glare and then turned back to Willow.

“Fred’s a girl, Xander,” Willow said. “I told you about her, remember? Winifred Burkle. She’s a genius scientist. She was trapped in another dimension for years, until Angel rescued her, and she’s been studying dimensional travel since she got back. She’s the closest thing to an expert we’re going to find. Only she’s all tied up in searching for Angel.” She heaved a sigh. “Why is everything so complicated? I just want Tara back but it’s like we have to keep jumping through hoops first. Giles was supposed to be helping me but he’s gone jetting off to Uganda instead. Fred says she can’t help me until we get Angel back.”

“We’ll help you all we can,” Xander said, “except for the part where we don’t have a clue what else we can do.”

“You worked out that Tara is in the Age of Conan,” Willow said, “and that was a big help. But, yeah, I don’t think there’s much you can do for the next step.”

“About the only thing I can think of, when it comes to finding Angel, is to beat up demons and ask them questions,” Buffy said, “so that’s what I’ll do. If Spike was here maybe he would have a way of tracking Angel down… but he isn’t. Giles might bring him back from Africa, I guess, but not any time soon. A few days at least.”

“I’ll see what I can find out,” Anya said. “I have a few contacts through the magic trade. I can’t ask D’Hoffryn for any help, though, not unless it’s part of a vengeance wish. I don’t suppose any of you…?” She was met with silence. “No, I didn’t think so.”

“It’s all taking way too much time,” Willow moaned. “And Tara’s stuck in that awful age of barbarians! She must be suffering dreadfully.”

- - - - -

Twinges of pain flickered in Tara’s legs as her muscles, still somewhat strained by unaccustomed horseback riding, protested against the stretching. Then, as Roshan rolled her hips and ground her clit against Tara’s, she forgot all about the pain. There wasn’t anything in her whole world other than sheer, sensual, pleasure.

When Tara had made the decision to do without the separating pillow down the middle of the bed she’d known she was giving Roshan the go-ahead to make sexual advances. She just hadn’t guessed how effective those advances would be. Tara definitely had wanted kisses and cuddles, and was quite prepared to go further if the initial stages went well, but she hadn’t expected to get what she could only describe as the fucking of her life.

The kissing and embracing had soon become passionate. Roshan had worked her way down Tara’s body and between her legs. Her lips and tongue had melted any resistance Tara might have been inclined to offer and then she’d demonstrated something Tara had never even imagined; using the bridge of her nose against Tara’s clit. Nasal sex? It was strange but oh so good. Then they had swapped around and Tara reciprocated with a technique of long, slow, licks that had Roshan squirming in her turn.

Now Tara lay flat on her back, her left leg up against Roshan’s shoulder and her right stretched out wide, with Roshan between them giving a master-class in the use of the Dominant Scissors position. It was all Tara could do, as their pussy lips slid against each other, to keep from dissolving into a helpless puddle of ecstatic goo and retain enough control to reach up to Roshan’s breasts and reciprocate her caresses.

Roshan accelerated her pace, rolling and thrusting her hips faster and faster, and Tara found herself being swept away on the tide of her approaching orgasm. She matched Roshan’s rhythm, out of sheer instinct than conscious intention, and stretched out her hand to touch their clits with the tips of her fingers. That additional pressure tipped them both over the edge. Roshan threw her head back, cried out Tara’s name, and then dropped forward to lie atop Tara. They sought out each other’s lips and kissed deeply, tongues twining together, as they shuddered and jerked in ecstatic release.

And then it was over, and they lay together in a tangle of legs and arms, twitching with occasional post-orgasmic after-shocks, exchanging slow languorous kisses as they gradually slipped into blissful sleep. Maybe in the morning there might be guilt but, right now, there was only contentment.

Continued in PART FIVE

Tags: conan, fic, the witch's promise
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