“What? Look how happy it is.”
“You must take it back.”
“It’s purring and everything.”
“I have a system, elf.”
The two women gazed down at the milling cats.
Nine black, one white, and one…
“Isn’t she gorgeous?” Lalwen smiled, and Berúthiel ground her teeth against the treacherous flutter of her heart at the sight.
“That is not the point.”
Lalwen turned her bright eyes on the queen, and Berúthiel felt rather proud of herself for not taking a step forward. “It is a gift, fair one.”
Berúthiel pulled the filmy material of her shawl around her shoulders. “I did not ask for a gift.”
“Nay, you ask for tribute. And that is what I bring, dear one, on return from every one of my trips away from you…”
“You presume too much familiarity, elf.”
Lalwen put her head on one side, and her golden braid slid over her shoulder. Berúthiel watched, mesmerized, at how it fell over the curve of Lalwen’s breast.
“Too familiar, my queen?” murmured Lalwen, drawing closer. “My deepest apologies. I see now I may have been presumptuous in the past as well. Was I too familiar in your bed, that night I made you weep with pleasure? Was I too familiar when I whispered your name between your legs until you pressed forward on my tongue, gushing forth, wet and hot, and I drank you down, every drop? Was I overly familiar when I settled athwart your hips and rode you to completion, you hot and wild beneath me? Did I presume too much to wake with your head cradled on my breast each morning, your arms around me, your lips pressed to my throat?” She reached out and gently brushed a lock of dark hair from the queen’s eyes.
Berúthiel realized her lips were parted when Lalwen slid a finger along them. Lalwen sighed, casting her gaze down. “Forgive me, your majesty. I see now that I have overstepped indeed. Not least with my latest gift.” She stepped away, and Berúthiel swayed forward, catching her breath at the loss of Lalwen’s touch, at the sudden distance between them.
Lalwen knelt, scooping up the calico cat, and rose. “I shall take my leave, o queen,” she said softly. “And take my unwanted gift with me.”
“Wait,” said Berúthiel, and internally cursed herself. “You may…leave it. My cats may be good spies, but they are terrible mousers. If this one proves herself on that front, she may stay.”
Lalwen smiled, and Berúthiel's heart sped up. “And the other miscreant, unwanted gift?” she asked softly.
“That too can remain,” said Berúthiel, with an effort to maintain her composure as Lalwen caught her up in her arms. “Presumptuous witch that she is.”
Lalwen laughed and kissed her, and Berúthiel sighed under her lips. “And to think they call me the sorceress…”
At their feet, the calico purred, and so did Lalwen.