Summary: It's rutting season for the deer. Unfortunately, just sometimes, other
beings have a rutting time, too. That makes
it a special rut. Humans get
horny. Slayers get horny. And vampires get... well, read on. And there's other sorts of trouble at t'
mill for humans too. It's a dangerous
time, when these other beings want to start looking for partners... And what are all those teenage girls up to
in the wilds of Wessex? What about
Giles' girlfriend? Just who is
she? Can Angel and Buffy save the day,
before any real damage is done?
The barn owl
flew close enough to him that the pinions on its outstretched wing almost
brushed his cheek, but he sat so still that it never knew he was there. He watched it, ghosting silent and white
over the hillside, hunting for small mice and voles. It was late out - barn owls were more often seen at dusk - and he
thought it might be a youngster, hungry for food and territory. Like him.
Oh, he wasn't
a youngster, not by a long chalk, not unless you started counting from his
resurrection, but the rest was true enough.
Giles had offered him a refuge - much against the Watcher's better
judgement, he was sure - but it could only ever be a temporary arrangement, a
stopgap. This wasn't his home, his
territory. Like the owl, he would have
to find somewhere, but that wasn't here.
For one thing, Giles still couldn't stand the sight of him. He didn't show it in public, of course; he
was much too well bred to do that. But
whenever they were in the same room, Angel was almost knocked over by the scents
of disapproval and distaste.
And then there
were all the Slayers. He'd told Buffy
that he could look after himself, that they weren't a problem for him, but that
had been a downright lie. It was one of
the very few he had ever told her.
Slayers could sense a vampire, their mortal enemy, and vampires could
sure as hell sense a Slayer - at least, one as old as he most certainly could -
and the presence of all of them was rasping his nerves raw. It wasn't only the reaction between vampire
and slayers. They were teenage girls,
with rampant hormones. The demon within
was raging, twenty-four/seven.
there was the hunger, the sheer overwhelming craving for blood. It was every bit as bad as it had been when
he was newly risen. Over the centuries,
his blood requirement had decreased, even if his blood lust hadn't. Before... before he'd been dusted (and it
still hurt too much to remember that night), he'd needed comparatively little
blood. Now, he needed several pints a
night, far more than Giles provided. He
was too ashamed to say he needed more, all too well aware of the look of
disgust, however fleeting, that would mar the Watcher's features. So, he'd taken to making alternative
provision. He'd no idea why he needed
so much - whether it was a consequence of his return from death, or whether it
was some side effect of the presence of so many slayers. He just knew that he was hungry all the
time, and that he had an ever-present urge to sink his fangs into their necks
and suck down their powerful blood.
Worst of all,
though, was Buffy. Her nearness was driving
him to the edge, every primal sense urging him to reclaim her as his own. Every day was torment, and yet now, having
spent so much time with her, he couldn't imagine not seeing her each and every
chirred nearby. They weren't common
around here, and, summer visitors that they were, they wouldn't be around much
longer. Like him.
It was long
past time to move on. The fact that he
had nowhere to move to was irrelevant.
Like the last swallow, he'd outstayed his welcome here. He leaned a little further back against the
bole of the oak tree, burying his fingers in the cool turf. Over the last few weeks, he'd formed the
habit of coming out to these hills for some peace and solitude; to regain his
lost balance. Despite the need to leave
Westbury, despite all the very good reasons why he simply had to go, he knew
very well that in his present state of mind and body, long term aloneness might
be a very bad thing indeed.
The barn owl
came back, silently inspecting a new line of turf, watching for any tiny
unaware creature going about the nightly cycles of life. Like him.
The night was
young yet, but he'd have to go back to his flat soon. Buffy would be there by now, expecting to see him. Further up the hill, he heard the slight rustle
as a deer moved through the small copse of trees. Summer was fading into autumn, August about to give way to
September. Already the stags and bucks
were starting to bell. He heard them in
the pre-dawn, just as he was preparing for sleep. Most of the red deer in the West Country were on the moors,
Exmoor and Dartmoor, but there were odd scattered herds across Wessex, and
there were fallow and roe aplenty. He
knew where they all had their territories.
They had, after all, been feeding him for weeks, although he'd never
drunk them to death. Soon, the stags
and bucks would be in full rut, completely seized by the male imperatives to
establish territory, to stake their claim to females, and to mate. Like him.
It hadn't been
as bad as this at first - surprisingly, almost normal, in fact - but lately,
things had begun to change. He
wondered, not for the first time, if he'd come back... wrong. That was stupid. He'd always been wrong, but perhaps he was even wronger. He should go, before he did any more damage.
money. Not a lot, but enough. It had taken a while for his credentials to
be re-established at the bank that Angel Investigations had used, and when
Giles had realised this, he had given Angel an allowance for whatever he might
need. Pocket money. That had... stung. But now, he had access to his own funds, and there was no reason
to stay, and all those reasons to go. A
tiny movement stopped his train of thought, diverting him to something much
more primitive. The movement became
more confident, and a rabbit hopped out of the hole dug into the root area of
the oak. A glimpse of vampire speed, a
flash of fang, and the animal had not even had time to scream before it was
dead. Drained. Here in England, it was cooler than in
California. In Los Angeles his body, at
ambient temperature, had been almost normal body heat most of the time. Here, he was colder to the touch, and he
hated Buffy to feel him that way if her hand happened to brush against
him. He hadn't had time to hunt down a
deer tonight, and Giles' horses were definitely out of bounds, but even this
pitiful amount of hot, living blood would course through his veins, warming him
just a little. He hoped it would be
enough. He tore the carcass of the rabbit
into small pieces, and tossed it over the turf for the owl or some other
predator to find. Monster.
stood up to go, when he saw two cars draw up in a lay-by on the road at the
foot of the hill. Settling back against
the tree, he waited a little longer.
His patience was rewarded when four figures emerged around the bend in
the road, heading straight for the two stationary cars. He knew who they were instantly, without
needing to see their faces. Well, what
they were, at least, since he'd never been able to differentiate the individual
parts from the mass. Four of the
slayers were loose.
It was clear
from their behaviour that this wasn't the first time, and he wondered what they
were getting up to. Perhaps Buffy would
have to wait a little longer. He
stalked down towards the two Japanese-made 4x4s. There were two young men in each. Bad. This was going to be
built for speed, not long-distance stamina, and he lost them after about 5
miles. It seemed clear that they were
heading for Bath. Not the bright lights
of a capital city, to be sure, but a busy tourist city, where they could get
into a lot of trouble. He set off back
to Westbury, trying to remember that this couldn't be their first time
out. He'd be better prepared tomorrow.
Out in the
woodlands, moors and pastures, the deer were becoming restless. Many a tree carried fresh scars, witness to
the stags' frantic need to rid themselves of the velvet that had protected
their new antlers. Now, as the blood
supply dried up, and that soft skin started to *itch*, they set about the task
of turning those antlers into deadly weapons, rubbing off the protective
coating until it hung in tatters from the tines.
marked out their territories and gathered up their harems. Younger stags eyed up the competition and
then returned to the practice bouts of the bachelor groups. For now.
Buffy had been
waiting for him in his room, as he knew she would. She'd been shopping that afternoon, and had bought him a new
sweater. Dark red, the colour of old
blood. He thanked her gravely and took
off the black one he was wearing so that he could put on her gift, as the demon
whispered to him to sink his fangs into her throat, to let the blood run over
her golden body, to find the moment when it matched the colour of the
wool. He didn't miss the look of naked
need that painted her features when she thought that pulling the sweater over
his head had obscured his view.
They spent the
next couple of hours talking, and not talking, exchanging memories and
thoughts, yet giving away nothing at all.
Throughout the conversation he sat, calm, gentle, strong, *dependable*,
as he clung onto the tatters of his self-control, and thought the demon's
suddenly, aware of someone in his room.
It's never wise to wake the dead unexpectedly. His instinct was to leap, but whether that would have been
towards the intruder, or away, he didn't want to think. So, obedient to these years of living with a
family of humans, he remained still. It
was one of the slayers. He dredged
through his memories to try and recall which of that mass of noisy teenage
girlhood this one was.
closer to him. A vampire should never
let a slayer catch them lying down, and so, slowly and unhurriedly (never show
fear to a predator), he got out of the far side of the bed and reached for his
dressing gown. He gave silent thanks
that he was at least wearing the pyjama bottoms. He scrubbed his hands through his hair, and it took him a moment
to feel what time it was: less than an hour after dawn. No wonder he felt thick-headed and slow.
"What do you
her now. She was one of the older
teenagers. She was one of those who had
been out last night. She moved silently
around the end of the bed, and as she did so, she called back over her
shoulder, softly, ‘Vi. He's awake.'
slayer came in. Another one of those
from last night. He stood his ground
(never show fear...) as they both came nearer.
He could smell booze and cigarettes; and something he was damn sure was
a banned substance; and desire, which just now he fervently wished *were* a
banned substance. Whatever they'd been
doing, they'd just got back. At least
they weren't holding stakes, although he was afraid that they had something
almost equally disastrous in mind.
"I said, what
do you want?"
It was Elaine
"We want to
find out what Buffy sees in you."
but Elaine's smile was entirely that of a predator. He considered his options.
A smack down with two slayers, even if they were still under the
influence, in the flat previously occupied by Giles' mother's chauffeur, would
not sit well with the Watcher. He
wished he weren't just wearing pyjamas and a dressing gown, but things were
never perfect, were they? They were
once, the demon whispered.
over to them, and took Vi by the shoulders, turning her back round to face the
door. She was the more tipsy of the
two. She would be easier.
pushed, part carried her back towards the half-glazed door. A thick curtain hung in front of it, but its
eastward exposure was still going to be a problem. As he hesitated for a moment, Vi pressed backwards against him,
and then he felt Elaine pressing herself against his back, wrapping her arm
around him and running her hand up his chest.
vampire instinct, and an instinct for self-preservation all warred within him,
and he could feel his demon face trying to surface from the battleground. Then footsteps sounded on the wooden
staircase, and the door was thrown open.
imagine only too well the picture that was presented to her, and he closed his
eyes against the look of pain and anger on her face. He felt that he had to say something, anything, but only a single
word came out.
The word that he
made of her name was filled with the anguish and despair natural to a man so
out of his depth; a simple and heart-felt plea for help. Help me now. Now. When he
looked, the pain was gone, replaced by amusement. The barely-concealed anger remained, though.
"You two. Out.
"Why? You can't have him. Why shouldn't we?"
won. It took Buffy no time at all to
bustle the two of them outside. She
shut the door behind them, and turned back to him, her expression nonchalant.
"Looking for a
younger model, hm?"
She could have
kicked herself when she saw the hurt flash over his face. She hadn't meant it, she'd simply been
trying to lighten the moment, and so she gave him a quick, impulsive hug. That only made things worse. She jumped away as if his skin had scalded
her. She never knew how close he was at
that moment to losing his own control, but she knew very well how close she'd
come to losing hers.
"I... I've had
trouble sleeping much after dawn lately, and I saw them in the courtyard. When they came up here, I just
followed. I... I thought you might have a
problem with them."
She felt as if
her tongue had cleaved to the roof of her mouth. Just the sight of him, like this, and everything else fell
away. He nodded his thanks.
"I'll let you
get back to sleep, then..."
towards the door.
will you be needing the Mini tonight?"
Angel? You off on the razzle?"
smiled. "Not a chance. Just something I want to check out."
leave the keys in."
wanted her to stay, but settled for letting her go. Again.
When dusk made
it safe, he crossed the courtyard to the main house. Under Giles' watchful eye, he regularly helped in the training of
the slayers. It was one small way of
paying the Watcher back. No, not the
Watcher. He was so used to thinking of
Giles that way that it was hard to remember, sometimes, that the Watchers were
the atmosphere was charged. He and
Buffy demonstrated some Tai Chi techniques, but all the time, he was conscious
of the stares of all those slayers, and the aroma of teenage hormones. When it came time for the slayers to try the
movements out for themselves, he handed over to Buffy to correct them, and left
the house with almost unseemly haste.
After a quick shower and change, he headed for the Mini. The keys were, as promised, in the car. So was Buffy.
"So, Angel, we
going anywhere nice? I like this house,
but I expect England's got a lot more to offer. Something a bit livelier, maybe?"
He gritted his
teeth against the taunting of the demon as he eased into the driver's seat.
back and see to the girls. Please."
"No. Something's bugging you, and has been for a
silent, and the fear inside her grew.
No matter how long they'd been apart, no matter that death - and worse -
lay between them, they knew each other absolutely, without needing to know
anything at all. And she knew that he
was troubled. She almost held her
breath, waiting for an answer. She'd
been afraid for a few weeks now that Angel would one day disappear into the
night and never come back. Again.
He felt his
hands tighten around the steering wheel.
He'd fed before going to the training session, but he was hungry
again. He could hear her blood pounding
through her veins, and the aroma of blood and Buffy was clouding his
senses. It was too much, after the
close proximity of the slayers. He was
out of the car and out of sight before she could move.
Half an hour
later, a female roe deer, compliant and yielding - one would almost say
bewitched - provided him a meal of fresh, living blood. He had enough control not to take too much. He went back to the house - more slowly than
he had fled it - and found the car where he had left it. So was Buffy.
He sat back
down in the driver's seat. She didn't
look at him, just stared down at her hands instead.
"I thought... I
thought that perhaps, this time, if I stayed where I was, you might come and
find me again."
of that statement almost broke his heart.
If he had a heart to break, he reminded himself.
nothing has changed."
Just me, he
thought. I've changed. I'm becoming more of a monster. He tried to focus on tonight, now, and what
he had intended to do. Perhaps he
shouldn't do it alone. After this
morning's encounter with the girls, perhaps he *really* shouldn't do it alone.
can we not talk about this now? I'm
just having trouble... adjusting."
satisfy her. She would know that
feeling. She, too, had been dead. He saw the twitch of muscle as she almost
put out her small hand to cover his large one, but she didn't. He didn't say anymore, simply started the
car and took them off into the night.
himself thankfully into the old leather armchair in his study. It was worn and battered, the deep green
leather scuffed in places, and studded with tiny pinpricks where the cat had
kneaded the arm, but it was still supremely comfortable, and so he kept
it. Even when his mother had still been
alive, and living here, this had been his study. His father had been dead for years now, and there was little
trace left of him in this room of books, papers and arcane artefacts.
had all been packed off to bed, with the exception of Buffy who seemed,
unusually, to have taken the Mini and gone out, and now he had a little time to
himself. He opened up the evening
paper, the Bath Chronicle - this was the first opportunity he'd had today - and
steeled himself to search it for the increasingly frequent ‘weird and whacky
happenings', as the paper described them.
Many were just the normal silly season stories, but some were of concern
The front page
caught his eye. There was something
else that was becoming increasingly frequent.
Muggings, robberies and burglaries.
No one seriously hurt yet, and mainly low value items taken. The common opinion was that this was the
work of kids, but it just wasn't the sort of thing that happened in Bath. Still, that was a perfectly normal problem,
just the sort of thing a police force was employed for. He started to hunt for the things that he
was, well, not employed for, but that were his area of expertise. As he did so, he tried to forget that the
vampire in the ex-chauffeur's flat was out every night. No, he was being unfair. That really wasn't something Angel would
sink to. He was allowing his continuing
resentment of the vampire to cloud his judgement.
Or perhaps he
was just feeling rattled. He thought
there had been an unusual amount of interest shown by the slayers tonight when
Angel had demonstrated the Tai Chi movements.
They were always interested, of course.
He was a vampire, after all, but Giles had to concede that he was
unusually graceful and good-looking. Of
course they would be interested. They
were growing teenage girls, and perhaps that made it more imperative than ever
that he find some alternative accommodation for them. Or for Angel.
else had happened tonight, he was almost sure.
The vampire had left with something like indecent haste. Buffy had gone shortly afterwards, leaving
Giles to supervise the end of the session and pack the girls off to their
rooms. Hoshi, normally one of the more
retiring of the group, had hung behind a little. She had turned those large brown eyes on him, and started to
flirt. He might be a bumbling
librarian, but he thought he still recognised flirting when it hit him between
the eyes. The arch, come-hither looks, the sultry pout, the reluctance to
leave. Definitely flirting. More trouble, and he had no idea what to do
all gathered silently in the largest bedroom.
They knew Buffy was out, but they didn't want to attract attention from
Giles. Giles had kept the master
bedroom, although it was currently more like a master lumber-room, stacked with
his possessions, as he had moved things from other rooms to make way for
them. At first, it hadn't been too bad
- they'd had five bedrooms between eighteen of them, including the flat over
the garage. Then Buffy and Angel had
come, and Giles had given Buffy a room all to herself, albeit the smallest one,
and Angel had the coveted garage flat.
Then, a few weeks ago, Sadie had arrived. Now there were nineteen of them crammed into three rooms. They had devised their own way of easing the
accommodation squeeze. Summer vacation
just added to the fun.
drawing lots. Last night had been the
turn of Vi and Elaine, the ringleaders in this piece of mischief, and two of
the others. Tonight, the honours would
go to Laura, Sarah and - here, everyone groaned - Vi and Elaine again. A hurried phone call, and the four girls
were climbing out of the bedroom window onto the roof of the breakfast room
below, and then running across the grass down to the road. Game on.
nothing in the Chronicle to concern him, thank heavens. Giles reached for the glass of wine, and
enjoyed the heady flavour. Then he
reached for the telephone. He often
called Ella late at night. They didn't
necessarily talk for long, but he enjoyed hearing her voice, her gentle
laughter, listening to her calm good sense.
He'd seen a lot more of her before Angel came, but he remembered only
too well what had happened to Jenny. He
remembered well enough to still have nightmares about it, to walk into his
room, and still see her lying on his bed, even though it had been a different
bed, a different room, and a different continent. He knew he'd never forget.
this wasn't Angelus that he'd invited into his home. But he looked the same, and it was hard to keep reminding himself
of the difference. He was sure that
there had been no... relationship... between Buffy and Angel since they'd been
here. They both seemed too damaged to
be able to open themselves out to each other.
Perhaps too much stood between them for that ever to be a possibility
again. He could only hope that it was
so. And, because he was a decent man,
he hoped it for both their sakes. But,
the fear of what might happen if... that fear just gnawed at him every single
day. He couldn't risk Ella. Not like Jenny. And so he went to see her at her house, or very occasionally took
her to his flat in Bath. Most often,
now, though, he talked to her on the phone.
Her voice seemed to soothe all his cares away. He dialled the number, and she answered on the third ring.
finished, he almost forgot to ask the one piece of business he needed to check
"Oh, Ella, I
almost forgot. Have the Coven found any
love. Sadie is the last. It took us so long to find her because she's
only got some aspects of a slayer's power - Willow's spell must have just
started to work on her when we managed to stop it from propagating
further. We've found them all, we're
sure of that."
He breathed a
sigh of relief. There had been many
more potentials, of course, but the agents of The First had killed
hundreds. More had died in the final
battle in Sunnydale. A total of
nineteen teenage girls was more than enough, though. They were all older than Buffy had been when she was called - no
doubt a legacy of Buffy's exceptionally long run as the Slayer - and he really
didn't want any more. It was going to
be hard enough helping this many to make a life of their own on the battlefront
between humans and demonkind.
He said his
farewells to his girlfriend, then, and settled back to brood a little.
slayers and their four escorts tripped and giggled their way up the stairs of
the upmarket apartment block in Bath, struggling vainly to be silent. It's hard to be seriously stealthy when
you're seriously tipsy. Elaine dug into
her pocket and took out the spare set of keys she'd found. The keys to Giles flat. After several false starts, she managed to
get the door open, and they all tumbled in.
There was a
gentle ‘tink' of glassware, and then the boys were pouring the champagne they
had carried up the stairs with a great deal of exaggerated care. The four couples were on their second glass
each when the door opened once more, and another slayer walked in. The Slayer.
downstairs. You four, get in there now,
three in the backseat, none of you are driving. Boys, choose which car you want to get home in, and you'll be
driven back. You can pick up the other
car when you've sobered up. All of
you. Out. Now."
fidgeted, but the slayers held on to them, and glared at their senior.
"And what if
we just say no? There are all of us,
and just one of you. We'll come back to
Westbury when we're ready. You can't
make us go back if we don't want to!"
Elaine. Buffy looked thoughtful.
"Can't I? And who says I came alone?"
back to the door and opened it wide.
Angel, looking big, solid and very sober, leaned against the opposite
wall, arms folded over his chest, glowering at the teenagers.
"He... he can't
come in here. You can't invite
him. This is *Giles* flat!"
Vi. She'd always been mouthy, Buffy
remembered, even back in Sunnydale when they were fighting for their lives.
"You want to
bet I can't invite him in?"
In view of the
tangle of relationships between them, Buffy reflected, even Angel hadn't been
sure whether she could, and so they had adopted this strategy. It was so much more impressive than having
him bouncing off an invisible barrier, particularly to a bunch of drunken
know nearly enough about him, Vi. And
anyway, we didn't want to break up Giles' flat. You *are* coming out, though.
Or maybe you'd rather face Giles, or the police? Instead of just Angel and me, I mean. Tell them, Angel."
Angel held up
the fingers of one hand and started to tick them off.
"One. Great Pulteney Street. Pickpocketed a middle-aged man, taking one
brown leather wallet containing cash and credit cards.
"Two. Gay Street.
Breaking and entering. Bag full
of CD's and DVD's.
"Three. York Street. Fenced the credit cards, CD's and DVD's.
"Four. Half a dozen pubs and clubs, then onto
here. Need I say more? Oh, and Buffy? All the girls have been here."
He returned to
his silent position propping up the wall.
Buffy smiled admiringly, then looked back at the uncomfortable teens in
front of her.
like a ... Angel for snooping out what someone's up to." She'd almost forgotten the boys. She hoped they didn't know things they
shouldn't. "We've talked this over, him
and me, and we really, really hope that this crime wave that seems to have hit
Bath this summer is definitely going to stop.
Do you think we can rely on that?
From all of you, including those not here? Or do we have to take more... close up action?"
At her words,
Angel straightened himself up and loomed even more large in the doorway. The boys were completely out of their depth,
and the girls weren't drunk enough not to realise that they were in serious
trouble. The bluster turned to
"You have no
idea what it's like, all of us crammed up into those rooms, while you get a
room each. And we hardly ever get
out. And when we do, we've only got
pocket money to spend. We need a life!"
about to retort that she knew about all those things - she doubted that the
memory of those weeks spent with slayers squashed into every nook and cranny of
the house at Revello Drive would ever quite leave her - when her sense of
justice made its presence felt. The
girls were right. They had less of a
life than she had ever had. It wasn't
fair. What the girls had done wasn't
fair either, but the original problem needed to be recognised.
"I'll speak to
Giles and see if we can... arrange something.
OK? But I don't want you saying
you'd forgotten this little conversation, so I'm going to see all of you,
tomorrow. All of you."
That was how
she came to take them on a night run, under a huge and heavy summer moon,
almost at the full. Angel went with
them, at her request. She paused in a
newly mown hayfield, the fragrance of the drying grass warm and comforting
around her. The teenagers panted to a
halt - she'd run them long and hard, with Angel silently bringing up the rear. When they had been together, he had always
had her back. She wished that there
weren't so much keeping them apart, so much that prevented them even being
friends. Perhaps Spike had been right,
after all. Perhaps they never could be
friends. She wished more than she ever
had that somehow, things between them could be made right. It was that knife-sharp thought paring away
her rational mind, combined with the intoxicating scent of him, standing next
to her, that made her more acerbic than she had intended.
She made it
plain to the assembled girls just what she and Angel had found in Bath the
previous night. The revelations were
met by a stony, resentful silence. Her
temper snapped. Afterwards, she thought
it must have been that, or she would never have said what she did.
look! You want to spend your time in a
police cell, be my guest. You want to
carry on drinking, stealing, smoking some sh.. stuff or other, be my
guest. Angel will know. You'd be surprised what a vampire
pressure on her arm stopped her. Angel
was gripping her just above the wrist.
He moved to stand in front of her, face to face, and oh-so-close.
Buffy. Leave this to me."
She started to
protest, but he shushed her, bending down to whisper in her ear.
"No, not like
this. Go back to the house, and let me
handle it. Please."
His voice was
warm and reassuring, and his nearness seemed to be right, to be what she
needed, even though it stoked the fire in her blood. She took a few deep breaths, and saw how she had almost made a
very bad mistake. Angel could never be
seen as her sniffer dog. These girls
must have more respect for him than that.
"You listen to
him, or you'll listen to me."
Then she was
gone. The little knot of girls started
to break up. When he spoke, his voice
was harsh, so unlike his normal dark brown tone.
move. You're thinking you can take
me? Dream on. You're thinking that you're all so much stronger than me. After everything that's happened, you have
no idea at all how strong I am."
Well, he thought
wryly, that's the literal truth. And
neither do I. He hadn't tested himself
to destruction, yet. He had no idea
whether he had new limits. He just knew
that he felt different.
hand you over to the police. Neither
will Giles. She knows they aren't
equipped to deal with you. We are. If we find that any of you have been abusing
Giles' trust or acting like idiots, we are the ones who will deal with it. And I promise you, we'll punish you in a way
appropriate to silly schoolgirls, and you won't like it at all."
some embarrassed sniggers.
"If I find
you've been doing stuff you shouldn't, I won't rat you out to either of
them. I'll simply do what needs
doing. You know, it won't bother me at
all to beat you in a way appropriate to silly slayers. Some of you were in Sunnydale, so you know
the reality of life as a slayer. I hope
you've shared all that with those who've never seen that, who've been lucky
enough to come later. You know that
it's dark, and dangerous, and that you always have to put duty and
responsibility ahead of personal feelings.
Always. What you don't know is
how lonely it was for the only Slayer, carrying all that by herself. Now, there are more of you. You can help each other. You're important to humanity. You protect them from the things that normal
protectors can't. You aren't here to be
one of the dangers.
important, yes, but I'm not saying this just for you. I'm saying it for Buffy, and for Giles. He deserves more from you.
He's taken you into his care, to help you face a life that would get you
killed without the likes of him. Now
He paused, to
gauge the girls' reactions. There was
some embarrassed shuffling of feet, but he could still scent resentment.
"I know that
some things still suck. But, Buffy has
promised to talk to Giles, to help him work through some of the problems, and
she will. Now, if there are any more
keys to Giles' flat anywhere, I want them given to Buffy tonight. I'll leave you to reflect on that."
And he was
That was how,
while the girls were all out cooing over the two horses, Buffy came to be
talking to Giles the next morning about the need for the slayers to get a
life. Strangely, he seemed to take her
seriously. Strangely, too, a
middle-aged man found his wallet pushed through his front door, complete with
money and credit cards, a young couple woke up to find their CD and DVD
collection wrapped into a neat parcel behind the back door, and a certain fence
found that quite a lot of his stock had disappeared. Four sets of newly cut keys appeared in Buffy's room. Angel slept much better that day.
arrived at the teashop in Trowbridge, Hilda was already there. She'd ordered a pot of the house's special
blend of tea, and a selection of cakes.
It wasn't at all unusual for them to meet here, even considering the
matter they were about to discuss.
There were only a few customers scattered around the room, none in
earshot, and in any event, all that anyone would hear would be the homely
noises of the china and some meaningless small talk. Hilda would make sure of that.
A simple charm would do the trick.
Hilda's had too many difficulties attached.
The other members of the Coven were there, and the magic they were
working required all their concentration.
Hilda wanted to discuss with Ella the task she needed the younger witch
to perform. Here was as good as anywhere. The ground the shop stood on was good,
welcoming land, ready to bestow its blessing on schemes conceived on it. Schemes with a true heart, anyway.
She sat down
opposite the older woman, and to anyone outside the small bubble of the charm
they became no more than acquaintances talking of all sorts of mundane
matters. Inside, though...
"How is it
grimaced. The magic being worked by the
rest of the Coven was uncertain, demanding and difficult. And they were working in the dark.
"Until we find
out exactly what's wrong, it won't go at all."
Ella smiled at
Hilda's acid retort. The Coven had no
leader as such, but Hilda was the leader they didn't have. She had the largest heart of any witch Ella
had ever met, but you'd never know it from her forbidding countenance and
utterances. Hilda relented a little.
"We need you
to come back as soon as you've done this.
We cannot find the cause of the disturbances, nor can we predict what's
going to happen next, except that *something* will. And it's becoming clear that beings... powers... I don't know what...
are pushing at the boundaries of our dimension, and that is somehow linked to
the disturbances. It's all so...
hazy. We have to be able to see more
clearly. We need all thirteen of us."
"Tell me what
you want me to do."
did. It took Ella a few moments to
consider what had been said, and then she asked, a little faintly, for another
cup of tea. Hilda reached over and took
"You have to
manage Rupert in this. He won't like
it, but it has to be this way. You
understand, don't you?"
Ella did, indeed,
even told me that Angel is there.
Instead of inviting me around, he now takes me to Bath, or comes to my
She paused for
a moment, and Hilda refused to fill the silence, recognising that there was
something else troubling Ella.
you...do you think that he will ever get over Jenny?"
"No, Ella, I
don't, and nor should he. It was a
tragedy. But time softens
everything. The fact that he still
loves her and still regrets her death does not prevent him from loving
you. That is why he's keeping you away
from Angel. He loves you, and he wants
you to stay alive. This has to stop,
though. If Angel is to do the things he
needs to do, then we have to help remove the hurdles in his path."
comforted just a little, and then prepared to take her leave, to put Hilda's
plan in place.
where she was for just a few more minutes, tempted by the remaining tea and a
last Florentine. She watched Ella make
her way out of the shop, a striking figure with her Celt-red hair, her creamy
skin and her brilliant green eyes.
Ella's magic was strong, if she could just have the confidence to let it
go. Ella would, eventually, be the one
to replace her when... No, there was no
point thinking about that. There was
enough to think about now, with supernatural phenomena cropping up with
increasing strength and frequency, powered by something the Coven had so far
failed to positively identify; what's more, some unknown but alarmingly
powerful entity appeared to be pushing at the walls of this dimension, intent
on ripping through them, presumably to claim this mysterious power. Or possibly not. They really had little idea at the moment.
was part of the solution. How and why, Hilda
hadn't the faintest idea, just a few words of not-so-ancient prophecy. She reflected sourly that prophecies were
tricky things. They were living things,
too, adapting to changing circumstances, *evolving*, without altering a
word. Tricky. She was intent on making things rather less tricky, if she
could. That was why the Coven had held
on to both of Angel's spirits, soul and demon alike, when he was staked. That was why they had placed him, for
safekeeping and for renewal, in the only being that could achieve that. Connor.
Everything was connected, but those two more than most, whether they
liked it or not. And the Slayer was the
other half of the equation. That, too,
had to be dealt with. And it would be.
rose the next evening, he almost didn't go across to the house. He drank his meal, trying desperately not to
gulp it, but it was several long minutes before he could master the roaring in
his blood, and the flood of hormones and pheromones that threatened to bring
the demon out with a vengeance. It was
For the last
two nights, part of him had revelled in being out with Buffy, in being back in
action with her, in using his strengths to fix things for her. And part of him had wanted to fix a lot of
other things for her. Much darker
When he did go
across the courtyard, hunger assailed him the moment he opened the door and was
met by the many-hued aromas of teenaged slayers. Almost immediately, though, he was mercifully distracted by the
sound of a car coming up the drive. He
heard it long before Giles did, and it was Angel that opened the door for the
He didn't know
who she was, but he knew what she was.
Oh, she was a witch, he could tell that, but she was also Giles' girlfriend. He knew that from the trace of her scent
that Giles often brought back with him.
He never told Giles, though, because it was all too easy to imagine how
it might creep the man out, as Buffy would say.
He stood back
silently to let her in, wishing that he'd not come over, understanding
instinctively that Giles had deliberately kept her away because of him. She crossed the threshold, though, and
paused for a moment, surveying him, a red-headed beauty such as he'd seen
before in the Celtic nations. She
carried a self-assurance and an inner power that reminded him of Jenny, and he
almost cringed. Before he could,
though, she stuck out her hand and introduced herself.
"Hello. I'm Ella.
You must be Angel. Is Giles
was a moment or two before he could respond, and shake her hand with an
endearingly old-fashioned formality.
Before he could speak, the kitchen door opened, and Giles strode
through. His face darkened as he saw
who Ella was talking to, but he greeted both of them as cordially as he
could. Ella looked amused. There was silence for a few moments, as each
waited for one of the others to speak.
Angel was about to excuse himself - there was no mistaking the Watcher's
body language and, anyway, simple manners dictated that he make himself scarce
when someone came to visit Giles. Just
then, though, Buffy came downstairs and along the hall to the frozen little
tableau by the door. Once more, Ella
held out her hand.
"Buffy? I'm so pleased to meet you. I'm Ella."
turned to Giles.
so glad everyone's here. I've come to
talk to you all about a little job that needs doing."
Giles ushered everyone into the study, closing the door firmly behind him.
Ella was more
nervous than she looked. She'd bearded
Rupert in his den, forcing a meeting with his two visitors, and now she had a
difficult task to manipulate. She was
ushered to Rupert's own leather armchair, and Buffy was given a smaller chair,
which stood by the wall. One other
chair remained, which Angel left for Rupert, whilst he himself went to stand by
the wall, almost in the corner, apart from and a little behind the group. That would never do.
She made her
voice confidant, commanding. "I'm not going
to get a crick in my neck whenever I want to talk to you. Either fetch another chair in or come and
sit on the arm here."
Rupert's face harden and, from his position, Angel couldn't have missed it
either. For a moment, it almost seemed
that the two men locked antlers in some metaphysical way, testing each other's
strength. She held her breath. Bad time of year, she thought, well aware of
the march of the seasons. Rutting
time. Then the vampire gave way to the
man. Angel came over to the small
circle and sat down on the floor, between Buffy and Giles, his arms wrapped
around his upraised knees.
At least he's
in the circle, she thought; that's better than nothing.
of the folklore surrounding the chalk figures?"
Giles nodded, but Buffy looked mystified.
Ella started further back.
thousands of years there has been a tradition in England of cutting figures
into suitable hillsides. All around
here, and on towards the east, there are chalk downs. Take off a turf of grass on those downs, and the soil underneath
is pure white chalk. Remove a whole
pattern of turf, and you have a figure that can be seen for miles. Uffington has a White Horse; Wilmington has
a Long Man, and so on. There are
different traditions about what those figures represent, but for some of them,
similar beliefs have arisen over the centuries about the power those figures
"Three of them
in particular are said to be fertility figures. Women spend the night there to ensure their fertility. Couples go there to ensure conception. This has gone on for centuries, and now
something has changed, gone wrong if you like."
It was Giles
who responded, a little diffidently.
dealt with a lot of different things between us, but fertility problems are a
little... er... outside our sphere of expertise.
I would have expected it to be more your thing."
blushing now. She nodded reassuringly.
it really is. Mine, and all the other
witches. This isn't about fertility,
though. Or not entirely," she
amended. Honesty was an abiding fault
with her. "There have been incidents
recently. Visions, nightmares, girls
attacked, men dragged away from their girlfriends. And no one else in sight.
Fortunately, no one has been badly hurt yet. Frightened, yes, hurt, no.
But it's getting worse, and we know what it is. It's something definitely within your sphere
of expertise. You know about the Seely
and Unseely Courts?"
and Giles nodded, and Buffy looked puzzled.
This time it was Angel who explained.
have wars, just as much as humans do, and often for the same reasons. A very long time ago, the faeries warred
amongst each other, and it almost finished them. They lost too many of their number, too much of their power, to
resist the spread of humans through their territories. They ended up in two separate courts, with
different allegiances. There's the
Seely, or Good, Court, which is said to be headed by the Queen. Then there's the Unseely, or Wicked, Court,
headed by the King. Good and wicked
are, of course, relative in these things.
I think they're just different, not better or worse."
smile was soft, as she thought of all the tiny beings she had seen pictured in
her childrens' books. Ella reached out
to her, and put her hand over Buffy's.
"No! They aren't little flowery beings with
wings. These are serious beings, Buffy,
with a lot of power. And they have no
reason to feel well-disposed towards humanity.
You need to understand that."
frowned in concentration.
"So, what has
this to do with these chalk figure things?"
Courts come together," Ella replied.
"Faeries are long-lived. They
don't have many children, perhaps only one a century. But, when it's the right time for the King and Queen, everyone's
affected, and hormones run wild at both courts. There's a leakage between their world and ours. Now's the time." Rutting time.
There was a
brief instant when no one in the study was quite prepared to look at any one
else, and then it was Buffy who asked the question.
likely to happen? Everyone starts
feeling horny for a bit?"
"If that were
all, it wouldn't be a problem." Ella
threw a quick look at Angel, who couldn't meet her eyes. "Or, not much of a problem, anyway,
certainly nothing we couldn't deal with, and help others to handle, where
necessary." She continued to look
directly at Angel, and he knew that remark was directed at him.
She knew he
was affected. When she'd shaken his
hand - a greeting, yes, but a test, too - the power had been rolling off
him. His skin had almost scorched her,
in a supernatural sense. Buffy had been
affected, too, although not so much yet.
The King always came into season before the Queen... She assumed the other
slayers were starting to feel the heat, as well. It couldn't be allowed to run its course. Who knew what would survive at the end?
"There's a lot
more, to it. You will have heard of the
stories of changelings, where faeries are said to have stolen human babies and
left their own children in their place.
That's nonsense. Faerie children
are too rare and precious to abandon like that. The bachelors of the King's Court - and it's largely a bachelor
group - are all influenced by his need to mate. Many will go to the Queen's Court, where most of the female
faeries are, but some of them prefer to come here, and find human women, willing
or otherwise. The King does nothing to
stop them, and so there will be women in the human realm who will finish up
carrying half-faerie children some time next summer. Some may be left here, but others will be taken back to the
King's Court to raise those children and act as servants.
"At the same
time, some of the faeries from the Queen's Court will take a fancy to a human
male, and will tempt him away to father her child. He won't be seen again.
None of this can be allowed to happen."
"How do we
stop it?" Buffy's question was directed
to Giles, but it was Ella who answered.
to go to Court and bind the King and Queen to prevent this. They control their subjects. They have the power."
then. Tell me what preparations we
need, and you and I will do it tonight."
gently for her lover.
Giles. It isn't something that you and
I have the power to deal with. This is
something only Angel and Buffy can resolve.
They are already connected to those Courts, and that will make the
passage possible. Isn't that right?"
to expostulate, but Ella put her hand on his arm and shushed him.
sheepish, and said nothing, but she didn't need to. Her expression said it all.
Angel looked relieved.
"I... Yes, I
didn't know what it was, but I've been feeling... well, these last few weeks have
been, um, difficult. I've been thinking
that perhaps I came back... different, wrong.
Well, wronger, if you know what I mean?"
out and took his hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. This was not lost on Giles, but he held his
peace on that, at least.
may well have come back different, but you certainly haven't come back
wrong. Believe me."
expectantly at her, willing her to say more, but she wasn't drawn. Hilda was right. These two needed to find out whether everything that had come
between them had driven them too far apart for a reconciliation to ever be
possible. They needed to do that before
complicating matters any further, and they needed to do it by themselves.
his throat to break the moment.
"So, how does
this need to be done?"
Angel need to sleep together on one of the chalk figures."
study door, Vi and Elaine were straining to hear what was said. The slayers knew who Ella was, of course, and
they knew that she hadn't been here since Giles had brought the vampire and the
older Slayer back from Los Angeles. It
looked as though interesting things might be happening. But even with the sharper hearing that
slayers had, the door was still too sturdy, and all they could hear was
unintelligible mumbles. Until now. Now, there was uproar, with everyone talking
at once, sharp exclamations of denial and outrage. Very interesting. If only
they knew what had provoked it...
The tone was
peremptory, and Ella stood up, glowering at all concerned.
"I don't mean
*that* sort of sleep together! I mean
go and sleep, in the same place, on the figure!"
"No! I will not permit it. You don't understand the dangers, Ella..."
that Angel will lose control? After all
the time he's been here, with Buffy?"
Yes! The pressures, if things are as
you say... The magical effects... You and I should do this."
Rupert. We haven't the strength, and
anyway, this is the very reason why it *must* be them. We are human and couldn't withstand the
hormones. They already have done. Both of them."
raged on, with Buffy and Angel as unwilling observers. It was, as expected, Ella who won. It was Giles who had the last word, though.
well. But they won't go alone. They will take two of the slayers. Just to be certain."
have cursed, but she knew Giles well enough to know when he had found his
obstinate streak. And so it was
agreed. The pair, accompanied by two of
the slayers, would set off soon after sunset on the next night.
Giles got out
some of his books, and found pictures of the chalk figures. He showed Buffy the sweeping elegance of the
White Horse, and the mysterious stance of the Long Man. He had meant to leave it there, but she
turned over the page and uncovered the attributes of the Cerne Abbas
Giant. Relieved that the arguing was
over, she pointed to the club-wielding figure.
we're after hormones, that looks like a good one to try..."
scoffed. "That's a fake. It's generally
held that it was only cut in the eighteenth century, as a joke."
Ella shook her
head. "No, that's the one."
At Giles' look
of puzzlement, she continued, "It was cut in the eighteenth century, but what
the monks who did it never knew was that there was a much older figure there,
already. It was a different one, but
that doesn't matter. It's a place of
She pointed to
a small rectangular feature above the giant's head.
earthwork called The Trendle. In later
years, the town's Maypole was set up there, but before that, it was the site of
the autumn Wicker Man. It has
accumulated so much power that you will be able to access the Courts there."
Man! As if anything good could come
from the place where those were sacrificed.
There must be a better way, Ella!"
"Whoa! I need more explanations. I'm going into culture shock already - you
guys just have so much *stuff* over here..."
Ella smiled a
little at Buffy's despairing cry, and leafed through the book until she found a
picture. It was a huge, hollow, wicker
believed that they needed to make offerings to the gods, to celebrate the
changing seasons and to help the cycle of life, death and rebirth. Each autumn equinox, a figure like this was
filled with straw, and with offerings from the harvest, and sacrificed by
fire. The Wicker Man represents the
spirits of vegetation, the cycle of fertilization, growth, maturity, and death,
the cycle followed by all life on earth, no matter how long that might take.
The dried stalks of last year's growth are burned and returned to the soil to
prepare the way for new growth. Death is always linked to the emergence of new
life. Everything enters the fire and is transformed."
always straw and vegetables, was it Ella?
Sometimes it was animals.
Sometimes it was people. Tell
them about the spring Wicker Man."
Rupert. I promise. We would know."
back through the pages until she found a map, and she showed them, with the use
of Giles' ruler, how a ley line ran through the area; straight as an arrow, it
cut through the old abbey at Cerne Abbas, through The Trendle, and then on to
other earthworks, sites of old settlements, and ancient barrows. It didn't quite touch the Giant.
"The monks put
the Giant very slightly in the wrong place.
That's good for us. The King's
power would be too great, his hold over you too difficult to challenge, if you
were to summon him by sleeping on a figure that sits on a ley line. Yet you need the power to give you access. This is ideal. By following ancient tradition, and sleeping on the Giant, you
will attract the attention of the Courts.
You can get there through the power of The Trendle, and you can get back
through The Trendle, as well."
Angel had a
dreadful feeling of foreboding.
"What do you
mean, get there, and get back?"
creating a sort of portal."
really don't know..."
Her voice was
gentle again. She knew how Angel must
feel at the prospect of using a portal after what had happened only a few weeks
ago. Apart from the massive trauma of
the whole affair, he'd been so ill, both when he'd been bespelled, and again
when the spell had been removed.
quite the same - you won't need Mildred to make you portal sensitive
again. The faerie realms aren't in
different times, or different dimensions, simply in different perceptions."
"Yes. She's a bit strange, isn't she? Still, I suppose a life spent being called
Mildred might turn anyone's brain."
"Did she call
for him, frowning at the memory. "She
called him ‘creature'."
good. That's a positive endearment from
her. She calls me a brazen Irish hussy,
even though I've never been to Ireland, and neither have any of my family... She doesn't get out much any more. We look after her, but I'm afraid the
Meals-on-Wheels ladies will insist on taking her lunch every day. You should hear what she calls them! ‘Wheelèd Boudiccas', I heard once. She's got a good heart, though, and she's a
very powerful witch. She idolises
to show his gratitude for Ella's humorous recasting of what had been a strange
and humiliating experience.
"So, Buffy and
I go to sleep on the figure, and a portal, or similar, opens. How do we get out again?"
something in my car to help with that."
As she tugged
open the door, Vi and Elaine were revealed, guilt written all over their faces.
"Um, we were
just going to the kitchen... erm, glass of milk."
fled. No one followed. When Ella returned, she carried something
that everyone else was familiar with. A
can't abide iron, so they can't touch this.
You can use it to anchor the portal.
Sink it straight into the ley line."
Buffy eyed the
just, you know, do away with the Faerie Courts? If they can't abide iron, it would be simple..."
"No!" Ella was shocked. "No. All you need to do
is nudge things back into balance. To
kill the Courts? That would destroy the
balance that we work to maintain. There
would be wars for centuries to come, to fill that power vacuum."
understood. Buffy smiled at him, to
show that she, too understood. As the
new Slayer, she had had a very simple and uncomplicated view of things. Experience had taught her that things were
otherwise. She understood, well enough,
now. Sometimes, you kill what seems
evil, only to find that it was holding back a worse evil. No, things weren't always simple, nor were
they always what they seemed.
The moon was
full and heavy as it slipped down over the horizon, wrapped in the mists of
dawn. The bachelor herds were growing
restless as the season marched on. The
king stags were fresh just now, strong.
But the hinds were fresh, too, ready for mating. Close to Westbury, the cycle of the rut,
already heightened this year by the power of the King, had been further
exacerbated by the channelling of power by so many supernatural creatures in
one small space. Not only slayers and
vampires were affected. In one bachelor
herd, a particularly strong contender set out to make his challenge.
sharp brown bones, were stripped clean of velvet. His muscles bunched as he walked, his hoofs cutting sharply into
the grass. He was ready. Ahead of him, the king stag ushered his
harem a little further away from the likely field of conflict, and then he
roared his warning to the intruder, digging his antlers into the earth and
tossing grassy clods over his shoulder, as he would toss the upstart if he
didn't back down.
roared back, pawing the ground. Then
both males started to strut, each shadowing the other's movements, comparing
size and strength and offensive weapons.
They were a match. If one didn't
back down, there would be a battle.
The next night
found them on the way to Dorset. They
had Giles' car, to accommodate the four of them with more comfort. Angel was driving, with Buffy alongside him,
turning the map around and around to try and get her bearings. Vi and Elaine sat in the back, with the
blankets and picnic basket.
reached the Giant, after only getting lost twice at Buffy's confidant
direction, they started up the hillside.
For reasons familiar to men through the ages, Angel was left to carry
all the gear, while the girls skipped on ahead.
The moon was
full, riding heavily on the southern horizon.
It was impossible to properly appreciate the Giant from ground level,
even in a light that was almost as clear as day. By the time Angel arrived there, though, the younger slayers had
properly appreciated the figure's greatest attribute. He heard Elaine saying, ‘Wow!
Just look at that great big tonker!'
He smiled a little. Trust a
He left Buffy
to organise the gear, and walked up the hill a little further, to The
Trendle. It was just an unassuming
earthwork that hardly troubled the landscape at all, but he could feel
something. He rejoined the others, and
they sat for a little while, the girls eating sandwiches and drinking
cola. Angel tasted something quite
different in his mouth, but he tried not to think about that. He'd had two bags of blood before leaving,
but it wasn't enough to overcome the temptations in front of him. He had only his willpower to do that.
finished supper, he directed the girls to take their blankets to a spot down
between the Giant's feet and, not incidentally, further away from The
Trendle. He and Buffy spread their own
blankets where Ella had instructed, right on the tip of the Giant's most
notorious part. They were close
together, but not touching. Close, but
not too close. Apart, but not far
enough away. After a brief but lively
discussion, and a bit of half-hearted tugging, he kept possession of the sword,
and clung onto it like a drowning man does a spar.
He must have
fallen asleep, because now he was awake, and he was sure he hadn't been
before. He turned a little towards the
warm body next to him, and a surge of passion flared though him. Unable to resist, he put out his hand,
sliding it around her back and pulling her nearer to him. As she roused from sleep, she put out her
own arms and wrapped them around him.
He had yearned to feel that again for so long, to feel the warmth of her
embrace, and he leaned forward to kiss her.
Then, she was fully awake, and returning his kiss, the passion between
them wrapping them around with chains of steel. So long. It had been so
long. A tiny, despairing voice wailed
that it would be a damn sight longer if he kept this up. He tried to ignore it as he felt the heat of
her body warming him, and as he kissed his way down to her neck, where his mark
stood out like a brand. Almost, he let
his fangs down, ready to reclaim her once more, but that small, insistent voice
became louder, more urgent.
And then he
found the strength to let her go. He
pushed away from her, breathing hard to help him gain some greater measure of
control. Buffy put her hand to his
cheek and held it there, speaking softly: gentle, calming words. When he looked, he saw that Vi and Elaine
had moved up the hill and were crouched just below them. He shuddered a little at the predatory looks
on the faces of both younger slayers.
When he looked towards The Trendle, he saw that a pearly glow suffused
the air above the little earthwork.
Holding on to his composure - and the sword - with both hands, he stood
"Time to go -
looks like we have an invitation."
He strode up
the hill, followed by the three women.
Had any of them looked back, they would have seen four huddled shapes
sleeping uneasily on the Giant. The two
in the centre of the figure lay a careful distance apart. The sword, though, was gone.
He waited for
the three to catch up with him before going into the mist - he had heard of
faerie glamours, and it would be too easy to become separated.
"Stay close to
as he quartered the earthwork, feeling the flow of power. At last, he was sure. He raised the sword, which now had runes
glowing along the length of the blade, and plunged it down into the soft
chalk. He felt, as much as heard, the
grating sound as the sword was forced through a much harder, much older rock,
and then it was done. Beckoning to his
women he walked on into the mist.
Before he'd gone two steps, he was alone.
And then he
wasn't. The mist was gone, and the
landscape around was the same, yet not the same. He was in a valley, but the hillside in front of him carried a
figure of a man. It wasn't the Giant,
but it wasn't significantly different in all the important parts. Except, instead of carrying a club, it wore
antlers. It was autumn here; there were
many more trees, and each was coloured like a living flame. Somehow, Angel got the impression that it
had been autumn for a very long time.
A group of men
approached - well, they looked like men, at least, although their scent was
distinctly different. They said
nothing, but gestured for him to accompany them. He gave a quick glance over his shoulder, to reassure himself
that the sword hilt was still there, still visible, embedded firmly into a
large red sandstone rock, and he set off with these members of the bachelor
instantly that Angel was no longer with them.
She felt him go, somewhere deep inside.
Not gone, as such, just in the *other* place. It took the other two a few moments to notice his absence, and
then they were out of the mist. The
landscape around them was different to the one they had left. They were at the foot of a hill, in a broad
glade. They could just see that the
hillside above them carried the figure of a leaping white horse. It was the height of summer here, and it was
breathtakingly beautiful. Each tree was
perfect in its green garb, none of the greens exactly the same. Summer grasses, dotted with colour, waved in
the slight breeze. It was perfect.
You are in the
know where - or who - that thought had come from, but she knew it was true.
Then a group of girls, apparently no older than herself, dressed in gauzy
gowns, and with wreathes of flowers in their hair, came out of the trees to
greet them. They didn't speak, simply
smiled and gestured the slayers on.
Buffy looked over her shoulder, reassuring herself that the sword hilt
was still there, safely embedded in an outcropping of warm, pink granite, then
she nodded to the two younger girls, and they followed the faeries into the
neither of the stags had been intimidated by the other, and neither had backed
off. They ceased their parallel pacing,
and stood facing each other, about fifteen feet apart. Then, at some signal known only to the pair,
they lowered their heads and charged.
The antlers crashed together, then clacked as each manoeuvred, trying to
get a lock, to push the other back, or perhaps to twist the other's neck. It was a stalemate. They disengaged, and backed away. The signal came again, and they
charged. Once more, antlers crashed,
and the two stags grunted and heaved, muscles bunched, hooves scrabbling for
purchase, veins standing proud with the effort of pumping more blood. Once more, they broke apart, breathing in
ragged gasps, and then they lowered their heads for the next charge.
The hinds looked
on, quietly munching the late grass, waiting patiently to see whether there
would be a new lord for them this day.
It didn't take
long at all for Angel and his silent guides to reach their destination. Nestled under the hillside was a large rock
shelter, surrounded by a clearing beyond which were the trees they had just
travelled through, golds and oranges and reds, a tapestry of dying colour. Beneath the overhang, in the mouth of the
cave, a throne had been set up. It was
made of turves stacked into the shape of a huge chair, and hung with
deerskins. Close by was a fire, in a
stone hearth, and the remains of the last meal lay round about. Angel recognised the shape of them. They had once been human, or something like
it. Yes, he thought, the Wild
Hunt. He wondered if that was where he
might end up, hunted through this landscape by the King and his acolytes. No, he had power. Ella had said so. He just
had to find it and use it.
auburn-haired man emerged from the darkness of the cave, huge and muscled, his
skin gleaming reddish bronze in the light of the fire. He moved to sit on his throne, and as he did
so, Angel could have sworn that he saw a suggestion of antlers. He could also have sworn that the man's legs
bent differently to a human's, the joints rearranged, like a deer's. And then the moment was gone.
Why are you
question roared in his head; in his ears, though, the noise was the growling of
an aggressive vampire. Perhaps you hear
what is meaningful to you, he thought.
and your people are messing with my reality.
I want you and yours out!" Those
were the words he said, and that he heard in his head, but his ears told a
different story. They told of the
roaring of a stag.
The man leapt
to his feet, and strode forwards, until he stood within arm's length of
Angel. He stared intently at the
vampire, and once more, there seemed to be that hint of antlers, that bending
of the legs. Then he bellowed a
challenge, and started to strut across the clearing. He wore dark leather trousers, ragged and badly tanned, decorated
with tiny bunches of teeth and bones, but he was barefoot and
bare-chested. As he paced deliberately
across the grass, he held himself tall and proud, his muscles clearly
delineated in the bright moonlight.
Halfway across, he turned to stare at Angel, a challenge drawn through
every line of his deportment. Sighing,
Angel stripped off his sweater and shirt, his boots and socks and then, clad
only in trousers, he strode over to his opponent.
He was almost
overwhelmed by the mixed aromas of sweat and leather and cervine musk. His head felt heavier, and the rational part
of his being retreated a little.
Instinct was overriding, now. He
knew what to do. He'd watched the deer
many times. On a line almost within
arm's length of the King, and side by side, he began to pace.
When Buffy, Vi
and Elaine reached a clearing in that tapestried green wood, they were brought
to the Queen and her attendants. She
was the most beautiful being they had ever seen. Her auburn hair hung to her waist, woven with white daisies. She turned a brilliant smile on them, and
gestured to them to come forward.
Buffy, can someone so beautiful and kind be responsible for abducting women and
children? How can these people be a
threat to us? Ella must be wrong. The attendants brought plates for them,
beautifully carved wooden platters in all the shades of colour that wood can
manage. Others brought dishes filled
with milky white nuts, rich red berries, golden honeycomb. Just as Buffy was about to reach for a
handful of nuts, Elaine knocked her hand away.
hissed. "Don't you understand? Don't eat or drink anything here, or we
might never get back."
might have been contempt flashed over the Queen's features, gone as soon as it
had come. There was plenty of time
yet. She led the three a little way out
of the glade, to a small and limpid pool.
Yellow irises clustered obediently to one side, and ferns dipped their
fronds lovingly into the mirror-like water.
The Queen gestured to the girls to sit, as she took her own seat on a
tuffet of soft grasses. The sward round
the pool was dotted with little star-like flowers of yellow and blue and pink,
and they seemed to invite the girls to relax amongst them, to enjoy the heady
perfume, and to gaze into that mirror.
As they made themselves comfortable, the Queen's attendants stood nearby
with cups of crystal clear water. As
the sun wrapped them in its warmth, Buffy looked into the pool and saw Angel.
the battle raged on. Both stags were
lathered with foamy sweat, their breathing laboured, their flanks heaving with
effort. Blood ran from gashes in their
hides where razor sharp antler tips had slashed and scored.
And then blood
sprang from the challenger's nostrils.
In his efforts, he had burst a blood vessel deep in his lungs. He disengaged, beaten and unable to breathe. The king stag lowered his head again, and
gouged the desperate beast's flanks and ribs.
Blood flew from gaping wounds.
The challenger fled, bloody froth hanging in strings now from his
muzzle, and he stumbled with weakness as the king continued to punish him for
his temerity. He was strong, but he
would be lucky to survive.
the would-be usurper was well and truly beaten, the king stag roared his
victory to the fields and woods, and to all those challengers waiting to
confront him. Then he returned to sniff
at his harem, to determine whether any were ready yet to receive his
The pacing was
over. Neither had backed down. The King's courtiers formed a circle around
the combatants, knowing that the Queen and her ladies would already be
watching. The Queen always knew what
was happening in the King's realm.
Angel and the
King stood about ten feet apart. The
King lowered his head, followed an instant later by Angel, and then they
charged. As they reached out to grasp
each other, it was immediately clear that the King had an advantage. He was oiled. Angel's hands slithered over the oiled skin, but somehow he
managed to find purchase, and then the trial of strength began. As they both pushed against each other, feet
slipping on the turf, digging in against the tussocks of grass, the King
lowered his head again, and twisted a little.
There was a flash of what might have been antlers. Angel felt a fiery pain in his ribs, and saw
blood spill from a long and jagged gash.
It looked black in the moonlight.
He twisted his own head a little, and heard the click of bone above
him. Then he felt the pressure as the
King's antlers locked with his own, and the King tried to break his neck. Sinews in his shoulders and neck creaked as
he took up the strain. And then he
Buffy was on
her hands and knees, now, staring into the pool. She could see the sweat running down both bodies, the corded
tendons as their muscles heaved, and almost she thought she could see their
breath steaming in the night. She had
seen how Angel's hands slipped on the body of the King, but now there was no
such advantage. The King's hands
slipped on the blood that streamed from Angel's wounds. There were a lot of them. The King, too, had his share of gashes, but
nowhere near as many as Angel. This was
a form of combat that the King knew well.
Angel would have to learn quickly.
The two were
in almost mirror positions. Their hands
were locked around each other's upper arms; each had one foot firmly planted
under their centre of gravity, the knee bent almost double with the effort, and
the other foot planted well behind, that leg locked straight, almost on the
ground, pushing them forwards and preventing retreat. Their heads were bent down, almost pressing against the
other. For long moments, they seemed
barely to move, frozen in that tableau of total effort. Veins all over their bodies stood out,
pumping blood at maximum capacity. She
knew if she were to touch Angel, every muscle would be taut, clenched as hard
as steel, an alabaster statue.
And then they
would break, and circle, and at some secret signal, join combat again.
She offered up
a silent prayer as the younger slayers came to join her, fascinated by the
vision in the mirrored pool.
that he was outmatched in experience.
He wondered if he was outmatched in strength. Once more, the invisible antlers crashed as they charged at each
other, locking together as each sought for advantage. And then he called on his demon.
The darkness came roaring out, lion strong, and in an instant the King
was on his knees. Angel freed himself
from the ghostly tines and shifted their positioning. Then, he turned his head, just so, took the strain in the corded
muscles of his shoulders and neck, and he knew that the King was finished. Instinct screamed at him to turn a little
more. Just a little more pressure and
the King would die, his neck snapped.
There would be a new King in this land tonight. The women would be his, beyond doubt. The power was already his. This land would welcome a new lord. Just a little more...
The Queen was
leaning forward now, frowning slightly.
She had had this King for many, many years. The challenger was a good one, though. Different to them, but she could soon change that. She assessed what she saw, and found it
satisfactory. She sat back, waiting for
the final blow, for the snap of bone that would herald a change of
lordship. She was regretful, but
content to allow matters to take their destined course.
fists clenched into the turf, shredding innocent flowers, felt the roaring
triumph that suffused Angel's body. She
knew, somehow, that the Queen did, too.
She looked at the beautiful, smiling countenance, and screamed in
the sound of a woman scream, and that instant's hesitation allowed the King to
free himself from the locked antlers.
Vampires don't need antlers, though, especially when they are already in
demon face. As the stress of the torque
on his neck was released, Angel dropped his head, aiming unerringly for the
throbbing pulse in the King's throat.
Blood. That was the thing. Blood would seal his lordship of this land,
make him one with them, master of all...
Buffy saw what
was happening, saw triumph chase regret from the Queen's face, saw Elaine's
lips form a perfect ‘O' of horror as Angel prepared to drink the most potent substance
in this kingdom, one drop of which would keep him here forever.
Her cry rang
out across the woodland, across the fields, and across time and space and
perception, or whatever else it was that divided the Seely Court from the
The cry rang
through his ears, as it rang through his blood.
beloved voice stopped him, at the moment that his fangs pierced the vanquished
King's neck. His head whipped up and he
sniffed the air, searching for her. And
then rational thought returned, as the scents of sweat and musk and combat
receded to normal levels. He didn't
move, though. He turned back to the
King, and watched a tiny trickle of blood start to flow from the fang mark on
his neck, and remembered the stricture.
Never eat or drink anything offered by the faeries in their own
agree to my conditions if you want to live."
remained silent, wary.
"I could kill
you where you lie. I claim the
sovereignty of the victor, but I give back your lands and women. In return, you will ensure that none of your
people encroach on my lands or people.
Do you understand?"
what?" This could only hold if he
insisted on what he had won.
rang through the air, more ethereal this time.
They saw the
King yield to Angel, and they saw the concession wrung from him. The Queen leaped to her feet, hissing in
displeasure. Her King must yield to no
one. Buffy thought she saw something...
and then it was gone. She stood and
faced down the enraged faerie.
applies here. You'll keep your people
out of my world. Right?"
The Queen hissed
child. You think you can withstand
*me*? You are nothing. You are less than nothing, all of you. You're no better than fumbling
children. You will never leave here
alive, not you, not your own lord.
Buffy hit her,
full in the mouth. The Queen crumpled
in a heap, collapsing into a pile of rags and leather, all her finery
gone. So was her beauty, and the
creature that stared back at the Slayer, hatred darkening every lineament, was
a far cry from the woman that she had been.
This creature was lean and grey, with huge eyes and a mouthful of
fangs. And then it was gone, and the
Queen was back.
her by the throat and pulled her to her feet.
"Give me your
oath that you will keep your people from my world, or I *will* break your
image faded, flashing between the gorgeous human and the thin, grey
creature. Buffy had no doubt which was
real. Beneath all the glamour, she
could feel the scrawny neck between her hands.
"Yessss. Now get out of my realm. Your people will be safe until the next rut,
and then I make no promises."
"And how long
will that be?" She didn't want to have
to come and do this again next year.
century, in your time."
She let the
Queen go, then, and turned to Elaine and Vi.
"Come on. Let's get out of here."
They ran back
to the granite outcrop. The sword was
still there. She wrapped her fist
around it and waited. Within minutes,
she felt Angel's cool hand cover her own, pulling the sword back out, and then
they were back on the chalk hills of home, waking from a deep and troubled
dream. It wasn't until Angel moved that
he felt the fire in his ribs. As he
winced, Buffy reached over and tugged up his sweater and shirt. His sides were gashed and scored, and
bleeding freely. His neck and shoulders
were bruised and bloodied.
She led him
and the girls down the hill to the car, and there, together, they bound up his
wounds. Then they headed back to
Giles and Ella
were sharing the big green armchair, and a bottle of wine.
"Do you think
they're all right?"
across to stroke Rupert's cheek.
"You know, it
occurred to me that there might be another reason why you chose the Cerne Abbas
She eyed her
lover over the rim of her wine glass.
would that be?"
"I read that
Cerne comes from Cernunnos, the horned god of fertility. He's also the ruler of life and death. That might possibly be the aspect of the
King for which Angel could compete on equal terms, mystically. What do you think?"
smiled enigmatically. She bent over to
kiss him, just as they heard the gravel crunch beneath car tyres.
She stood up and
neatened her dress, patting her hair into some semblance of order. As the sky lightened in the east, the four
came into the study, tired, bloodied, but victorious. They had a lot to tell, but that would have to wait until hurts
had been tended, and breakfast supplied.
It was Giles who brought warm blood for Angel, and pooh-poohed the
vampire's reluctance to drink, and then they went back to the study to hear the
full story. The six of them sat in a
rough circle, Buffy's hand resting lightly on Angel's shoulder, as if she were
afraid to lose contact with him. Giles
frowned a little, but said nothing, as he started to write down the account in
his thick, leather-bound journal.
on how pleased Hilda would be, as she settled back to listen.
Angel had just
risen and showered when Buffy brought over a new stock of blood for his
refrigerator. He took the package from
her, careful not to touch her (no unnecessary touching; back to the rules again)
and started to unpack the bags. He
hoped he was the only one still caught in the mystic toils of a rut that had
about six weeks to run. Humans might
feel a bit hornier for a while, but at least they were safe.
king of the faeries now, huh?"
He gave a
small snort of laughter, enjoying the amusement in her voice.
"No. There'll be a new king before this rut is
over, I think."
silent, and he looked away from what he was doing, saw the thoughtful
expression on her face. Still crouched
on the floor in front of the fridge, he folded his arms along the worktop and
rested his chin on his wrists.
Queen will never settle for a King that's been bested. She wants a victorious champion. Also, he knows he's been beaten, and so do
those who might have been thinking of challenging him. He's going to spend all this season
fighting. When he gets too tired, one
of them will kill him and take his place.
That's the way they've always lived."
furrowed as she thought this over.
mean we'll have to do this again, when there's a new King?"
"No. You dealt with the Queen, didn't you?"
want to go through that again. She'll
keep the King in line. Besides, even
the challengers will know I beat the Old King.
They'll remember the fight.
They'll weigh up how hard it was for them to win, and they'll remember
how I won. I'm guessing they'll decide
they won't want to chance having to face up to me. They'll keep the agreement, at least until the next rut."
back to the fight. In the end, after
he'd let the demon go, he'd won very easily indeed. He was stronger now.
Hamilton's blood, still? Who
finished unpacking the fresh supplies, they talked for a little while, of
nothing and everything, as they sat a careful distance apart, and he thought
the demon's thoughts, savouring in his mind the remembered scents of sweat and
musk and combat. And blood.
The Chalk Figures
indeed sleep on the ancient chalk figures to see the people they will marry, or
to ensure fertility. Sleep, that is, in every sense of the word.
The White Horse of Uffington
This is the
oldest of the existing chalk figures, at around 3,000 years old. It
probably represents the Celtic horse goddess Epona, known to represent
fertility, healing and death. Similar horses feature in Celtic jewellery
and Iron Age coins, and there is evidence of horse worship in the Iron Age.
The Long Man of Wilmington
This is a
figure of a man standing between two straight lines, possibly poles, or perhaps
he is standing in a gateway. Dating the figure is difficult, but again,
an Iron Age date of sometime before the arrival of the Romans is preferred.
The Cerne Abbas Giant
likely to have been cut in the 17th or 18th century,
although there is a story that is was cut by the monks at Cerne Abbey, as a
joke on an Abbott who was apparently expelled for being a bit of a lad.
This is a
small enclosure just above the Giant, and was the place where the town Maypole
was set up each year. There is no evidence that it ever housed a wicker
Caesar, in ‘The Gallic Wars' reported that the Druids used huge wicker figures,
into which they fastened all manner of animals as well as people, and offered
them as a burnt sacrifice. He did not offer this as an eye witness
Seely and Unseely Courts (also Seelie and Unseelie)
The world of
the faeries is, indeed, said to be divided between these two courts, just as I
have described it.
Horned One" is a Celtic god of fertility, life, animals, wealth, and the
underworld. Cernunnos is depicted with the antlers of a stag. He is
born at the winter solstice, marries the great goddess at Beltane, and dies at
the summer solstice. He alternates with the goddess of the moon in ruling over
life and death, continuing the cycle of death, rebirth and reincarnation.
Paleolithic cave paintings found in France that depict a stag standing upright
or a man dressed in stag costume seem to indicate that Cernunnos' origins date
to those times.
5. Off on the razzle : this phrase seems not
to be used in some versions of English. It means off on a spree, or a night on
the town, chasing hot women (or men) and generally having extravagant and
glamorous entertainment. Just like it sounds, really.