Summary: I’m told that this involves a mystery to
solve, love and a hint of sex, terror and murder, compassion and grief. Oh, and several star-crossed lovers, and
masks, and monsters. There you are, then.
himself into the comforting embrace of a brown leather wing chair with a sigh
of relief. Negotiating the yards of
distance between the dining room and the coffee room had been a major
challenge, successfully achieved. Nick
Hunt lowered himself gingerly into an adjacent chair. A discreetly attentive steward brought cups, milk, cream and a
selection of sugar crystals, all on a silver tray. As he arranged these things on the low walnut table, the two men
sat in companionable silence, waiting for the room to stop spinning.
companions were slowly trickling into the room, settling down in small
knots. Experience showed that,
gradually, these smaller groups would once more coalesce into the more rowdy
gathering that had just broken up, but for now The Sophists were getting their
Six times a
year, they met here, at The Reform Club, for a particularly epicurean
dinner. Tonight had featured a
well-hung baron of beef, crisp and brown on the outside, still scarlet with
juices on the inside. The wine had
flowed, and the conversation had been stimulating, and all in all Giles was
pleased that he had renewed his bonds with this group of men. The wine had been particularly memorable,
and some part of him knew that it would be even more memorable in the morning
but, just now, the rest of him didn’t care.
He was singularly well fed and comfortable, and in good company. Let that be enough for now.
returned with a silver coffee pot and poured for them. Nick indicated that he should leave the pot,
and the man then silently ghosted away to attend to the needs of the new
arrivals. Giles looked around at the
Victorian grandeur of the room. Charles
Barry had been unsparing with marble and rich wood when he had designed the
Club, and this room was as monumental as any of the others. He racked his memory to recall whether it
was from this particular room that Jules Verne had launched his hero Phileas
Fogg, and his manservant Passepartout, on that eighty-day journey around the
that the Reform Club had been a good starting point for that fictional
odyssey. When it was first built, it
had been the gathering point for radical MPs, particularly those of a Liberal
persuasion, but the decline of that party had left the Reform open to a new mix
of members, and the gap had been filled by those of a more literary bent. Giles reflected that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
had warmed his shoes in front of this fire, perhaps sitting alongside Hilaire
Belloc and HG Wells. Strange, he
thought, what the mind remembers, at times like this. Or not so strange.
Membership of the Club wasn’t exactly hereditary, but his father had
warmed his shoes here, as well, and his father before him. Giles had merely followed in their
He’d kept up
his membership even during his years in America and the difficult first months
back home, and although he’d made use of the Reform’s bedrooms on occasion,
when staying overnight in London, he’d not been to a meeting of the Sophists
since he’d taken up his Watcher’s duties with Buffy. There were fewer of them now than when he’d last dined, no more
than a dozen. Still, they were all good
fellows, and all useful men to know.
He looked at
the man beside him. Nick. He’d known Nick since school and then
Oxford, and they’d always got on well.
They’d drifted apart when he’d started to run with the wrong crowd… When he’d got into dark magic and Eyghon… Then, in his final year at Oxford, Nick had
brought the crowd together again, in the Sophists. They’d met half a dozen times a year ever since.
forward for his coffee cup, and Nick stirred.
“Do you know,
some woman rang me the other day and asked about joining the Sapphists?”
Giles gave a
crack of laughter, almost spilling the coffee.
“I told her we
were the Sophists, and if she didn’t understand that, to look it up, it would
be funnier than she thought. Don’t know
where she got my number from.”
He juggled his
own cup onto his knee.
“It’s good to
have you back, Rupert.”
Nick was one
of the few people to call him Rupert.
“It’s good to
There was an
infinitesimal pause before Nick spoke again, a small thing that carried a
disproportionate amount of weight, like a white dwarf star.
“What are you
doing now? Heard you’ve got some
supernatural thingy going. That right?”
right,” Giles confirmed. “Project
Paranormal. We deal with strange
occurrences. Try to sort them out.”
two…ah…colleagues. They’re good at this
sort of thing. Born to it, you might
There was that
pause again. Even in his currently far
from sober state, Giles could recognise it.
It was the pause before someone revealed something that they didn’t want
anyone else to know. The pause in which
they might yet change their mind. Nick
took the plunge.
“I’d… I’d like
to have your opinion on something. Just
you. It’s a patient I’m treating, and I
think the problem isn’t entirely natural.
The family might let you come along, but not a larger group.”
silent. It was his turn for the
pause. He reflected that many cases of
possession were thought to be illness, but Nick didn’t specialise in that sort
of case. His speciality was
orthopaedics, diseases of the bones and joints. He was a world expert in rare diseases within his speciality.
“Tell me about
show you. I’m going there on Monday.”
“Count me in.”
half-wrapped in the mists of sleep, Angel nuzzled into the pillowy softness,
trying to ignore whatever it was that had woken him. The temptation to bite was almost irresistible. Almost.
There it went
was…exhausted. He’d made absolutely
sure that Buffy was even more… exhausted… than he was, and what they both
needed now was sleep.
restlessly beneath him, as he lay curled by her side, his head on her
breast. Her arm reached out for
something, and he caught her wrist, pulling it to him. He rubbed his face against her fingers. They smelled of…
around until he found it, but could manage no more than ‘hello’. As the caller spoke, Buffy stirred again,
and Angel pulled her close to him, trying to soothe her back into sleep.
Lisa ran the
livery stable on the Trowbridge Road.
She was still caring for Giles’ two horses. After the events of the summer, the sinkhole at the bottom of the
field was once more securely fenced off, and the field cleared of demon body
parts, but the grass was still poor and sickly. They hadn’t wanted the horses grazing it until it looked more
healthy, so they had left rebuilding the stable, and left the horses with Lisa.
“Good. I’m glad they’re okay.”
“Giles? No, Giles is away for the weekend,”
“Sure. What time will your last people go?”
“We’ll be over
about… five o’clock. That okay?”
himself back into that comfortable position.
Still, now that he was awake, perhaps he didn’t feel quite so exhausted
any more. Perhaps Buffy wasn’t
completely exhausted, either. She was
delicious when she wasn’t quite awake… Just now, he was content to look at her,
to bask in the moment.
From the time
that he’d come back from Hell, he’d never truly believed that there could ever
be anything but tragedy for them. Not
the Romeo and Juliet tragic ending, with two dead lovers. For them, that would perhaps have been one
of the better outcomes. He’d feared it
might be something much worse. Instead,
though, he’d been given this new existence, this unlooked-for benison that
allowed them to find a life together.
And which meant that, no matter what happened, he would never lose his
soul again. He hadn’t escaped the
demon, but his choices were his own.
His actions were those of Angel, not Angelus. He decided that it was a
thought that deserved celebrating, with a delicious Buffy. He set about his task with relish.
o’clock, they pulled into the small parking area by the house, as a figure
strolled out of the gathering darkness to meet them.
“Wow! What a beauty. I bet she gives you the ride of your life!”
startled, looked up as he unfolded himself from the Porsche’s driving seat, but
Lisa was definitely eyeing up the car.
Buffy saw the expression on his face and burst into laughter as she
walked round the front of the car.
innocent for that sort of remark, Lisa.”
an arm to each of them – having one on either side might stop them ganging up
“Ladies? So, Lisa, do you want to show us where the
Arm in arm,
they walked towards the stables. The
day had been glorious, clear and bright, with a steely coldness that came
straight from the Arctic. The sunset
was fading now, but it had held all the colours of the fires of hell, scarlets
and reds and purples, threaded through with the smoke of black wispy clouds,
and it had covered a full third of the sky, like something from a Turner
painting. Angel had hoped it wasn’t a
As they drew
away from the house, their footsteps crunching on the gravel path, he saw that
Lisa was extending her already-successful business. The high, sheer walls of an indoor school rose up on the right,
behind the more traditional ranges of Cotswold stone buildings. Ahead was a vista of small fields and
paddocks, running downwards to a shallow valley, and then rising up again over
higher hills beyond. A green lane ran
alongside the stream at the bottom of the valley, a hollowway sunken below the
level of the banks on either side by the sheer weight of centuries. To the left were two outdoor schools, each
taking advantage of places where the slope levelled out, and separated by a
larger turnout paddock. Beyond these
was a small field filled with tall stands of coarse weeds, and then a copse of
ancient woodland encompassing the green lane and the stream. In that weedy field were spoil heaps,
separate piles of soil and chalky subsoil dug out from the foundations of the
half-built indoor school.
over the springy chipped bark surface of the outdoor schools, until they stood
in the centre of the furthest one. It
was rather unkempt and obviously infrequently used, with weeds growing through
the wood chippings. Lisa disengaged
back to the stables, re-emerging a few minutes later with a stocky piebald pony
on a leading rein.
anxious to be friends, butted up against Buffy, rubbing his forehead against
her and nuzzling her in a way that made Angel scowl. Then he lifted his head to scent her, breath whiffling through
his nostrils. Delighted, Buffy
scratched behind his ears and stroked his cheek. She turned to Angel.
gorgeous? And I can actually see over
the top of him.”
indeed, taller than the little pony.
Angel rested a hand on his withers, and the pony gave him a friendly
“He’s got a
very kind eye. So, Lisa, I’m not
thinking he’s possessed?”
“No, but watch
this. I’ve brought Badger, because he’s
so very safe, but all the horses react as he does. I should tell you first that we rarely use this bottom school. The horses don’t like it. They never have. It was here when I came, but I had to have a new one built. I’ve more or less kept this in usable order,
but it’s wasted space, really, unless I can resolve whatever ails them. They’re okay on this top half, but they
don’t like the bottom part.”
She led the
pony towards the fence. Buffy and Angel
followed. As they walked, he began to
toss his head, and then to snort in mild alarm. A few feet from the fence he simply refused to go further, and no
amount of coaxing could shift him. Lisa
eyed the sky.
full dark. While we wait for that,
here’s a quick bit of back story. It
isn’t really this school. What really
troubles the horses is this field, and the school is just too close to it. I’d assumed there were things lurking in all
Buffy looked over the winter-dead and dormant vegetation. There were nettles, brambles, and young
sapling trees, mainly elder, ash and sycamore; the remains of thistles, docks
and other coarse weeds formed stands that were like miniature forests; and
bindweed, ivy and woody nightshade threatened to choke everything. The fence itself was kept scrupulously clear
of weeds, presumably to prevent harm to the horses, as well as to present a more
tidy appearance. But, the field gave
the appearance of having been neglected for years. There could well be rats or snakes or other things that might
spook a horse.
“It was never
that much of a problem, until we started on the indoor school. To get from the stables to the wood and the
green lane, everyone just cut across the home paddock. Now, they have to go closer to the field,
and they’re frightened of it.”
“Why don’t you
just cut it all down and drive out anything in there?”
“Oh, I would,
Buffy. That would be my first
thought. But, it doesn’t belong to
me. That field and the wood belong to
the Corbetts. We have a right of way
over the green lane, but not on the field or wood. I’ve tried to buy it, but old man Corbett simply won’t sell. It’s no use to him, but that doesn’t seem to
matter. I’ve asked if I can clear it,
and he absolutely refuses to let me on it.
The only reason he’s ever given, when I first saw him about it, was that
it was haunted, and he would never sell it.
He looked as if he could have bitten his tongue out when he said that,
too. Occasionally, when I’ve kicked up
a fuss, someone’s made a start by hacking down some of the brambles, but they
never get further than that.
“The odd thing
was that when we started digging the foundations for the school, his son came
round and said we could dump the spoil into the field, if we wanted. He told me to just dump it over the fence,
and they would deal with it. He said
the field needed levelling, and that would help. I couldn’t see the point of putting subsoil down as topsoil, but
I was just pleased to be rid of it, so I didn’t argue. But the horses still wouldn’t go down past
“So, since the
old man had mentioned hauntings, I thought I might at least ask you if that
could be true. I need to sort something
out, or the riders will be taking their horses away. Elaine was thrown last
week. She was coming back late, around
dusk, and her horse, Captain, went berserk.
Besides, with the plans I’ve got for expansion, I’d like to be able to
use this second school.”
interrupted by Badger, who suddenly whinnied in fright, his eyes rolling as he
backed away. Then he reared,
screaming. Lisa dropped the leading
rein and let him run back the way they’d come.
He stopped in the upper school, whinnying anxiously back to them.
“He thinks we
should join him,” she told them. Angel
“I think he’s
right. Do you see them?”
the air over the field was upwards of twenty Syriak demons, creatures of corrupted
light, foul air and greasy colour, visible in the darkness but not corporeal in
any meaningful sense. And hideous. They were creatures of energy, but they wore
the semblance of ghouls, with putrid, fanged gashes for mouths, abnormally long
skeletal hands with the thinnest covering of wizened skin, and thick, curling
talons. Peeling, leprous scarf-skin
membranes filled the space between arms and torso, huge and billowing, in a
vile parody of a bat.
nor Buffy could see them. Buffy shivered,
though, and wrapped slim arms around herself.
Lisa admitted to feeling a chill in the air. Angel supposed that it made sense that the Slayer couldn’t see
them. Despite their appearance, they
were no threat to the living, and she could never fight them as they were. They were just a distraction to her, and so
the slayer magic ignored them. For him,
though… Well, that was different.
“You’ve got an
infestation of nasties, Lisa,” he told her.
“They need to be exorcised.”
psychic or something?”
something’ covers it, I think.”
He was loathe
to say more. Lisa had no idea what he
was, and he didn’t want to see her expression if she found out.
He watched as
the Syriaks sank slowly towards the ground, each one separate from the others. He marked their individual territories in his
mind’s eye. Lisa and Buffy watched him
watching something they couldn’t see, and both were silenced by the experience. Eventually, he turned to them.
let’s get Badger tucked up with his friends.
Then there’s something I need to do.”
up the pony, who was only too willing to walk with them back to his
stable. No one said anything on the
short walk, but once Badger was safely installed into the comforting, warm
scents of hay and horse, Angel broke the silence.
“Do you have a
There were no
spades here, but she had the yard’s shovels.
She offered to walk back up to the house for a garden spade, but Angel
shook his head and picked out the sharpest of the shovels. It would do. The two women made their own choice of tools, but Angel silently
took them from their hands.
why don’t you and Lisa go up to the house?
I’ll join you as soon as I’m sure.”
“I’ll tell you
when I know.”
He took her
gently by the upper arms and looked hard into her face. Then he glanced towards Lisa. Buffy understood. What Lisa didn’t know couldn’t hurt her. When he let her go, she linked arms with the
let’s let Angel be all manly, while we have a nice cup of tea.”
some lights down there. Wouldn’t this
be better left until the morning?”
“I can see as
much as I need to. Go put the kettle
on. I shan’t be long.”
them head back to the house, and then walked down to the overgrown field. Even before the Syriaks had arrived, he’d
known what was there. He’d just hoped
it was older. A lot older. Archaeological. A nice, simple haunting would be fine by
him, just now.
over the fence, and almost immediately fell foul of the vegetation. The brambles tore at him, the hooked thorns
catching in clothes and flesh, and the nettles, tall enough to reach his face,
stung him. That would be short lived
but there were a lot of stings, and it hurt like a bitch.
He didn’t need
to be able to see the Syriaks to know where to start digging. Vampires always knew that sort of
thing. The shovel wasn’t the best
possible tool, but that wasn’t a problem either. Vampire strength made up for the tool’s deficiencies. The Syriak was the worst problem. He’d chosen the territory of the smallest of
the demons, the youngest. It was
displeased at being disturbed, and it flapped at him, silently hissing, but it
couldn’t harm him. Not in this form, anyway.
He was pretty sure that there was a more corporeal form, but not here,
The grave was
shallow, with only about 3 feet of earth resting on the body. He gently cleared away enough soil to be
sure of what he was seeing. Then, he
went to the feeding place of the next Syriak, close by the first. These were the carrion feeders of the demon
world, living on the elemental energy released by decaying bodies. One good cadaver could keep a Syriak going for
A few more
minutes of digging revealed a second corpse.
He squatted down, one fist wrapped around the shovel’s handle, examining
the two bodies closely. They’d been
dead for a long time, but with his experience, he could see exactly what had
happened to them. They were two girls,
probably late teenage or early twenties, although that was difficult to be
certain about, and their deaths had not been easy.
repulsed by what had been done to them, quite probably over a prolonged
period. And yet, he found it
horrifyingly, appallingly attractive to contemplate. His mind restored the flesh to what he knew it had been – these
two had been pretty, once – and followed every cut of the knife, every torment,
every blade and instrument used on them.
He could feel the torn flesh as if he were running his hands over it,
taste the blood that would have flowed from these wounds. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he could
hear their screams, and loved it.
Shockingly, his demon face came to the fore, unbidden.
silently down at the corpses, feeling the stark duality of his nature, and the
mask that he wore. He had the face that
he turned to the world, the face that went with the soul that Buffy loved; then
there was the other face, the one he wore now, all amber eyes and glistening
fangs; the one that wanted to find some innocent girl or youth and make them
into something that would look like this, that would scream as he knew these
two had screamed. Monster.
stood up, and used the shovel to draw a little earth back into the shallow
graves, although he didn’t try to refill them.
Even the police would be able to work out that these two had been
disturbed. He just wanted to keep the
foxes off. There would be a body for
each Syriak. He didn’t need to look at
any more of them. They would all be the
same, more or less. Leaving the shovel
propped against the fence in the outdoor school, he stalked back up to the
that something was seriously wrong as soon as she saw his grim expression, but
said nothing. He was grateful for the
silence, fleeting though it would be.
Lisa gave him tea, and he drank it quickly, although he could have
wished for something stronger. Very
shortly, he knew, people were going to be milling around here, and he would
have no chance of banishing the Syriaks.
Someone was going to get hurt if he didn’t do that. Even though humans couldn’t see them, the
horses clearly could. And if one
managed to become corporeal… It didn’t
bear thinking about. But, the police
would be unlikely to countenance any occult rituals on their crime scene. Besides, there were other reasons that he
didn’t particularly want to come to the attention of the forces of law.
should be reported as soon as possible, but not until he’d done what the police
couldn’t. After all, the unfortunates
buried down there weren’t going anywhere.
They’d waited for years, unmarked and unmourned. They could wait a few hours more.
question pulled him from his thoughts.
He didn’t reply directly, simply put his cup down and stood up.
“You two stay
here. I’m going to get what I need for
the exorcism. I’ll be back as soon as I
can. Under no circumstances is anyone to go down to that field.”
bridled. “Now just a minute, Angel…”
He took her
“Buffy, once I’ve
done the exorcism, there’s absolutely nothing that you or I should do. Someone has been killing people and burying
them in that field.” He looked
apologetically across to Lisa, whose hand had flown to her mouth in shock. “It’s not a job for us. This is for people who handle human
“People? More than one? Oh, God… How many are there?
Can you tell?”
“I… I’m not
absolutely sure, Lisa. At least twenty,
She was too
shocked to ask how he knew or to press him for more details. Buffy squeezed his hands.
find whoever did this?”
What should he
say? That he had the killer’s scent and
could pick him out in a crowd? That
even without that, he was sure he could recognise an artist almost as cruel as
himself? That part of him wanted to
shake the man by the hand and offer him a few tips to improve his style?
victims have waited for justice, some of them for a long time. They were killed in secret, hidden in the
dark. They need that justice to be
seen, as well as to be done. They need
the killer to be brought out into the light of day. But before that, I need to get rid of the Syriaks.”
It was Lisa
who asked the question, trying to focus on something smaller, less frightening,
than the fact that there were bodies, in the multiple, in the field.
“They feed on
the energy given off when a corpse decays.
The horses can obviously see them, and that’s what they’re frightened
any… any ghosts, then?”
reassuringly. “No, Lisa, not that I
saw. Just the Syriaks. Now, will you two stay here? I’ll be back as quickly as I can.”
Lisa and Buffy
“I’ll put the
kettle on again,” and Lisa bustled off into the kitchen.
a kiss onto Buffy’s forehead.
“Let me do
this, love. I know you think I’m
cutting you out, but you don’t need to see this, and neither does she. Truly.
While I’m gone, perhaps you could both find a plausible reason to
explain why we found the bodies. I
don’t think ‘Syriak demons’ is going to cut it, do you?”
silently, and he strode out of the house.
She went quietly into the kitchen, to find Lisa sitting at the table,
her head buried in her hands. She sat
down in the next chair, putting her arm over the other woman’s slim shoulders,
and they stayed like that for a long time.
had time to fully research the Syriaks, but the cleansing ritual to expel them
from this dimension had been easy to find.
That would be good enough. The
women wanted to help, but he wouldn’t let them. One person could do this.
It was going to be a bell, book and candle job, just different ones than
in the normal exorcism.
He walked the
boundaries of the field, swinging a lantern that was lighted by a
corpse-candle, and as he walked he intoned the ritual that would draw the
Syriaks into its flame and on to pastures new.
Pastures different, anyway.
Those who could see them had always reported them as lambent fire over a
grave, and peoples throughout the world had lit fires or candles or torches or
lamps beside their dead, as a barrier and protection. Every seventh step, he paused and rang a small, silver summoning
bell. At each quarter, he took from his
pocket a printout of the page from the Libris Spiritus and read a quatrain
of command, which he devoutly hoped would do instead of using the actual
book. Giles hadn’t had a copy, but it
was amazing what you could find on the internet.
circuit passed without any sign of success.
On the second circuit, the Syriaks rose, one by one, mouthing silent
screams and curses into the air. On the
third circuit, each entity that he passed was drawn, twisting and howling in
that ghastly silence, into the flame of the candle.
just as he reached the starting point in the lower school, closing that third
circuit, intoning the last quatrain and ringing the bell to signal
finality. From the centre of the field,
a huge and pulsing sphere of dirty light rose a few feet into the air, twisting
and turning to find the author of its torment.
He thought that this must be the original Syriak, the one that had fed
on the first corpse, come late to the party, and then he had no more time for
thought as the sphere took on the familiar ghoulish form, and flew at him. For just an instant of time, it was exactly
like the others, flapping uselessly at him, and then it took on definition and
substance, and the unexpected weight carried him to the ground. It was taller than him and heavier than him. It was stronger, too.
He let out a
shout of defiance but, before he knew it, those leathery wings had wrapped him
around, and the creature’s mouth was fixed over his in an obscene parody of a
kiss, the razor fangs dug deep into the flesh of his face, preventing him from
pulling away, or even from shouting again.
The foetid stench of its breath filled his mouth and nostrils and made
him want to vomit. As he struggled, he
felt the talons spear into his back, through coat and shirt and flesh alike,
digging deep and curving around his ribs and spine. Then it began to suck. He
was a corpse, after all, and there would be good eating on him for this
He managed to
get a grip of the loose and wrinkled skin on the demon’s chest, and used all
his strength to try and heave them apart, but the Syriak simply got a better
grip around his rib bones and pulled itself tighter in to him. His face shifted into the demon, but the
Syriak didn’t seem to mind. He thrust his
face deeper into its maw, his own fangs trying to find a tongue to tear at, anything
to make the monster pull back a little, but it was no use.
on, like a bird in a net, and it was hopeless.
His struggles grew more and more feeble as the demon sucked the energy
from him, and as it, in turn, grew stronger.
A vampire may be a corpse, but it’s a magical corpse, and there is
certainly good eating for feeders on the dead.
An eternal feast.
something metallic and sharp sliced across his throat, and the demon stopped
“Can I say
eeuuww? Angel, couldn’t you find a
prettier playmate than this?”
fingers working the monster’s teeth loose from his flesh, and then his face was
free. He sucked in air and then exhaled
hard, not because he needed the oxygen, but because he needed to clear the
stench from his nostrils and his lungs.
Buffy stood next to him, with the abandoned shovel held like an axe.
he croaked. “Is my head still attached,
or will it roll away any minute?”
indeed, been nicely done. A slight
misjudgement, and taking the Syriak’s head could have taken his, too. He was pretty sure that all he had to show
for it was a bloody gash. He’d get over
down to free him from the clutches of the Syriak, and he saw that Lisa was
standing behind her. Her expression
gave little away. As she struggled to
understand just how the dead Syriak was still attached to him, Buffy murmured,
almost under her breath, “Angel, you’re doing demon…”
He was still
in demon face, and Lisa had seen it.
With an effort, he changed back, and then Lisa was kneeling by his side,
opposite Buffy, running her hands along the dead monster’s arms.
you’re going to hack it off in pieces, we have to turn him over.”
“Okay, no more
the Slayer rolled him until he was lying on top of the headless corpse of the
“You know,” he
muttered, “if anyone so much as mentions this in future, I’m going to get very
The women had
pulled at the hands, and the talons had yanked at his ribs and spine.
He heard Lisa
run off after cautioning Buffy. Jokes
might be cracked in the future about this, but neither of them felt like it
now, not even to relieve the tension of the shocking situation. And then Lisa was back, with heavy-duty
garden loppers. She quickly and neatly
severed the hands from the wrists, and Buffy pulled her lover from the dreadful
back and sit still.”
deadly serious, brooked no dispute, and Angel did as he was told. He heard the telltale snap of loppers as the
individual fingers were cut away from the hands. Gently, both women worked the talons free. By the time they had finished, he’d dug his
own fingernails deep into his palms. At
last, he was allowed to stand up, and he did so with a wince, staggering a
little from weakness. Buffy slid her
arm around his waist and handed him a tissue so that he could scrub his own
blood and the demon’s spittle off his face.
“Will you be
“Yeah. I’m as weak as a kitten, but I’ll be okay.”
looked at Lisa. She gazed steadily
said, “I expect you’ll tell me in your own good time just what I saw there, but
for now, do you think we should get rid of that thing before we call the
police? I don’t suppose they’ll want
that complicating the investigation.”
Angel gave a
“A good friend
helps you bury the body, eh?”
“Precisely. Come on, you’d better sit down for a while,
before you fall down. And we can clean
He shook his
“No, I’ll be
fine. That thing isn’t going into the Porsche!”
Buffy held her
hand out for the keys.
“I’ll go get
bickered over whether Buffy could drive the Porsche, they heard an engine cough
into life, and then the rumble of a heavy vehicle. The horsebox backed towards them, down the side of the indoor
school. Lisa leaned out of the open
“Do you want
to get that thing in the back? The
smell won’t frighten the horses for evermore will it? Some of them are bad enough to box as it is.”
the doors open.
“Swill it down
with bleach – that works for us.”
expensive. Think it’ll succumb to
“If it kills
ninety-nine percent of all household germs, it’ll be fine.”
Between the three
of them, they managed to get all the body parts onto the bed of straw, and
shortly afterwards, straw and Syriak were tipped down the sinkhole. The van was swilled out and left open, to
air, and then it was time to call the police.
“Are you sure
we can’t do some first aid on you before I make the call?”
Lisa. Buffy will help me get sorted
when we get back. You know that it
would be better if I’m not here…”
“Buffy told me
it was all to do with work permits, but I suspect from what I saw that wasn’t
the whole of the story. You want me to
say I found the bodies?”
quickly at Angel.
won’t work. You haven’t even seen
what’s down there. They’d know
something was wrong. But they can’t see
Angel until he’s healed.”
She cast a
worried glance at her lover. There
could be all sorts of repercussions if the police started asking difficult
questions about who Angel was.
firm. “I’ll tell them that you’re a
dowser, and you looked into a problem I was having with the horses. Dowsing will get more credence in the West
Country than in most other places, or at least less ridicule. You found something, you were overcome by
the awfulness, and Buffy took you home to recover. That’s as near the truth as
makes no difference. How does it
manly, but I’ll live with that.”
And so, as the
police drew up at the livery stable, the two of them were back home. Buffy was cleaning and bandaging Angel’s
wounds, and Angel was reflecting on the two faces he showed the world and on
the duality of being that they stood for.
The Coven might well have given him a gift beyond price when they
ensured that the happiness clause in his curse was removed, but he still
mourned the loss of the shanshu prophecy.
Without that, he was still the most evil of demons at the core, bringing
sorrow and destruction as surely as a gorgon’s stare. He wished that he could bury that terrible face so deeply that it
could never surface again as it had tonight, would never trouble his thoughts, so
long as he lived. He never could,
though, and without the shanshu, he never would.
was spent quietly, in deference to his hangover. He knew very well that Buffy and Angel could deal with anything
that came their way, and so he resisted the urge to call and check. They could probably do with some relaxing
alone time, anyway. Instead, he renewed
his acquaintance with a number of people at the British Museum, cooed dutifully
over some new acquisitions there and then retired to the Reform Club for a
It had been a
last minute decision to come this weekend, to meet up with these men again for
the first time in years. He’d been
tired of the pervasive smell of fresh paint as they renovated the family room
at the house. Family… He forced his mind to shear away from that
thought. They’d accepted that the Coven
had been right, that there were no more new potentials or new slayers to worry
about, and had packed away all the training equipment that had been set up in
the family room. The few pieces that
any of them wanted to use had been moved to the smallest bedroom, and the
family room redecorated. The house was
now just that, once more – an ordinary family house, not a barracks for
warriors against evil. Well, as ordinary
as it could be if you allowed for regular visits from a vampire and a slayer…
But, the process had brought back unwelcome memories for them all, and Giles
had decided to beat a hasty retreat, seizing upon the Sophists as an excuse. He was glad that he had. It had given him a truly normal weekend for
the first time in as long as he could recall.
As he came
back into the august sanctuary of the Reform Club, marvelling anew at the
galleried reception chamber, with its twenty red porphyry columns, he gave a
silent thanks for Sir Charles Barry and real architecture. A number of the Sophists were still there,
and by the time the evening came, they were all sufficiently recovered to pick
up the threads of their conversations of last night. Then, on Monday morning, he and Nick prepared to visit Nick’s
driven Giles to the station and he’d taken the train up to town for this
weekend, so as not to have to worry about long-term parking. As a result, he was travelling with Nick in
the doctor’s Bentley. Currently, they
were purring along the M4.
call home. They’re expecting me back
this afternoon, and in our business Buffy and Angel might fret if I don’t
more like a pair of pet Persian cats than colleagues. Tell me about them.”
let’s just say that he’s the epitome of tall, dark and handsome. Buffy is… she’s the tiny blonde bombshell.”
Giles had no
illusions that Nick might be asking about Buffy. He knew very well what the doctor’s preferences were, and that he
was currently without a partner.
“Irish. And I should warn you that Buffy might
behead you if you make a move on Angel.
Or be- something else. They’re
quite an item.”
Nick gave a
“Ah, me! Doomed to heartbreak again. You tell me
about tall, dark and gorgeous, and then you advise me to lose all hope? He is tall, dark and gorgeous? And Irish.”
deep and weighty consideration, and then cracked out laughing.
“Yes, he’d be
right up your street, but they are entirely devoted to each other. No straying of any kind.”
He didn’t say
that, even without Buffy, Angel would never contemplate the notion. With a vampire, one never knew. But he didn’t mention that either as,
chuckling, he pulled out his phone.
Nick couldn’t resist a final dig, though.
“Well, I did
say that I was taking you home after this visit, so perhaps I’ll be able to
judge my chances with Mr Tall, Dark and Scrumptious…?”
“Pffft! Faithful to the last, those two. I’d even put money on it. Well, five pounds, anyway.”
so hard that Giles felt compelled to grab the steering wheel until his
companion was more in control of himself.
expected, it was Buffy who answered his call.
At this time in the morning, Angel would have long since retired for the
“WHAT? The police…”
lord! Where did you say the bodies
“How… No. You can tell me the whole story later. I’ll come right back there, of course. Nick can drop me off at a station…”
“No? Are you sure you can manage?”
well. Are you okay, Buffy? And Angel?
He’s not been arrested or anything?”
“Good. Well, ask Angel to call me as soon as the
Detective Chief Inspector has finished with him. I actually rang to say I was going to be late. I’m with a friend, Nick, and we’re going to
see a possible case. We’ll be back
there sometime after tea, so don’t wait to eat. Perhaps Martha could leave us something? And if either of you need anything, any help
at all, call me.”
After a few
last words of support, he slipped the phone back into his pocket, and sat
gazing into the middle distance for a few minutes. Then he scrubbed his hands over his face, pinching the bridge of
his nose without being aware that he did so, a habit that showed in times of
Nick left him
in silence for a few minutes then, all banter put aside, said, “Everything’s
clearly not okay, Rupert. Do you want
to go home?”
silent for a long time before he replied.
“No. There’s nothing I can do there. They’ll let me know if they need me.”
“Do you want
to tell me what’s going on?”
“I don’t know
much. So far as I can gather, they went
to the local livery stable to look at what might have been a haunting, and
found bodies. The police are there
far. I don’t know any more than
that. Perhaps I will when Angel calls.”
For the rest
of that journey, Giles fretted. No call
came from Angel, and he fretted that the vampire had been arrested for some
unfathomable reason. He knew that Angel
could never let them take him out into daylight, so what would he do? No call came from Buffy, either, and he
fretted about that, too. They pulled
off the M4 at Swindon, heading for Cirencester. As they left Cirencester, Giles dragged his mind back to the
“I know you
want me to go with an open mind, but do you want to tell me something about
what we’re going to see?”
referred to me as a possible case of F.O.P….”
progressive disease that replaces connective tissue with bone?”
up with the Latin, then? Yes, that’s
exactly what it is. About one person in
every two million suffers from it, and it’s a wicked, cruel disease. Every time a child falls and hurts itself,
every time some fool of a doctor cuts in for a biopsy, and too often for no apparent
reason at all, muscle and tendons and ligaments turn to bone, until the victim
simply can’t move any more. What the
hell use is medicine, if the best treatment we can offer is to help the damned
to choose whether they freeze into a standing position or a sitting position
until such time as they suffocate or starve to death!”
at Nick, and knew that he had once been that fool of a doctor. The man’s hands were clenched rigid on the
steering wheel, in terrible mimicry of the victims that were in his mind.
“Is that all
that can be done?”
was mild, soothing. Nick almost audibly
ground his teeth.
“Yes! We all have genes that control how the
skeleton is laid down when we’re in the womb.
In these people, the gene doesn’t know how to switch off, and so they
get a second, more disorganised, skeleton over and around the first. The word ‘progressiva’ means exactly what it
says. It just gets worse and worse, and
there is nothing we can do to stop it.
If we try and cut out the excess bone, that just promotes even more to
that Nick had tried that. Tried, and
made matters worse. He kept quiet.
“The ones who
are diagnosed in time, who have a chance to choose… they usually prefer to
freeze into a standing position. I
can’t imagine what it must be like to have to sleep propped up in a corner like
some backwards Pygmalion!”
“Um. It was actually Galatea who was the
statue. Pygmalion was the sculptor.”
at his passenger and then gave a shaky laugh.
Rupert. Okay. I cry Pax! You’re right. I’m sorry. I’m not
usually so… affected by my patients, but this is just so wicked… It starts when
they are the youngest of children, and then gets worse. You… you live through it with them…”
sounds like the most dreadful disease that I could imagine, but how on earth
can I help if you can’t?”
certain signs of F.O.P. When the baby
is born, the big toes are much too short and are malformed. That’s the hallmark. Then they develop painful swellings over the
back, the neck and the shoulders, and these fibrous nodules gradually turn to
bone. It’s a process that starts in
very early childhood. There may be
periods where nothing happens, but each flare-up simply makes it worse. They never, ever get better. The nodules never go away. Then they gradually start to lose movement
as the second skeleton is built. It
doesn’t have any joints, you see. It’s
just random struts and spars of bone.
“You know, the
first report of the condition was from a Frenchman in the 17th
century. He said that a woman had
turned into wood. Personally, I think
it was known a long time before that. I
think it’s behind the story of Medusa.
You remember, the woman who turned people to stone with a single
Giles, patiently. “I’m well aware of
the story of the Medusa. But Medusa,
who was only a myth, by the way, was in any event killed by Perseus. You aren’t saying that she’s back and
turning people to stone?”
“No, of course
I’m not. Besides, stone isn’t
involved. But my patient has none of
the symptoms of F.O.P. None of them at
all. That is not the problem. I don’t know anything else that would
explain the symptoms either. Absolutely
nothing. I’ve been thinking about some
sort of… enchantment, although I’d be a laughing stock if I said that to anyone
that some consideration.
“If it is, I
might have to come back again with the right tools to determine what sort of
spell has been used.”
“Understood. And I’m relieved you aren’t laughing… Do you
think that enchantment actually exists?
That it could happen?”
seen things you wouldn’t believe. It’s
rare, but yes, enchantments happen.”
Nick let go of
the breath that he seemed to have been holding for ever.
“Good. Call this a reconnaissance. But, I don’t want whatever is happening to
get too much further. So, you look at
my patient, we’ll go back and see Mr Tall, Dark and Delicious, and then we can
all plot strategy, provided Miss Blonde Bombshell has decided to leave my head
on my shoulders. Oh, here’s our turn.”
He swung the
Bentley onto a small road signposted Duntisbourne Leer.
Giles put the
question that had been bothering him earlier, but had been driven from his mind
by recent events. “You don’t normally
make long-distance house calls, do you?”
“No, but the
family won’t come to the clinic. I
almost didn’t take the case, but it interests me.”
to look at the man next to him. He had
dark blond hair, and the sort of healthy tan that comes from regular holidays
in sunnier climes. He looked a bit like
a Greek god, and he had enough loose cash for a Bentley and a home that was no
doubt worth two or three million pounds.
And Giles was positive that this man would have driven to the furthest
tip of Scotland, on a weekly basis, for free, to help one of these most
pitiable sufferers. He devoutly hoped
that he would be of some use. An
enchantment seemed a much easier problem to solve than fibrodysplasia
lane, just one car’s width, with a couple of impromptu passing places where
opposing cars had been forced up into the hedgerow, widened out and Giles saw
the tiny cluster of houses in front of them, on the other side of a stream.
of Duntisbourne Leer,” Nick announced.
it’s a farm and a few cottages. It’s a
hamlet, and a tiny one at that.”
rolled through the cobbled ford with hardly a splash, and then Nick made a hard
right hand turn into an even tinier lane that had clumps of grass growing in
the centre. If it had been summer, and
the hedgerows filled with lush vegetation, the lane might well have been hidden
“Nick! That signpost may have said that
Duntisbourne Abbots is down here, but the much bigger one said ‘Unsuitable for
Motor Vehicles.’ Is that where we’re
heading? Duntisbourne Abbots?”
“No, but it’s
round the back of this village, hamlet, whatever. Blast!”
road had disappeared. Well, Giles
silently amended, not disappeared as such, more like merged. Or possibly even submerged. The road had become the stream bed, for
almost a hundred yards, until it emerged from the ford and continued on towards
the next hamlet. It was much too narrow
for the car. He looked on in awe as he
realised that, for the house on the right hand side of the stream, garaging the
car each night meant driving down part of that ford and then pulling out into
the back garden. Nick grinned when he
saw Giles’ expression.
“I do believe
this is what the Americans might call ‘picturesque’. Or even ‘quaint’.”
help smiling at the reflection that Buffy would in all probability call it a
pain in the butt. They reversed back to
the hamlet, not without difficulty, and then continued on their original road.
“Are you by
any chance lost, Nick?”
His friend had
always had a reputation for lacking in any sense of direction.
slightly. I’ve only been twice before,
and both times I met up with the family’s GP first. Ah! I think this is it.”
drive snaked off the lane, rising into the low hills around the little cluster
of houses. Behind a stand of trees,
they found some hard standing set amid what would later in the year be a pretty
shrubbery. A couple of wrought iron
benches were positioned to overlook the stream’s valley. An elderly but powerful motorcycle was
already in occupation of the tiny parking area, and Nick pulled in next to it.
His face lit up.
Triumph! And look how well it’s been
distinguished consultant was like a boy in a toyshop, and it was with
reluctance that he could be persuaded to lead the way up the remainder of the
drive. It was sheltered from view,
surrounded by mature evergreen shrubs, and overhung by trees as it wound up the
hillside, until they walked out onto a large, open area of lawn. Before them was a formal rectangular lily
pond. To one side stood a graceful
Atlantic blue cedar, and to the other a stately Cedar of Lebanon, both
specimens that must have been over a hundred years old. Surrounding the lawn, plantings of younger
trees offered the promise of seclusion and shelter in years to come.
A gravel path
skirted the lawn and led to an area of garden before a substantial, two-storey
house of warm, Cotswold stone, roofed with heavy ragstone slabs. Six windows, three to each storey, and each
divided into a dozen small panes, shone out white against the creamy stone on
either side of the porched door, emphasised by the graffitied pattern of
wisteria vines across the building’s façade.
An elegant conservatory ran down the entire right hand side of the
house, and a glimpse of another roof at right angles suggested a wing on the
left hand side, at the rear of the building
Holt,” Nick announced. “The road runs
closer to the other side of the house, but you can’t park there – it’s far too
narrow. This is the entrance for the
cognoscenti, and those who don’t always get lost.” He tapped the side of his nose in a knowing gesture.
money, I think, although I gather the place has been in the family for
generations. Used to be a farm, I was
told, although whether they’ve still got land to farm I’ve no idea.”
strolled down the garden path towards the house, the door was flung open, and a
young man strode out; it was manifest to them both that he was wrapped in a
black cloud of rage. He was tall and
slim, dressed in black jeans and a black leather jacket, with dark hair framing
a handsome but pale, scowling face. He
couldn’t have been more than nineteen.
He shouldered them aside and strode onto the lawn, heading for the
that this is the motorcyclist,” Nick murmured.
“If Byron had
been a motorcyclist, that would have been him,” Giles replied. “Oh, and no bet. I think that’s a racing certainty.”
Just as they
reached the door, another figure ran out, a girl this time, pushing past them
down the path. Her gait was just a
little hesitant as she pursued the boy.
Nick muttered a terse ‘oh dear’.
after her with interest. She could only
be described as svelte. She wore a
long, grey velvet skirt; not the old-fashioned, stiff fabric, but the soft,
silky velvet that moved with her like quicksilver. He’d had a glimpse of a lacy, high-necked blouse, and she was
wrapped in a voluminous silk shawl, silver with large, pale pink roses on the
back. Her hair was thick and slightly
curled, long enough to be confined in a snood of silver mesh. It shone in the midday sunlight with the
colours of a raven’s wing.
She caught up
with the boy, and as they turned to face each other, their profiles were
revealed. She was beautiful, and she
was distressed. She was about
seventeen. Giles was forcibly put in
mind of a pair of star-crossed lovers, a Romeo and Juliet, and that reminded
him of Angel and Buffy, worry spiking through him because he had not yet heard
from either of them.
voice called from the recesses of the house.
“Jessica. Come inside. Now. Rohan has nothing
more to say.”
The two young
people embraced each other briefly, and then Rohan wiped away her tears with
something to her that neither observer could hear, and then he turned and
strode back the way they had come.
Jessica stood with her head bowed, trying to compose herself.
“Hello? Mrs Strafford?” Nick called in through the
open door. Jessica shot a grateful
glance at him. “Nick Hunt here. I hope we aren’t too early.”
sounded very precisely on the oak floor of the hall, and an elegant woman
walked towards them, her high heels clicking.
She was followed by a man who was apparently much older.
“Mr Hunt. So good of you to come.”
She held out a
long-fingered, graceful hand, and Nick took it, briefly.
Strafford. Professor Strafford. I hope you don’t mind. I’ve brought a colleague with me. Mr Giles is a renowned expert in some of the
areas I want to explore with regard to Jessica…”
Giles kept his
countenance and his silence, but only with an effort. He hadn’t realised the patient was that vibrant young girl. And he was grateful that the most senior
doctors actually lost that title, and became plain ‘Mr’. At least Nick hadn’t had to give him a false
object, then of course Mr Giles will wait in the car. But, I think he can be of some help.”
“No, you must
both come in, of course. Lunch is
almost ready. Perhaps you’d like to
wash up and then join us? Jessica, it’s
cold today. Come inside, please.”
The woman was
like a force of nature. She was tall
and slender, with neatly cut red-brown hair that fell in soft waves. She was one of those ageless women who might
have been as old as fifty, but who looked no older than thirty and, like her
daughter, she was beautiful. Her
husband was stooped, grey, and much older, nearer seventy than sixty, with the
slightly otherworldly expression of a reclusive academic.
shown to the downstairs bathroom, in the newer wing. As he walked back to the main part of the house, he passed a door
that was slightly ajar, and something within caught his attention. It was a photograph, on the wall. In fact, as he knocked hesitantly, and then
pushed the door further open, he saw that there were many photographs, but they
were all of the same thing. Jellyfish.
He stood in
the doorway, mesmerised, aware that the common name did no sort of justice to
these wondrous creatures. The
translucent bells, in a multiplicity of forms, seemed to pulse with life and
glisten with hidden colour, as tentacles in all shapes and sizes and hues
writhed and twisted on the walls. A
voice behind him called him back to his surroundings.
round to find the Professor behind him.
sorry, sir. I… I didn’t mean to pry,
but the door was open…”
right, Mr Giles. I’m happy to share
these with visitors. This is my den you
know, and I love to be surrounded by my life’s work. I’ve studied them for forty years, you know.”
“I prefer to
call them medusae. Or medusas, if you
wish to be modern. So much prettier,
don’t you think? A name says so much.”
led the way to the dining room, and lunch.
It was an awkward meal of poached salmon, during which the Professor
said little or nothing, Jessica toyed with her food and was separated from the
others by the universal walls of a teenage lover’s angst, and Mrs Strafford –
Stella, as Giles learned – was determinedly cheerful. Giles wondered about Jessica, whose movements at table seemed to
be hindered by the folds of her shawl, yet she kept it wrapped around her and
he said nothing.
At last it was
over and, once the remains were cleared away, Jessica was left with Nick and
Giles. The consultant was gentle with
you happy that Mr Giles sees what’s happening to you, and tries to help me to
“I gather that
you’ve had another episode?”
Once again she
nodded, and then slowly, reluctantly, she unwound the shawl from around her
left arm. Giles almost gasped out
loud. Her forearm, from just above the
wrist to just below the elbow, was smooth and hard and white. For that first instant, he feared that it
might be marble, that myth had become fact and she was being turned to stone,
but when he reached out to touch it, he realised that he was mistaken, in one
thing at least. It followed exactly the
curve of flesh that should run there, but that flesh had become bone. And it was nothing like the disease that
Nick had described.
He sat back as
the consultant carefully examined this latest transfiguration, and questioned
Jessica closely. It hadn’t been a
gradual transformation. Like the
others, it had happened when she was asleep.
She had woken up… altered. He
asked to see if there were any change in the other areas, and she lifted the
side of her skirt. A band of bone ran
around her left thigh, exactly as it ran around her forearm. Another area over her lower stomach, ragged
and round, about six inches in diameter, was also smooth, white bone.
As she lowered
her skirt, something about the thigh caught Giles’ attention, and he bent
forward to look more closely. In the
centre of the band were two tiny, dark marks.
Nick found two more in the patch on her stomach, and together they
located another pair on the new band on her arm.
She could tell
them nothing more. Nick took
photographs of her arm, and blood samples from the area of flesh immediately
next to the new bone. Giles could see
that he feared causing another flare-up, but said nothing. Then they took their leave. As they stepped out into the garden, Giles
thought to ask a question of the Professor.
sir, but do you have any actual medusae in the house? Any in aquaria, or any preserved specimens?”
Giles. None. I gave them all up when I retired. There are only the photographs now.”
He looked as
if he would say more, but the silence stretched on. Abruptly, he wished them farewell, turned on his heel, and the
door closed behind him. The two men
walked in silence down the gravel path and towards the drive. As they left the lily pond and the trees
behind them, Giles ventured an opinion.
there’s something supernatural here.
This isn’t like the disease you described to me.”
Rupert. It isn’t. In F.O.P., the new bone forms beneath the
skin. This looks as if it’s been
created by a sculptor. In F.O.P. the
only sculptor involved is a deranged demon of a gene. Will you look into it?”
course. I think I’ll start with those
dark marks. They could be bite marks, you know. I’ll see if I can find anything that might be doing the
biting.” He paused for a moment. “Nick, how does the blood supply keep
circulating? Why does she still have
feeling in her leg and her arm, apart from the areas of bone themselves?”
Nick shook his
let me take her for X-rays or scans.
The best answer I have is that blood vessels and nerves are carried in
conduits, as in normal bone.”
They walked on
in silence until they came to Nick’s car.
The motorcycle was still there, just as they had left it. The young man was sitting on a bench,
staring at the landscape spread before him, the four picture-perfect
Duntisbourne hamlets, without seeing anything at all. Giles walked over to him.
Nick stood by the car, waiting patiently.
unaware of the man standing next to him, and so Giles sat down on the
bench. The movement seemed to bring the
young man out of his brown study, and as he turned to the older man, Giles
could see that he had been crying. He
affected not to notice that.
“Rohan? Your parents read too much ‘Lord of the
Rings’, I suppose?”
The boy gave a
shaky laugh and nodded.
The reply was
her! And she loves me!”
“Did you argue
“No… no. I asked her parents to let me marry
her. I knew they’d say no, but I had to
He buried his
face in his hands, so that his next words were muffled, as if he couldn’t bear
to say them out loud.
to die, isn’t she?”
“NO!” Giles rebuttal was firm. “No, she isn’t. We won’t let that happen.”
Nick to come a little closer, within earshot.
you tell us anything, anything at all, that would help us to find out what’s
happening to Jessica?”
painfully, Rohan told his story, but as it unfolded, Nick shook his head to
show that there was nothing new. Giles
put a hand on the boy’s shoulder.
“If you think
of anything, or if you see anything, will you let us know?”
Giles dug into
his wallet and pulled out a business card.
It was not one of those that mentioned Project Paranormal, it simply
gave his name and telephone number. As
he gave it to Rohan, he felt the need to say more.
“Rohan, it may
seem like the end of the world now, but we won’t stop looking for something to
believe you can,” the boy whispered.
“Everything is against us. This…
this sorcery for a start. But
her parents disapproved of me, even before all this began. They think I’m not good enough for her, and
heaven help me, that’s true. My parents
disapprove of her parents, and so they disapprove of her. Sometimes I wish that... Well, never mind what I wish.”
“Why do you
call it sorcery?”
“What does it
look like to you? I just wanted to get
her away, to make her happy.”
“Rohan, I have
two friends, and believe me, they have faced difficulties that you can’t even
imagine. Star-crossed lovers par
excellence. It has taken
them almost a decade to overcome most of those difficulties, but now, they’re
happy together. They will help us to
find what’s happening to Jessica, I promise.
And I tell you, if they can beat the fates, so can you two. Call me if anything happens that you think
we should know, no matter how small.”
As they drove
away, Rohan was still sitting on the bench, turning the small white rectangle
of card around and around in his fingers.
On the way
back to Westbury, they discussed everything that they had seen, everything that
Nick knew, until Giles felt that he had learned as much as he could. As they approached Westbury, the events at
the livery stable intruded onto this latest puzzle, and he worried more and
more that he had heard nothing from Buffy or Angel.
It was a
little after six as they drove into the courtyard. The flat over the garage stood in darkness, but the lights were
on in the house. He was surprised to
see an unfamiliar saloon car by the door.
As he and Nick climbed from the Bentley, the house door opened, and two
men in dark suits were shown out by Angel.
Giles strode over to them. The
younger of the two looked at his notebook before speaking.
“Yes. Who are you?”
Detective Chief Inspector Collins, and I’m Detective Sergeant Lincoln.”
to the older man.
“What can I do
to help you, Detective Chief Inspector?”
now, sir. Your… ah… friends have been
very helpful. I expect I’ll need to
talk to you later, but I won’t keep you tonight, sir.”
as the two men drove away, then turned to Angel. He thought the vampire looked exhausted, but before he could say
anything, before he could ask what had been happening, Angel was pushed aside
and Buffy ran from the house, throwing herself at her Watcher and pummelling
hell have you been? We’ve been trying
to get you, and you’ve got your damned phone switched off again…”
He looked at
the phone, and saw that she was right.
“I… I’m so
He hugged her,
then let her go. He scrubbed at his
forehead and sighed.
“It must have
been difficult with the police and no one else to talk to…”
at him, but Angel moved to stand next to her, putting a comforting arm around
managed. Martha’s left us a stew. Do you want to introduce us?”
over to the little group.
Hunt. You must be Buffy.”
Buffy’s hand, raising it to his lips and placing the briefest of kisses on her
fingertips. Then he turned to Angel and
held out his hand in greeting.
Angel. I’ve heard about you both. My goodness, you feel cold, standing out
here. Why don’t we all get inside?”
He ushered the
other two back through the door, looking back over his shoulder as he did so,
and winking at Giles. Giles followed
them in with an irritated ‘tut’.
dinner carried all the discomfort that lunch had, but for different
reasons. The first course was tomato
soup, and Nick didn’t seem to notice that Angel’s was a different colour to
everyone else’s. Giles had to smile at
Martha’s little subterfuge in making sure that everyone got something warm
inside them on what was a dank, raw February night, and he wondered if it might
be the first time that Angel had eaten his blood with a spoon. Then he remembered all the years as Angelus
and realised he’d probably got no real idea of what whimsical fancies might
have taken that demon. The only thing
he could be sure of was that the literature was very incomplete, and that
drawing information from Angel was like pulling teeth.
on, determined to be cheerful while being careful not to say too much in front
of a stranger, and after the soup, while Nick and Buffy ate heartily, Angel
toyed with what was on his plate. He
seemed abstracted, and Giles worried that he was falling back into brood
mode. He gave himself a mental
shake. Of course not. It was just how Angel behaved when there
were strangers. He melted into the
background. It was hard to do that at a
dinner table… He was surprised, then,
when Angel glanced from him to Nick.
“So, is there
anything you want to talk about with this latest case?”
They spent the
rest of their time at table talking about Jessica. Buffy was shocked by the plight of the unfortunate girl. Angel said he’d never seen anything like it.
They might both be perplexed, but Giles
could tell it was exactly what they needed – something to get their teeth into,
to divert their thoughts from whichever human monster had left the bodies in
the field. Sorry as he was for Jessica,
he was glad they had this distraction.
accompanied Nick to his car, he promised the consultant that they would work to
unravel this. Nick nodded, and smiled
“I’ll let you
know if I hear anything else. Please,
keep in touch over what you find.”
“Of course I
Rupert, just send Mr Tall, Dark and Gorgeous with your findings. Give me a chance to cut loose those chains
that Miss Blonde Bombshell has got him tethered by.”
He was smiling
mischievously as he said it and Giles, who had a sudden mental picture,
guffawed. Nick became altogether more
“Those are the
two that you told Rohan about, aren’t they?”
“I have a nose
for a story, Rupert. A veritable
nose. One day, you’ll tell me about
it. Or they will.”
“I expect it
will be a cold day in Hell. One
day.” He smiled as he said it.
Just as he was
about to drive away, Nick remembered something. He reached into his bag and pulled out two of the four phials of
blood he had taken.
be of use to you?”
something about the heck with patient confidentiality, and drove off into the
When Giles got
back into the house, he found Buffy and Angel in his study, already pulling out
books from the shelves.
“Before we get
started on that, I want to know what happened to you. And I’ve got something else we need to look at. More coffee while we do that?”
He made more
coffee, and poured a generous splash of Scotch into his own and Angel’s. Buffy refused the offer. He handed one of the phials of blood to
“Do you want
to see what you can make of that?”
His voice had
been bland, but Angel gave him an old-fashioned stare. Giles wasn’t at all put out. He was a Watcher, well, an ex-Watcher, and
he’d learned to make use of whatever resources were available.
a word, Angel held the blood to the light, and examined it as if it were a fine
wine. He unstoppered it, and let the
scent flow over him. Then, he poured a
few drops onto his fingertip and delicately tasted, before restoppering the
there’s no doubt about that, but there’s something else… Something foreign to
the blood, I think, but I can’t be sure.”
something might have been injected?”
“I’m not sure,
Giles. I’ve got no point of
reference. But it’s possible. It… it reminds me of the sea, of the blood
from sea creatures.”
in the sea?”
occasionally, when extremely drunk. Sea
food generally tastes better when you’re human, I’m sure, even if you’re
He smiled as
he said it, and the others took it as a joke, which he was relieved about.
them about the Professor’s career as an expert in coelenterates, and they made
a few quick notes of sea monsters to follow up. Then Giles demanded the story of the bodies in the field. Buffy told most of it. The police had wanted Angel to go to the
police station that afternoon and give a statement, but Buffy had trotted out
the planned excuse that Angel had a serious disorder that made sunlight
dangerous to him, and the police had obligingly come here, instead. All the weapons had been locked out of sight
for their visit, and they had seemed to believe the dowsing story.
aware that Angel had offered very little information on what he had found, and
decided not to push it, at least in Buffy’s presence. He made rough notes, though, about the Syriak demons, and Angel’s
use of the Libris Spiritus, and he frowned a little when he heard that
Lisa had seen Angel’s demon face.
“How do you
feel about that, Angel?”
is done, and no one seems to have come around with the flaming torches and
garlic yet. How well do you know her?”
brow knit in recollection.
here a couple of years before I came to America. I wasn’t living in Westbury, of course, I was in the flat in
Bath, but I visited often. My parents
were past riding by then, but they still had the driving ponies. Mother used to hurtle around the village
with those two little things…”
ponies. Giles, I have to hear about
was alive with laughter, and Giles indulged him.
“They were two
little Shetland ponies, bright chestnut… Splish and Splash, with an old trap
that my father had renovated. They were
about waist high to you, Buffy, and they were all fat, round bodies and a tiny
little leg at each corner, with huge manes and tails that looked as if they
were having one of your bad hair days.
was really only big enough for them.
There’s not enough grazing for horses as big as Windsor and Celoso, even
in summer. Even if the grass weren’t
looking so diseased, I’d have left them with Lisa anyway for the winter. They’d only churn the pasture up into a mud
bath, and it would take forever to recover in spring. We could really do with an extra field to alternate…”
started with how well do you know her.”
Buffy was always impatient where the safety of her lover was concerned,
and it showed in her tone.
“Sorry. Well, I had a bit to do with her when Father
died, and Mother no longer felt able to take the trap out. She helped us find a new home for Splish and
Splash. She was wonderful, then. But I’ve been away so long, and really, most
of the time I’ve been back, you’ve been here, too. So, how well do you think I know her?”
Giles exchanged uncomfortable looks, which Angel interrupted as he rose from
inclined to trust her, but I’m sure we’ll find out in due course. I’ll leave the research to you two for a
little while. I’m going out for a
particular?” Giles asked.
When Angel got
back, all the lights were off. Quietly,
he let himself into the house and slipped into the bedroom on the opposite side
of the building from Giles. Apart from
the master bedroom, there were four others in the main house, each with their
own bathroom. None were in use,
currently, and, not wanting to wake Buffy by using their own shower, he’d decided
to warm up in the bath here, hoping that he wouldn’t disturb Giles.
the burn of the hot water. He could
feel the cold outside, of course, but it didn’t affect him, didn’t make him
uncomfortable. Without any body heat of
his own, and without fresh, hot human blood, he was reliant on the prevailing
temperature for any semblance of warmth.
Having a body that was at ambient temperature in California was one
thing. Having a body that was at
ambient temperature in an English winter was quite another. When he slid into bed with the sleeping
Buffy, he didn’t want her to pull away from him, from the chill that he brought
with him. Tonight, he didn’t think he
could bear that. And so, he warmed up
first, in a hot bath. As he lay in the
steaming water, he reflected on what he had found while he’d been out that
night. Most of it he preferred not to
think about, so he concentrated instead on the task of warming up.
When he did
climb into their bed, she was indeed asleep, but she still welcomed him with
open arms and he clung to her gratefully.
Giles took his
coffee into the breakfast room the next morning, to find a note from Angel on
all the fields around Lisa’s and around the Corbett’s. There are no more bodies, other than where
the police are digging. Can you check
exactly which land the Corbetts own?
chastised himself. That was what he’d
meant by ‘hunting’, then…
herself with research for the rest of that morning. Giles went into Bath, to meet someone he knew who worked at the
University. He took the remaining phial
of blood with him. He was back in time
for lunch, which was a brief affair, taken in the study, with books balanced on
their knees as well as bowls of soup and plates of sandwiches, and a mug of
warm blood for Angel. They were
interrupted in the early afternoon by a phone call from Nick. Buffy, bringing him a sustaining cup of tea,
found Giles gazing into space.
what, Giles? You’ve got what-face.”
Jessica. She’s had another
flare-up. Whatever evil is working on
her, it’s taken her breast now. Her
right breast. She… she’s having
difficulty breathing… If it had been
the other side…”
need him to finish the sentence. If
there was one thing a slayer learned, it was where to find the heart. The weather mirrored their feelings, as an
Atlantic depression moved in with wild winds, and horizontal, sleeting rain.
researched demons and jellyfish, and demons that looked like jellyfish. They dug out as many facts about, and cases
of, F.O.P. as they could. They
researched metabolic disorders, and they researched snakebites and spider
bites, and anything else that might leave two neat holes. Angel vowed that no vampires had that kind
of effect, but they researched it all the same. By common consent, the two lovers snatched a few hours of sleep
in the main house, although sleep was a luxury that none of them had much time
On the second
day, the policemen came back and had a prolonged talk with Giles in the
breakfast room while Angel and Buffy continued work in the study. The officers seemed satisfied that Giles
knew nothing of the bodies in the field, and went away again.
shocked to the core at what had happened at the livery stable, came and cooked
for them every day, and John collected Angel’s twice-weekly order of
blood. He reported that the story of
Angel being a dowser had spread throughout the village along with the story of
what had been found at the livery stable.
While there was some discomfort that this dowsing ability applied to
bodies rather than just to water or other natural elements, it had been
accepted as all of a piece with Mr Giles’ odd American friends. The research turned up exactly nothing.
On the third
day, Lisa came over. She was shaking
and in tears. She had been in the yard
when two men carrying a body on a stretcher had slipped in the mud, and the
body had fallen free. She had seen it,
and now she’d come face-to-face with what was really in the field. Buffy and Giles sat with her, their arms
around her as she wept. Angel, though,
remembered how she’d last seen him, and he kept his distance until Buffy glared
at him over Lisa’s bowed head.
Reluctantly, he came forward and took her hand. She didn’t flinch. She returned the comfortable pressure that he put on her fingers,
and cried until she had no more tears.
On the fourth
day the police returned to speak to Angel.
The Chief Inspector looked distinctly uncomfortable as they sat once
more in the breakfast room. The
sergeant hadn’t got his ever-present notebook.
Angel, I’m not from Immigration. I’m
not interested in whether you’ve got the right pieces of paper properly
stamped. Not today. I might have to take an interest sometime,
but not today. Just now, I’m more
interested in catching a killer. And in
finding all the people who’ve been tortured and killed and buried in secret.
“I’m told that
you knew straight away. That you have a
gift. I don’t know about that, but I’m
pretty sure you aren’t the murderer – you aren’t old enough, for one thing,
unless you took up serial killing as soon as you were born. So, I’m going to ask you for your help. I want to know whether I’ve found everyone,
and I want you to use your gift to tell me.
himself to look the man in the eye.
“How many have
back to the field, and to the Syriaks.
found them all.”
“Will you help
“I’ll be there
just after sunset.”
On the way
out, they met Giles in the hall. He
stood on the threshold with Collins as the sergeant got into the car.
knew your father, a long time ago.”
at him in surprise.
“Yes. He liked Walter, a lot. He told me once that your family mixed with
the strangest people.”
And then the
Chief Inspector was gone in a spray of gravel.
afternoon, in Duntisbourne Leer, Jessica and Rohan walked in the shrubbery,
hidden from the house. Although she was
now forbidden to see him, and not allowed to go away from the house
unaccompanied, they had managed to meet each day, for a few stolen
moments. Her days were spent in fear,
now, and he was trying to persuade her to run away with him.
“I can look
after you! We can find somewhere no one
knows us. We can go abroad, if you
like. I can work…”
the end of the shawl and held up her arm, the whiteness gleaming in the low
“We can’t hide
from this! They’ll be able to find us
anywhere. And how can I ever hope to be
healed, to be whole again, if I run away?”
round this argument before, and they clung to each other in desperation and
indecision. Then, Jessica broke free.
missed. I have to go.”
her disconsolately as she walked out of the shrubbery and onto the lawn by the
lily pond. Neither of them knew that
she was seen, as she turned back towards him and gave a tiny wave of goodbye.
slipped out of the lower part of the garden towards the parking area, and his
motorcycle. As he pushed through the
citrus-scented leaves of the choisyas, his foot caught in something, and he
bent to look. He was afraid that what
he saw had once been a cat. Now, it was
an exquisitely sculpted life-size statue, from the snarling face to the
fluffed-out tail. The cat looked to
have been terrified, but if so, it had faced its enemy, and gone down to
death. He picked it up and ran.
arrived at the livery stable, there was a police constable standing guard on
the entrance and a plethora of blue and white tape marking the boundaries of
the crime scene. He was expected,
though, and waved through. It was
raining hard. He found Collins, beads
of water glistening on his dark overcoat, standing in the bottom school,
staring moodily at the field under the huge, portable lights. It bore a stark resemblance to a First World
War battlefield, all mud and holes and uneven hills of excavated earth. Angel went to stand next to him, and
together they surveyed the dreadful scene.
“I’m not going
to ask how you do it, but whatever it is that you do, would you mind getting on
with it before I get pneumonia?”
with a tight little smile. He bent to a
pile of spare 4-ft iron poles of the sort used to hold the tape, picked up a
handful and then climbed over the fence.
Refusing to use his non-human sense of balance, he allowed himself to
slither and slide in the mud. He had
the ability to sense a body beneath the earth, and to know whether the earth of
a grave had been disturbed. It was
something to do with the sense of smell, and something to do with entirely
non-human senses that he could no more describe to any human than a human could
describe sight to a blind person, or a bat could describe what it saw with its
radar. He used all those senses now.
slithered over the field, he occasionally left poles behind as markers. When he’d finished, there were seven of
them. He knew that one body had been
different from the others. That was the
sense of smell, perhaps, although there were a lot of conflicting scents from
the excavated earth. When he rejoined
Collins the policeman had a look of horror on his face.
“Yes. That’s the lot.”
Collins let go
a savage oath.
anything more that you can tell me?”
downwards, silent, hunching in on himself for a moment.
“One of them’s
different. Your pathologist will tell
He shut up and
looked down at the wood chips on the ground, rain running over his face.
“How do you
do. I can’t explain it.”
could, but it wouldn’t be an explanation that would sit well with the
policeman. How could he explain the two
faces that he had: the human face, and that other, demonic, face that he
struggled so hard to control? How
explain that what he showed to the world was a mask, covering something very
different, something much more primal and completely evil?
suppose you’ve got any feeling about who did it?”
an eyebrow. He was as sure as he could
be that Collins had already worked that out.
So, he simply turned a little and looked directly at the Corbett’s
look for a cellar.”
we’ve found. There’s nothing in it, or
nothing relevant to us.”
deeper. There’s another one.”
He hadn’t been
inside the house – he couldn’t, of course, without an invitation – but he had
seen, and he had heard. Lurking was one
of his better skills. And as he had
stood beneath the eaves, he could hear the echo of their screams, scent the
ghost of their fear, and some ancient and terrible part of him thrilled to it.
When he got
back, he showered off the mud and the rain, although he couldn’t shower off
what was inside. By the time he’d
changed into clean, dry clothes, he’d made a decision. He couldn’t do any more to help the
unfortunates who were already dead.
What he could do was help the girl who was still alive. He should have done this before.
Giles were in the study, and both of them looked as exhausted as he felt.
“I… I’ve been
thinking about the blood… Have you
heard from the University, yet, Giles?”
his head. His contact had said four or
“I’m going to
try a different source, follow up what I tasted in the blood. I’ve got a fair way to go, so I might not
get back tonight.”
“Where are you
“Bridgnorth? What’s at Bridgnorth?”
expression was quizzical. Angel had
hoped that he wouldn’t have to get into this amount of detail.
spirit.” It was near enough the
truth. “It’s the closest one I can
think of that might be able to help.”
He walked over
and gave her a hug.
“No. Will you stay here with Giles, and carry on
the research? This is probably a wild
goose chase, and a waste of time.”
mulish for a moment, and he longed to kiss the pout away, but then she gave in
and sat back down.
“Okay. Giles and I are on real research, and you’re
having a good time with a water spirit.
Will you have a good time?”
“I very much
think that either of them looked very sorry for him, as they surveyed the pile
of new material that Giles had brought down from the attic.
wasn’t much more than a hundred miles, it took him three hours to get to
Bridgnorth. He’d thought of trying the
River Severn much nearer to Westbury, but this was the place he’d seen her
before, and he didn’t much like the thought of combing a couple of hundred
miles of river bank. He knew where he
could find her, where she would answer to him.
He wondered if she would remember him.
He found the
rocky complex just east of the town, off the Wolverhampton Road. It looked more unkempt then the last time
he’d seen it. There were rock-cut
shelters in opposing cliff faces on either side of the River Severn – the
Hermitage and the Witches’ Caves – and nearby was the Queen’s Parlour, a huge
outcrop of rock, looming like a fortress in the darkness.
He climbed up
to the Hermitage, and its neighbouring Witch’s Cave, saddened by how ruinous it
now was. A grandson of Alfred the Great
had spent some time here as a hermit, before briefly taking the crown. Prior to that, wisewomen had lived in the
other caves, tending this sacred site that far predated Christianity. The Queen’s Parlour pointed the way. This was where a queen would manifest, when
she chose to. The queen of the Severn,
the river goddess, Sabrina.
He stood in
the chamber that was now termed the Chapel, detritus spilling around his feet,
and the smoke stain from years of fires despoiling the walls and ceiling. There looked to have been many types of
squatters: decades of the homeless poor and, more recently perhaps, youngsters
looking for somewhere to do something illegal.
He almost despaired that Sabrina would come to such a desecrated place,
but he murmured the remembered words of summoning anyway. When she didn’t come, he clenched his fists
and called out to her.
“Sabrina! Don’t mess about. Where the hell are you?”
The air seemed
to shimmer and then, overlaid on top of the ruinous hermitage, was something
quite different. The walls were clean,
hung with fresh flowers, and offerings of jewellery and tiny statuettes. The stairs, which in reality led nowhere,
instead now opened onto an upper chamber, and he could see that the Chapel
itself continued in a series of tunnels that led deep into the earth. He turned back to the entrance, and found a
woman waiting for him.
beautiful. Her skin carried a delicate
shade of blue-green, just a hint of that colour overlying the peaches and cream
complexion of an English maid, and her eyes were the blue of the open sunlit
sea. Her hair curled fetchingly around
her face and fell down her back in waves and billows of golden amber. Her dress was simple, an ice-blue scrap of
tissue-thin fabric. He wondered briefly
about the nature of Prince Aethelward’s stint as a hermit.
Sabrina. I’m not Angelus anymore, by
She gazed at
“So you say.”
smiled, and seemed to take pity on him.
heard you were different, now. Word
gets around you know. I get around.
Rivers always do.”
“I… I’ve come
to ask if you can help me. If you can
give me some information.”
silent, waiting, but the smile hardened a little.
“Do you know
of anything that can turn flesh to bone, perhaps by a bite or a sting? Something that leaves a taste of itself in
the blood, the taste of the sea?”
stood for a moment, her bare feet not quite touched by the rubbish on the
floor, but he could tell from her expression that she knew something. That she perhaps knew a lot. Rivers keep many secrets, though, and some
they choose to never give up.
forward until he was almost touching her, and pulled something from his pocket.
He’d bought it for Buffy, as a Valentine’s Day present, but he’d remembered
that Sabrina liked gifts, and he’d had nothing else suitable to bring. He’d get Buffy something else. He showed it to her and then fastened it
around her bare neck. It was a necklace
of doves, the tiny birds carved from pale mother of pearl, and separated by
small gold beads and freshwater pearls.
It clasped her slim neck invitingly.
She was as
delighted as a child, and she stood on tiptoe to kiss him fleetingly on the
mouth, and then spun around, her wisp of a dress flaring around her.
Angelus. What else have you brought for
brought anything else, Sabrina. Please,
tell me what I need to know. A girl’s
life is at stake.”
instantly that he had made a mistake, that he had shown her his weakness. He’d remembered that she was as fickle and
as dangerous as the river, he just hadn’t remembered clearly enough. Like the river, she could give generously,
but like the river, she could take everything, leaving only wreckage behind
her. She trailed the backs of her
fingertips over her cheek.
“A girl gets
lonely, Angelus. Especially when no one
remembers her anymore. The necklace is
beautiful, but I want something else...”
She pressed up
“I want some
companionship. Give me a day.”
exactly what she meant. As he looked
down into her eyes, he could see that, where they had been blue, they were now
emerald green, the green of a deep and secret sea. As he silently held her gaze, the colour changed again, to the
stormy grey of the river in flood. He
wondered what it was like for a river goddess when humans no longer
believed. Did she have to endure some
half-life, waiting for some remnant acolyte to call her? Was she truly lonely, without
believers? He understood loneliness
better than most. He hurt for her.
can’t. I have… there’s someone I
love. Someone who has a claim on me…”
that there had never been oaths and promises.
Perhaps there should be. But
what right did he have to ask such things of Buffy? He expected them of himself, though.
never so reluctant when you were with Darla.”
He reached out
to touch her cheek. It was warm and
soft, like the river in summer.
“I would if I
could, but Sabrina, this is different.
I love her…”
and the expression was far more dangerous than any pout of Buffy’s. She moved away from him, back towards the
mouth of the rock shelter, fingering the necklace, and for a moment he thought
that she would rip it from her neck.
price. Unless, of course, you want to
give me a day with your Slayer. That
might be fun. One or the other,
Angelus, or I leave.”
She knew of
Buffy then? He shouldn’t have been
surprised. Gossip was a universal
out of this. You must never touch her,
and it seemed to him that the smile had more fangs in it than he had ever
possessed. Then, in an instant it was
gone, and her expression had a wistfulness that he thought he recognised.
another price, Sabrina.”
“You really do
It was a
statement, not a question.
can find a bridge between us. Trust me,
He thought of
the girl being slowly ossified. He’d
made many sacrifices since he’d started on this path of atonement, impelled by
his love for one slim, blonde girl. The
sacrifices that he was called on to make now were usually those of blood and
pain. This was a sacrifice of principle
and of desire, different, but still a sacrifice. He’d rather have the blood and the pain. He thought of Buffy. One more betrayal of her might be one too
many. What choice did he have, though?
“I’ll give you
your day, Sabrina, if we find a bridge that we can both cross. And it’s Angel, now.”
“Is it? Do you really think so? Well, Angel, take my hand.”
He did so, and
she ran for the cave entrance, pulling him behind her. She leapt high into the air, and yet it
seemed to him that they could not possibly reach the river, even if the river
were deep enough here to cushion such a dive, and he prepared for a crashing
seemed to go on forever, and then they hit water. It was clean and bright, warmed on the surface by a spring sun,
and deeper than it should be. The
turbulent current tugged at him, but she kept hold of his hand, and he saw
around him a river full of life, fish and waterweed, and shells, and things
more magical. As he sank into the
dimmer depths, he knew that he was no longer anywhere near Bridgnorth. He probably wasn’t anywhere near his own
reality. Now, he was in hers. The water tasted saltier than it
should. If this reality mirrored his
own in any way, he was at the broad mouth of the Severn, the tidal waters where
the river flowed into the sea, and the sea flowed into the river. She was pulling him onwards, and he followed
her, always moving. Like the shark
without a swim bladder, he had no reserve of air in his lungs to give him
buoyancy. He had to keep moving or
When he looked
up at her, her dress was gone, and her amber hair streamed around her in
shining coils. She moved towards him
with a smile, reaching out her other hand.
He gave her his in return, and a smile of his own, and then as she
relaxed into his embrace, the tide turned, and they were swept out into the sea
channel, twisting together as the waters carried them hither and thither.
He lay on the
white sand, his head cushioned on a soft tuffet of growth, watching the fronds
of sea grasses undulating gently in the current. Nearby, coral polyps waved their multicoloured tentacles, pink,
and white, and amber. A patch of
brightest scarlet on some nearby rocks was a colony of fan worms, pulsing as
they cast their nets to catch their tiny prey.
Fish darted all about, tugging gently at their hair as it swirled around
them in the tidal currents. He had no
idea how long he had been there, nor what time of day it was in the real
world. This should have concerned him
more than it seemed to. A vampire
always knows where the sun is. It must
be time to go, though.
He let his
fingers trail over her shoulder as she nestled up to him. All that she wore was his necklace. He wore nothing but guilt. He supposed he’d broken no promises, not
even the ones he’d made to himself, but it all felt as flimsy as tissue paper
to him. He could find no virtue in it,
just sacrifice. Well, sacrifices were
made in expectation of reward.
me something, Sabrina.”
waste time wondering how they could speak, and be heard, under water. This was her reality, and she dictated the
“Have I not
given you something?”
He decided to
humour her, and stroked her hair as he kissed her.
indeed, but now our time is almost over.
Please. Will you answer my
herself to him, as pliant as water, seeming to fill all his spaces.
“Well, you have
given me a little,” and her expression here was coy, for it had been much more
than a little, “and so I will give you a little.”
She broke off
a branch of white coral, like a stag’s horn, and handed it to him.
have written of the creature you seek.
Long ago, one of them thought of these as daemons who build coral
reefs. That should tell you what you
need to know. If you want more, you
must stay longer.”
“That’s a riddle,
Sabrina. I need facts. Will you tell me
nothing more useful?”
“No. I have told you more than I ought.”
He wanted to
roar with rage, but he smothered it down.
He ran his
hand down her back and felt her shiver.
She whispered something in his ear.
fathom five thy father lies; Of his bones are coral made…’”
“Then it isn’t
bone? It’s coral?”
how Giles could have missed that. How Nick
could have missed that.
Sabrina, what sort of creature am I dealing with?”
yourself, Angelus, who hides her mask behind another mask, trying to be
something she isn’t.”
“Give me a
know it. You just have to remember.”
He bit down on
“How do I know
that you are correct, even if I find out what the hell you’re talking about? I don’t think there’s time for a wild goose
She pulled him
to his feet.
“The Dun Brook
may shelter under the wing of my cousin, Isis, but there are other Duntisbourne
waters that run to me. I have seen.”
exasperation got the better of him.
“Damn it all,
Sabrina, if you know what’s happening, why won’t you just tell me?”
faded until he almost didn’t hear the final word.
“I should not
play the traitor. She’s only trying to
do what she can for her family. Save
her, Angel? It’s happening because of
He felt the
bitter surge of bile in his mouth as her words opened images, memories and
“I’ll do what
Then they were
both standing in the Hermitage, amongst the detritus of everyday living. He was fully dressed and perfectly dry, and
so was she, and they were standing just as they had before she had pulled him
from the cave. He wondered whether
anything had happened, after all, or whether it had only been in his mind. Or in her mind. There was no way to know for sure. When the flood tide recedes, the river looks as it always did.
“Are you sure
you will not stay longer, Angelus?”
He cupped her
face in his hands.
“I have a
lover, Sabrina, and I want it to be a permanent thing. You should find one of your own to make you
“You can never
cross the same river twice,” she whispered sadly. Then with forced gaiety and a little trill of laughter, she
pulled away from him. “Your human lover
will not be there forever. But, you and
I will continue. Come to me again, and
drown yourself in my tides. You won’t
Then she was
gone, and with her the overlay of magic that had painted the little
Chapel. He needed to get back to
Westbury as soon as possible.
restless because Angel hadn’t come home the night before. She’d thought that if he’d had to shelter
from the sun, he might at least have called her, but he hadn’t. When Giles found her looking at her watch
and gazing longingly at the phone for perhaps the dozenth time in an hour, he
told her sternly to go and find some other books or internet sites to check
out, because Angel could look after himself.
She knew that, of course, but it didn’t stop her worrying.
morning, Giles was relieved to get a telephone call, but that relief was
short-lived. It was Rohan. The boy had waited to see Jessica, but she
hadn’t come. He told Giles about the
figure of the cat that he had found the day before. Giles, perhaps denying his own fears, told the frightened boy
that he must have mistaken a garden ornament for something more sinister, but
the boy was adamant. Giles decided that
he needed to see this thing for himself.
Rohan said that he could bring it.
He arrived in
time for lunch, and Martha made them all sit down to hot soup and
sandwiches. When she’d bustled out of
the room, Rohan brought the cat out of his bag. He’d washed the mud off, and they could all see that it was
perfect in every detail, in every smallest hair. Giles fingered the animal.
It felt exactly like the texture of Jessica’s arm, was exactly the same
shade of glittering white.
A sombre mood
settled over the room, and there was little scope for talk as the three each
wondered what course of action would be best.
As they finished up the sandwiches, Giles asked Rohan to wait in the
breakfast room, and took Buffy through to the study.
“I think we
have to get Jessica away.”
frowned. “I can’t disagree, Giles, but
won’t they come looking for her?”
certainly will, but if we don’t do something, this is going to have a Romeo and
bodies, you mean?”
that may be so. It strikes me that
Rohan may do something foolish anyway, so we might as well try to find the
least ugly way through this tangle.”
comment on the fact that Giles wasn’t prepared to go any further than ‘least
ugly’. Neither was she, unless she
could find something to hit.
“But who’s doing
it? It has to be a jellyfish
sort of demon. Perhaps the mad
professor has it hidden away in a cellar.
I say we go and axe it.”
was almost a whine of frustration. They
had no clue.
his head. Buffy tried again.
“Could it be
“No. Remember that Angel said it has to be
someone or something that has some connection with the sea. There’s nothing of that about Rohan.”
“I wish we’d
got Angel here to check that out.”
all brisk business.
“So do I, but
for now, let’s believe in Rohan.
Right. Rohan must get her
away. Then we must find a way to get
Angel and you into Abbotsbury Holt. We
can only hope that between you, you’ll be able to pick out whoever or whatever
is killing her.”
He strode out
to the breakfast room.
“Rohan. We see no alternative. Things are far too dangerous for
Jessica. If she can get out of the
house to meet you, can you get her away?
You can bring her here to start with, and we’ll worry about what to do
The boy nodded
“Yes. I’ll make her see. I won’t even let her pack, or go back to the house. I won’t fail.”
He hadn’t been
gone more than ten minutes when Chief Inspector Collins arrived. He was disappointed to find that Angel was
out, but Martha showed him into the breakfast room, and Buffy carried on her
research in the study while Giles went to meet the policeman. The Corbetts, father and son, had been
arrested and he asked whether Angel could do whatever he did in the cellars of
the house, to see whether there were other victims. Giles said he was certain that Angel would, as soon as he had
returned. Collins spread a map of the
village and its environs out on the table.
A large area had been blocked out – that was the Corbett’s farm.
“I’d like to
check the rest of the farm. Can you ask
him if he’ll walk that land?”
ask him yourself, but I believe he’s already checked it. He said that there’s nothing there.”
relieved, and then pointed out some fields that were separated from the
owns these, but they’re on short term leases to other farmers.”
the bridge of his nose in exasperation.
“Damn. Angel asked me to find out what other land
Corbett owns, but we have an urgent case and it quite slipped my mind. I’m sure he’ll check those, too.”
you the map.”
around for something to hold down the edge of the map, and stop it rolling up
when he let go. The cat was still on
the table. He picked it up, and
examined it with a connoisseur’s eye.
“I used to
collect coral. This is a beautiful
piece. Unusually large, too.”
abstractedly looking for an alternative paperweight, shook his head.
“No, no. It’s definitely coral. It’s unmistakeable.”
Giles took the
effigy from him, and really looked at it, feeling the chalky texture of
it. The man was right. He’d been too absorbed by the events at
Duntisbourne Leer, too taken up by the need to save Jessica, that he simply
hadn’t concentrated. He’d just assumed
that Nick was right. He was angry with
himself for the uncharacteristic mistake.
Still, coral was so akin to bone that some surgeons now used it as a
scaffold to allow the body to build new bone, so perhaps neither he nor Nick
had been so blind.
assured Collins that Angel would call at the farmhouse sometime that evening
and, unable to get anything from him more definite than that, the policeman
left him to his ruminations.
mid-afternoon when they got the phone call from Nick. Jessica had had another flare-up. The new area of bone covered the right hand side of her neck,
running over her jawbone onto her cheek.
Did Giles have any news? Nick
himself was on his way to the Straffords.
Would Giles like to join him there?
Giles most certainly would. He
wanted to check for himself whether Jessica’s flesh was being made bone, or
coral, and although he didn’t tell Nick, it was his intention to do whatever he
could to facilitate Rohan’s abduction attempt.
Buffy agreed with him, and although she really wanted to go and explore
Abbotsbury Holt with an axe, she agreed that it was most sensible to wait here
for Angel and see what he had found out.
down the notebook in utter frustration.
This was Giles’ gig, not hers.
She fought things by hitting them, not by ploughing through books and web
sites. Since Giles’ departure for
Duntisbourne Leer, she’d been trying to find coral demons, or something vaguely
similar. She found herself voicing her
anger out loud.
nothing. Everything on here is literary. Like Shakespeare, even, with his ‘Full
fathom five thy father lies; Of his bones are coral made…’ What the heck does that mean?”
She picked up
the notebook again. Some passing
reference to a woman’s thesis that she couldn’t find, which speculated that
some Greek poet called Hesiod had thought that some really weirdo women – gorgones
– were coral reef-building daemons.
That was the closest she’d managed.
On the off chance that she might be able to contact this Hesiod, see
what he knew, she’d checked him out.
He’d lived around 700 BC. No
luck there, then, except maybe with the ouija board. And would any of these gorgones still be around three
thousand years later, without leaving any recorded damage in between?
She felt as if
she were going blind and stupid, and decided that fresh air was what she
needed. She’d long ago realised that
most of her California clothes didn’t suit the English countryside – at least,
not the ones she normally fought in. She
dragged out a pair of stout walking shoes from the cupboard under the stairs,
grimacing as she did so. Angel had made
her buy those when she’d twisted her ankle once in the slippery Wessex
mud. Burying herself in the depths of a
fleecy-lined waxed jacket, she set out for a walk to clear her head.
There had been
no sun all day, just a cold, clammy mist that penetrated right to the marrow of
her bones. What on earth did these
people do to while away the dank February days? Mind you, the February nights were pretty
dank, too, and seemingly interminable.
Still, she thought with a smile, that wasn’t at all a bad thing. Dank and cold required snuggling… She
couldn’t get used to the way day length changed here, but she could get very
used to the long nights…
caught her attention, and she checked out her surroundings. She found herself on the Trowbridge Road,
just by the drive that led up to Lisa’s livery yard. A noise was coming from there.
She headed for the yard. Towards
the top of the drive, an ancient, leafless ash tree overhung the fence. It was full of birds. She stared in wonder at the flock that
occupied every last twig and branch and filled the air with their high-pitched
chirruping. It wasn’t exactly musical,
but it was sweet, on this otherwise cheerless day.
“Starlings. They’ll be off to Bath for the night, any
minute now. It’s warmer there.”
It was Lisa.
“You look as
if you could do with something warm inside you, Buffy. Why don’t you come in for a cup of tea? A
couple of the horses are still turned out.
You want to help me get them in before we sit down?”
denied any possibility of refusal, and to be honest, Buffy was glad of the
company. She followed Lisa down to the
paddock. The horses weren’t difficult
to catch, offering themselves up in exchange for a slice of apple each. They had sense enough to prefer a night in
the stable, anyway.
for the head collar on the horse that had come to her. It was one of Giles’. The one with the scars on his rump, she
couldn’t remember his name. They’d
healed to just some ghostly white hairs following the tracks of the demon’s
claws, almost like a lacy white veil over his hindquarters. He was still more nervous than he’d used to
be, though, and he baulked a little as she tried to lead him out of the gate.
him, if you like, and you can take Badger.”
Buffy swapped charges with Lisa, and the little pied pony butted at her hip in
greeting. As he did so, he stepped
forward, and Buffy scrambled to remove her feet from the path of definitely
not-pony size hoofs. She’d been trodden
on once before, and discovered just how heavy a horse is. As she did so, his nose pushed against the
pocket of her coat, and her phone slipped out, falling right beneath his hoof. There was the splintering sound of tortured
metal and plastic.
It hadn’t yet
been sunset when Sabrina had left him in the cave, but the freezing fog had
been thick, and Angel had risked the walk to his car. The fog had helped him there, but it held him up on the journey
back. Eventually it started to thin,
but his thoughts remained sour. He was
halfway home before he called Giles.
There was no reply. He didn’t
let the phone ring for long, sure that Giles and Buffy were snatching some
much-needed rest. He tossed the phone
onto the passenger seat, alongside the branch of coral.
Home. Although they did spend a considerable
amount of time at the flat in Bath, preferring its much more spacious
accommodation to the cramped quarters of what had been the chauffeur’s bedsit,
they never liked to leave Giles alone for long. And so, they visited Giles’ home several nights a week, and that
was what it had become for Buffy. A
home. Buffy Summers, Summerdown House,
High Oak Lane, Westbury, Wessex.
Angel. Same address. So far.
How long, though, if she ever found out about the coin he had used to
buy so little information?
House. It had clearly been named for
Summer Down, which stood to one side of the house, as Westbury stood to the
other, but he wondered if, even then, the Fates had known that there would be
Buffy Summers. Had been cruelly amused
that there would be Angel.
thrust down such profitless thinking, and tried to think of poets and demons
and coral reefs. And masks. And love.
He could hear Buffy’s voice.
you do the whacky.”
indeed. He remembered all too clearly
what his alter ego had done because he’d felt that despised emotion, and what
he himself had done for love of family.
Of a son. He drove a little
He was thirty
miles away from Summerdown House when he remembered and understood. It was a revelation that filled him with
fear. He tried the phone again. No answer.
Then he tried Buffy’s cell phone.
No answer. Nor was there any
answer from Giles’ cell. Fear ratcheted
up to terror, and that cold wave of dread swept through him. Had something happened? Was he already too late? They had no idea what they were dealing
with. He tried every few minutes, but
there was no one to answer.
Buffy sat in
Lisa’s kitchen, with the remains of her cell phone in a plastic bag beside her.
“Buffy, I know
you don’t get out much. I don’t mean
getting out and doing strange things, like killing that thing that had hold of
Angel. I mean ordinary getting out. There’s a lot more to rural life than
sitting in Giles’ house, you know. We
have hunt balls, and there were cider festivals in the autumn and wassailing at
Christmas, and there’s always some fun to be had after the farmers’ markets,
and dinner parties, and shooting parties.
There are lots of things. It
might not be exactly what you’re used to, but if you like, I’ll introduce you
of you, Lisa, but…”
Lisa held up
haven’t asked you, and I won’t until you’re ready to tell, but I know I saw
something I wasn’t supposed to see.
Angel isn’t exactly like other guys, is he? Well, he isn’t like any of the guys round here anyway, but you
know what I mean?”
matter. We have some really
strange people round here, especially with the tourists in the summer season,
as you may have noticed. Being American
will probably explain a lot…”
“Really? Well, that will explain even more. But it doesn’t matter. The people at Summerdown House, the Gileses,
have always been a little strange, but very well liked and respected around
here. I’ve only lived here for a decade
or so, but I know that much. You’ll be
welcomed, I promise. Just don’t scare
them with too many more of those things.”
something warm up within her. Being
with Giles was great. Being with Angel
was beyond great. She needed more,
though. She needed some friends, even
if those people knew very little about her, knew only the mask of normality
that she wanted them to see.
good. Where shall we start?”
“Why don’t you
come over one morning, meet some of the girls who’ve got horses here, and let’s
go out for a ride. I’ll show you
around, tell you more about what’s going on and who’s who, and then we can take
it from there. You see things better
from a horse than from a car. You can
ride Badger. He’ll sell himself to you
for a Polo mint.”
laughed. And so it was arranged. It was dark now, and Lisa insisted on
driving Buffy back to Summerdown House.
On the way, they talked about how to include Giles in their plans for
socialising. They studiously avoided
the subject of Angel, but he wasn’t forgotten.
pulled into the courtyard he sprinted straight for the house. It was empty. He desperately wanted to shower, to scrub his skin viciously
clean, but there was no time. He did
manage to find some jeans and a sweater that Buffy had miraculously found time
to wash. No, he amended mentally, the
scent on them was Martha’s. They hadn’t
been ironed yet, but he preferred them to the clothes he’d worn.
he swore. Never again. He’d known what she would want, which was
why he’d not gone before. But he’d
never make that sort of sacrifice again.
Next time, it would have to be Giles.
As he tugged
on the sweater, he heard a car pull into the courtyard, and he ran for the
door. Relief ran wild through him when
he saw Buffy, but he managed to hide it.
He didn’t want to panic her.
Lisa. Buffy, I’ve been trying to call
She held up
the plastic bag full of phone parts.
You can see who won.”
“Gone to that
turned back into the house. With a
gesture of confusion to Lisa, she followed him. He was moving with the speed that is only available to a
vampire. Before she knew it, he was in
the hall, shrugging into his coat.
Giles. Tell him to get himself and
Rohan the hell out of there. Tell him
to do it now. They are not to go
anywhere near anyone or anything in that hamlet. Clear?”
Angel, no! You don’t do this. I’m coming with you.”
Showing that a
slayer can match a vampire, as she spoke she, too, was putting on the coat that
she held over her arm, and then running into the utility room to get
weapons. As she backed out of the
cupboard with a sword and an axe, she felt Angel brush past her, into the
smaller of the two downstairs bathrooms.
There was a loud sound of splintering wood.
never going to be the same again… Angel, what are you doing?”
prize under his arm, he reached across the little room and picked up two dark
blue hand towels.
“If you come,
you do exactly as I say. Exactly. Understood?”
She nodded, a
little frightened by his intensity. He
tossed one of the towels to her.
“Right. Tie that securely around one of the car’s
number plates. I’ll do the other. We’re going to be travelling very fast, and
it won’t do to be caught on camera.”
Giles sat in
the Professor’s study, sipping tea, as Nick, accompanied by Stella Strafford,
minutely examined Jessica’s body. He
had brought a magnifying glass, and he was preparing to take more blood
samples, and to add hair and skin samples, and any other minimally invasive
samples that he could think of. Jessica
could no longer move her head. He and
Giles had examined the latest area of ossification, and had found the tiny but
telltale dark marks in the centre of the patch of bone, but Giles had felt
uncomfortable at more intimate examination.
He had asked to speak to the Professor while Nick did his work, overseen
by Jessica’s mother, and here he was, drinking tea. When he’d arrived, Nick was already inside the house, and he
hadn’t had the opportunity to tell his friend that this was coral, not
bone. This was something he thought he
might be able to use as a lever to prise more information from the old man.
“Can you think
of any cause, Professor, no matter how unlikely, how far-fetched it might
“No. Just find a cure for it, will you? You must.
She’s my only child.”
“Sir, it would
help us greatly in finding a cure if you could give us more information.”
something that the Professor had said struck him.
child? So, she isn’t your wife’s child?”
“No. My first wife died giving birth to
Jessica. I met Stella a little
later. She loved Jessica right from the
start. She can’t have her own children,
you know. But she loves that girl just
as a mother would.”
could speak to Mrs Strafford later? But
I urge you to think very hard. All our
researches so far suggest some link with either medusae or perhaps coral
polyps. Might you have anything in the
house that is harming Jessica? Anything
Giles could only describe the Professor’s expression as ‘hunted’. But he offered no clue, and no response to
room, Nick finished his examination, no wiser than he had been when he started,
but he tried to give the impression that he had learned interesting
things. Jessica had dressed herself
again, and the difficulty of that simple act seemed to snap her
self-control. She ran from the room
with a sob, and then out through the main door and into the darkness of the
garden. Stella Strafford watched her
go, but made no effort to call her back.
When she turned round, Nick thought she looked, for that moment, as if
she had the weariness of millennia on her shoulders.
The drive to
Duntisbourne Leer had been hell. Buffy
had had her eyes closed for most of it.
She had tried throughout to call Giles.
still got his phone switched off!”
the accelerator harder. As they
splashed through the ford, he was forced to brake hard, uncertain of where
exactly to go. He wound down the
window, and the cold night air brought him a hint of what he was looking
for. A few minutes later, he found the
entrance to the drive. When he reached
the parking area, he saw that Rohan’s bike was there.
from Buffy the thing that she had been holding throughout that wild drive, and
started to run. His words drifted back
me and don’t look.”
Strafford turned to close the door, both she and Nick heard voices in the
garden. She pulled the door open again
and ran down the path towards the lily pond lawn. Rohan stood there holding Jessica, and their voices were raised
as they tried to make each other understand.
Raised not in anger, but in emotion and fear. Rohan took her by the hand and tried to hurry her away down the
“If you want
to live, Jessica, you must come with me. You must. I’ve found
people who will help…”
“No! I can’t, I can’t…”
Giles behind him, and they both ran after Mrs Strafford, Giles shouldering Nick
aside. The young couple saw her coming,
and Jessica tugged harder to get away from Rohan. Instead of letting her go, he pulled her into his arms, intent
that they should face her mother side by side.
As Angel raced
up the drive, he saw two young people who had to be Rohan and Jessica, with
their arms around each other. Close to
the house, in the spill of light from the open door, Nick was helping an
elderly man. Between those two groups,
a woman was running towards the teenagers, with Giles in pursuit.
hadn’t seen him, all her concentration focused on her stepdaughter and the
young man. As she ran towards them,
screaming imprecations, the couple turned their heads to look at her. Angel tried to run harder, but it happened
so quickly. Before his horrified gaze,
she changed from a handsome woman into something quite different. Her face became that of a monster.
gaped, wide and stretched, and a broad, long tongue protruded from it. Boar-like tusks sprouted from her
cheeks. Her eyes became wide and
staring, and her hair became a mass of writhing, living, serpentine tentacles,
a different sort of medusa.
They were all
much too far away. He had to try, but
not even vampire speed could get him there in time. It was as if the air thickened around him, slowing him, stopping
him, but it was only time and distance.
flew to her mouth, and she clung to Rohan.
The lovers would be doomed to stay like that, in each other’s arms, for
eternity. In the blink of an eye, they
were turned to a smooth, polished statue of glittering white coral.
Behind, and a
little to one side, Giles called out in horror, and the Gorgon started to turn
towards him. Angel, on the lawn now and
still running, let out a roar of challenge, diverting her from her next
prey. She swung towards him, and he
held up the object that he’d torn from the bathroom door. Heedless of the sharply fractured edges that
had dug deep into his fingers, leaving ribbons of red running down the glass,
he held the mirror in front of his face.
He could feel Buffy come up hard by his shoulder, readying her axe, and
he swerved a little, to shove her to one side, to make her look down at her
footing rather than at the face of death, as he angled the mirror to try and
A scream of
anguish, cut off short, told him that it was done, and everything was now much
too late. He slowed down and risked a
glance around the edge of the glass.
The Gorgon had reached the young couple and had a hand on each shoulder,
her gaze focused behind them towards where he had been. She would stay that way forever, because now
she was made of the same glittering white coral that she had condemned them
to. She had looked into the mirror and
seen what was beneath the mask of humanity.
had fallen to his knees, with Nick bending over him but unable to tear his gaze
away from the tragic group in front of him.
Giles stood to one side, shocked, and Buffy stood by Angel’s side, her
hand gripping his forearm, her face taut and white.
The taste of
bile sharp in his mouth, Angel flung the mirror to one side as rage swelled
within him, ignoring the sound it made as it shattered on the paving around the
pond, loud in the sudden silence. He
pulled away from Buffy’s hand and walked over to a tall eucalypt, then he
allowed his anger to spill out. He
punched the trunk of the tree, and then he did it again, and again and
again. The black cloud of rage that
wrapped him around blinded him to the splashes of red that started to mottle
the smooth green, grey and white of the bark.
He was numb to the pain as flesh broke and bone cracked, blind to the
frozen tableaux around him, deaf to the splintering of wood as his fist crashed
into the trunk again and again, empty of everything except the burning coldness
of rage and of failure. The scent of
wounded eucalyptus rode the chill air down to the houses in the valley
below. He didn’t stop until the tree,
unable to take more punishment, cracked and broke like his hand. As it toppled, he came back to his senses.
No one had
moved, not even those who still could.
His damaged hand hanging limply by his side, he walked towards the
still-living. His movement seemed to
rouse Buffy from her trance, and she caught up to him, her hand slipping into
his uninjured one. Giles walked towards
them, and when they met, by unspoken consent, the three of them held each
other, almost in imitation of the three who would never hold anyone else again.
pressed his forehead against the crown of Buffy’s head, he repeated over and
over, “I should have saved them. I should have understood.”
“It isn’t your
fault, Angel. None of us
understood. And we still have no idea
how we could have saved Jessica from what was happening to her.”
“Not just her,
Buffy. I should have saved Jessica, and
Rohan, god knows, but I should have saved Stheno, too. It was what Sabrina really wanted, I think.”
at him in surprise.
“Stheno? That is… was Stheno? And Sabrina? You didn’t say you went to Sabrina, Angel. Is she as…?”
Angel cut him
“Dangerous? Yes, she’s dangerous. But she seems to have had feelings for
Stheno. I’ll tell you about it later.”
look at Buffy. He broke away from them
and crossed the small stretch of lawn that separated them from the other two by
the house, pausing at the group of three coralline figures on the way.
they’re quite dead.”
He put a hand
to a frozen cheek. So far as he could
tell, it was just a rather exceptional coral sculpture.
Gorgon, Buffy. We can only hope that
she is dead, for her sake. I can’t
detect any life at all.”
Strafford was still on his knees, distraught, with Nick trying to offer
comfort, his own face drawn and grey.
Nick looked up as they approached.
“Rupert, you will
tell me what has happened here, or I won’t ever sleep at night again. But not now. Professor Strafford needs help.”
into a crouch by the old man.
sorry. I should have known earlier, should
have stopped this. I understand what a
shock this must be for you, finding out that your wife was something… something
rounded on him savagely.
fool. She was more human than you can
ever imagine. I’ve always known exactly
who she was. Always.”
Angel took his
arm to help him up from the cold, wet ground.
Stheno, wasn’t she? Not Euryale? That’s why she called herself Stella.”
“Stheno?” to Giles. He replied softly,
“Medusa wasn’t the only Gorgon. She had
two sisters, Stheno and Euryale.”
“Yes, she was
Stheno. Medusa was mortal, but her
cracked, and it seemed as though he couldn’t carry on, but then he visibly
pulled himself together.
indoors, please, and I’ll tell you the rest.
This is all my fault. All my
him into a comfortable chair, and Nick found a blanket to wrap around his thin
shoulders. Giles found a decanter of
brandy, and Nick nodded his approval. Buffy took the half-full glass from Giles and helped the old man
to drink a little – his hand was shaking too much to manage by himself. When the tremors had abated, he handed the
glass back to Buffy, pulled the blanket a little tighter, and then started to
Elizabeth died, I threw myself into my work.
I was diving off the North African coast looking for a reported new
species when I met Stella. You might
call it love at first sight, but I knew there was something… different… about
her. She told me. She trusted me absolutely, and she told me
what she was. She and Euryale had
separated after the death of Medusa.
They didn’t want anyone coming for their heads, the way Perseus had come
for their sister’s. Stheno had spent
more than two millennia living as a human, trying not to draw more attention to
herself than necessary, but she wouldn’t marry me until I knew what she
was. You could never understand the
amount of trust it takes to do that, for someone like a Gorgon.”
Angel threw a
stricken glance at Buffy, but Strafford didn’t see that, and he carried on with
Jessica, I promise you that, but this trouble with Rohan tested her
self-control severely. She’d had an
augury, she said, that if Jessica were allowed to be with Rohan, then she would
die, and Stheno herself would be the cause of it. Stheno believed in auguries.
She was right.”
He lapsed into
silence. It was Nick who broke it.
Professor, why was Jessica gradually turning to bone?”
“Not bone,” Angel
corrected. “Coral. The three sisters were believed, in ancient
times, to be responsible for building coral reefs. To be daemons of the sea.
Because of Stheno, I think.”
were different, but all three had the beautiful, human mask that they showed
the world, and all three had another self.
The Gorgon. In Gorgon-face,
Medusa had snakes for hair. Stheno had
the tentacles of a medusa. She never
showed that face though. Never!”
His denial was
fierce, but then he fell silent for a moment, lost in thought.
terribly upset by Jessica’s refusal to let Rohan go. It affected her profoundly.
Whenever Jessica defied her, whenever Rohan came near the house, on
those nights I would find Stheno sleep-walking, unaware of what she was
doing. She would go to Jessica and sit
by her as she slept, crying over her fears for the future. At those times, she… she couldn’t completely
control her inner self, and although she kept the face hidden, she couldn’t
always control her hair. She never
remembered any of it, afterwards. A
sting from her hair, well, you saw what power it had.”
thought Giles, another prophecy fulfils itself. He cursed all prophecies to hell. Then he asked the question that plagued him the most.
“Why on earth
didn’t one of you tell us? If we had
known, we wouldn’t have wasted so much time looking at the wrong things. We would have tried other things…”
The old man
just shook his head.
your world. You would never have
believed me. You would have laughed at
the thought of a supernatural being, and Stheno would have finished up dead or
lost to me. I knew I couldn’t bear
that. And Jessica never knew. Stheno always believed that if we kept
Jessica and Rohan apart, then a cure could be found. And perhaps a way to defeat the prophecy of Jessica’s death, if
we would only be patient. She had
faith. So did I – but I had faith in
clenched in anger and frustration and Angel gave a bitter, hollow bark of
the fool. We were your best hope of
help. You have no idea what we would
have believed. And now the worst has
happened. Two innocent young people are
dead, and so is Stheno.”
Giles shut up,
then. The old man was too distressed
for him to continue, and he could see that both Angel and Buffy had been
powerfully affected. He could only
imagine the damage that these revelations would cause to them. And Nick looked as if the safe world that he
knew and understood had suddenly disappeared from around him.
could come later. Now was the time to
help people live with what had happened.
insisted on being left alone. Giles was
hopeful that the man had the inner strength to deal with his grief. Angel had no such illusions. He was certain that the old man wouldn’t
linger for long. He had an idea that
the Professor would find a way to sink the tragic sculpture into the sea, where
he perhaps thought that Stheno belonged, and where no one could ever interfere
with it. He wondered whether to tell
the man of Sabrina, who seemed to care for the Gorgon. Strafford would quite possibly follow it
down to death himself. Angel wasn’t
sure that anyone could, or should, stop that.
Nick had gone
home, but had vowed that he would visit Westbury in the next few days for a
full explanation, otherwise there would be no sanity left in his world. They felt that he was probably owed that
explanation. Or at least some part of
pulled back the sheets and got into their bed, which had already been warmed by
the body of his lover. He took her in
his arms and kissed her forehead as she held onto him with an urgency they
hadn’t had to worry about for a long time.
He kissed her again, and then he turned over and lay gazing into
nothingness. He wasn’t sure whether
what lay between them was the mask that Stheno had worn, just as he did; the
destruction she had unwillingly brought to her loved ones, just as he feared he
would; the bodies in the field and the way he had thrilled to those; or the
price that he had paid to Sabrina. Or
all of the above. For tonight, he felt
too tarnished for his golden girl. But he
didn’t pull away when she put her arms around him, and just held him, pressed
close against his back.
The next day
brought a phone call from Detective Chief Inspector Collins, reminding Angel
that he had been promised to meet at the Corbetts’ house. Angel went up there as soon as the sun had
set. He felt the need for fresh air,
and so he walked the two or three miles to the livery stable. Lisa saw him as he walked past the house,
and came running after him.
has got a bee in his bonnet because you stood him up yesterday.”
know. But something urgent came
up. Giles didn’t get chance to tell me
about it. He didn’t give you a hard
time, did he?”
“Oh, no. But he’s asked me a lot of questions about
wryly. She put a hand out and rested it
on his arm.
clearly one of the good guys, Angel, even if I don’t know exactly what that
means. What I don’t understand, I can’t
tell, now can I? Besides, I’ve promised
Buffy that I’ll sponsor you both, and Giles, into Wessex rural society. You all need some fun in your lives. I’m not going to have the policeman carrying
you off because of idle tittle-tattle.”
not keep him waiting, then, had I?”
Then she was
gone. He made his way over the pastures
and paddocks until he was on Corbett land, and then climbed out of the valley towards
the farmhouse. Collins was waiting for
“I thought you
were coming here yesterday.”
“Yes. I’m sorry.
Something came up, and I just forgot.”
been something important.”
policeman’s tone was mild.
there were some strange reports of a car heading north out of this area
yesterday, just after sunset, at some incredible speed. Going towards Gloucester, they
reckoned. They’d got a couple of cars
ready to deploy the stinger to stop it, when it simply disappeared. Must have been doing a hundred and fifty
miles an hour until it turned off somewhere.
Number plates were obscured but it was a black Porsche. That’s what you drive, isn’t it?”
what I drive. There’re a few of them
“Not many. Still, it’s not my manor.”
He turned to
walk into the farmhouse, but paused on the threshold.
perhaps both, of them are going to prison, I expect, but neither of them are
coming back here. The son says he’ll
set fire to it before he sets foot in the place again. I hear the old man has already put out word
for a demolition crew, once we’ve released it.
Shall we start?”
“So, can I
come in then?”
“Of course you
can, unless you can do what you do standing out there.”
was enough. Angel had feared that it
might not be, but the repudiation by its owners had clearly left the house in
the gift of the police.
The smell had
been bad enough outside, but once inside, he was enmeshed in a miasma of old
blood. The house simply reeked of it,
and the stones seemed to echo the ghostly sounds of terror and pain. He wondered if he would find himself unable
to control his mask, as Stheno had, and he shortened the leash on his demon.
They went down
to the cellar, the policeman frowning at a feeling that he couldn’t understand,
completely unaware of the internal battle being fought by the man behind
him. Collins didn’t know that some
small and ancient part of himself still understood what it was to be prey, had
recognised the presence of a predator at his back, and was shrieking at him to
Part of the
shelving on the wall had been pulled away to reveal a second staircase. This was the source of the ancient blood,
and of everything else that was straining Angel’s self-control. Collins stood back to allow Angel to go
first. In that terrible lower space,
Angel stood in the centre of the floor for long minutes, trying to put aside
the power of the blood screaming to his senses. When he felt that he had reached some sort of equilibrium, he
walked over the floor, covering each foot of it.
“No one is
“Yes.” The answer came out as a snap. “I’m very sure. Can we get out of here, please?”
silently led the way out into the night.
Neither of them spoke until they’d walked away from the farmhouse.
“He’s made a
full confession, you know, old man Corbett.”
at him in surprise.
“The old man
killed them all?”
think he did?”
“It’s not up
to me to think about who did or who didn’t.
That’s your job.”
was a tight little thing.
“No, he didn’t
kill them. His eldest son did, over a
period of about fifteen years, during the two weeks a year that he ran the farm
while the Corbetts senior and junior went to visit the old man’s sister in
Orkney. The son preyed on lone women
and young girls. We haven’t identified
them all yet, but they were runaways, we think, probably come down here to work
for the summer season. No one to miss
them. He… He did unspeakable things to
them. But, the old man eventually found
out. Bludgeoned the son to death and
buried him with the victims. Where
his victims could haunt him, was what he said. Put it around that his son had run away to the big city.”
we would never have known the bodies were there. Well, I suppose the horses will be able to go past there now,
sure. I’ll walk the other fields and
let you know whether I find anything else, but I think they were all in the one
place. He wouldn’t be able to chance
someone ploughing them up.”
you’re right, but I’ll sleep better once I’ve heard from you.”
nodded. He wasn’t sure he’d ever sleep
As he walked
back to Summerdown House, he passed the parish church, St Cyprian’s. The lights were on and a car was outside,
the boot open. An elderly woman came
from the church and at first Angel wasn’t sure who she was, with the light
shining behind her, darkening her features.
As she came closer though, he saw that it was the local postmistress,
Mrs Brewster. She was a little bird of
a woman, in an old brown tweed suit.
him cheerily, as she bent into the car boot.
When she straightened, she was clutching an armful of flowers. They were mainly different kinds of
daffodils, but there were branches of holly, trailing lengths of ivy, the
yellow lily-of-the-valley-scented blooms of mahonia, and other fragrant
greenery that he didn’t recognise. When
he looked into the boot, he saw many more bunches, native spring flowers as
well as exotics.
church ready for an event, Mrs Brewster?”
He thought it
might be a wedding, but he was wrong.
“Oh, no. It’s St Valentine’s Day on Tuesday. The House of the Lord must always be swept
and garnished, but especially for a day like St Valentine’s Day, wouldn’t you
say? Everyone thinks it’s so romantic,
but romance is as romance does. It was
actually the day when they used to put the pigeons together so that there would
be eggs and squabs to eat. Very
practical people in those days.”
He smiled at
garnished? Wasn’t that the home of the
unclean spirit who then came back seven times stronger?”
voice was firm.
“Then we can
only expect that the Lord will do even better than the unclean spirit
could! By the way, will you be giving
any more talks for the Ladies’ Circle?
I was invited to attend by my friend Cecily, who’s a member of that
congregation. We really enjoyed your
talk, you know. You spoke with such
“Maybe. But we’ll let Giles do the next one, I
expect. I’ll give you a hand.” He picked up great armfuls of flowers. “I’ll just leave them in the porch for you,
The night was
still young when he got back to the house.
Darkness still fell before five o’clock, and it was not much past seven
now. Giles and Buffy had already eaten,
but were still sitting morosely around the dining room table, toying with
coffee. It was as if unfinished
business hung heavily over them. Giles
showed him a message that Martha had taken from his contact at Bath
University. The blood sample had shown
protein from a coelenterate.
Specifically, from an unknown type of jellyfish. Giles snorted.
“A bit bloody
He threw the
message into the waste basket.
them the news from Collins, and then a thought occurred to him. He brought in the map from the breakfast
room and unrolled it, using the half-finished coffees as paperweights. He pointed to a shaded-out area just behind
that field. You wanted another, didn’t
you? My guess is it’ll be going cheap
the bridge of his nose and shook his head.
silver lining, eh?”
always, and this isn’t much of one…”
off. He knew they were all thinking of
Abbotsbury Holt. The thought of that
took him somewhere else.
“Nothing. I promised Collins I’d walk these
fields. I’ll… I’ll see you later.”
Then he was
gone. Buffy looked at Giles.
mister interpreter. Just what
was Angel babbling about.
Giles took off
his glasses and gave them the characteristic polish that he no longer noticed.
“ ‘Swept and
garnished’ comes from the Bible…”
He made for
the study, and Buffy followed him. She
found him leafing through a Bible.
“Yes, here it
is. It’s in Luke, and in Matthew,
too. It talks of an unclean spirit
leaving a house, and that house being swept and garnished. It refers to the person from whom the
unclean spirit has been ejected, I should think, but the text is rather
obscure. Some ritual of purification, I
imagine, although in that case the spirit came back later and it was stronger
at his forehead – what maggot had got into Angel’s head now, he wondered. Buffy gazed into the middle distance, deep
in thought. She knew that Angel was
much troubled, and she knew some of the reasons. It was the others that really worried her.
When Angel got
back to the church, Mrs Brewster was kneeling in the porch, separating out the
flowers. He asked if he could buy a
bunch of the daffodils from her, and she shook her head and gave him an
armful. They were white jonquils,
granddaughter gets these from the market.
They come from the Channel Islands, and just now they’ve got more
daffodils than they know what to do with.
The wholesaler gives her his spare flowers for the church free of
She also had
more greenery than she could use, and so she gave him bunches of that,
too. He gave her some money for the
offertory box, and asked her another question.
She thought for a moment, and then directed him to her great-niece’s
house, in the centre of Westbury.
There, he explained what he was looking for. She had exactly the right things.
He dropped his
purchases into the back of the car, where they sat next to a stiff broom, a
scrubbing brush and a bucket. And some
packets of herbs from Giles’ stores.
Then he set off for Bridgnorth.
Sabrina’s sanctuary, was just as he had left it. He set to work, sweeping out the detritus, and carrying up river
water to scrub away the accumulated dirt and stains. Even before he used it, the water didn’t seem very clean, but it
was Sabrina’s, and so he figured that it would be good enough.
Some of the
herbs he burned and some of them he strewed on the floor, using cleansing
rituals gleaned from those who worshipped the spirits of place.
When he had
finished, he placed the flowers in a niche at the back, and then hung his other
purchases around the walls. They were
necklaces and pendants, bracelets and anklets, of coral and shell, and mother
of pearl, and earrings of beautifully polished abalone. As he stood back to view his handiwork, he
spoke out loud.
“I hope you
like these, Sabrina. I’m sorry we lost
He thought of
Mrs Brewster, and her simple, solid conviction that her attention to the house
of the Lord could only strengthen the deity.
He wondered if what he had done would make Sabrina stronger, and he
hoped that it would make her a little happier.
He thought he heard a sigh, and for a moment the sanctuary shimmered and
changed into the place he’d seen with the lonely river goddess. Then it was gone. He went back to the car, feeling that he’d done the right
thing. When he felt in his pocket for
the car keys, it was almost as if a warm hand brushed against his, and then
there was something else in his pocket.
When he looked at what Sabrina had returned to him, it brought a smile
to his face. As he drove back to
Westbury, he was grateful for the long winter nights.
Buffy was the
first to wake up. Last night, Angel had
made love to her with an intensity that spoke of quiet desperation. She knew that recent events had upset his
hard-won equilibrium. The newspapers
were all carrying the stories of the bodies in the field, and seemed to have an
unwarranted amount of knowledge about what had been done to the girls. She could only imagine what that had stirred
up in Angel. She might have a simple
and deeply-held belief in the goodness of his soul, but she was only too well
aware of the inner demon that he kept chained and caged.
worse, coming on top of the bodies, was the understanding that Stheno had not,
in the end, been able to control what she was.
Her mask had slipped. He must be
afraid that the same would eventually happen to him, soul or not.
As she watched
her sleeping lover, her heart went out to him, and she couldn’t resist running
her hand over his shoulder. He wasn’t
Stheno, and he wasn’t a serial torturer.
Not anymore. She would make him
The tiny frown
he had worn smoothed itself away as he leaned into her caress, and then his
his greeting with a kiss.
“That sounds a
bit lovey-dovey. Still, it’s that sort
of day, isn’t it? You know, being the
day that it is…?”
would that be?”
Buffy huffed a
little, but it was all for show, really.
How could she be cross when he spoke to her in that sexy,
“Why do men
always need reminding about days like this?”
herself up on her elbow, to get a better view of him, only to have him turn
over. He was soon back, though, with
something that he’d pulled from beneath the bed. Under his amused gaze, she tore open the shimmering red wrapper
to find a large, heart-shaped box of chocolates, Thornton’s Continental
truffles. On top of it was a much
smaller box, wrapped in gold foil with a silver bow. It contained a necklace of tiny mother of pearl doves, separated
by little gold beads and freshwater pearls.
It was exquisite.
He took it
from the box and fastened it around her neck.
She walked to the mirror to admire it, and then she turned to him, with
a woebegone expression on her face. He
knew that she was thinking of those lovers who would never have the chance to
celebrate this day ever again. Rohan. Jessica.
Stheno. Strafford. The ones they had been unable to save. He went to her and held her, then, and as a
shudder of a sob ran through her small frame he nestled her head against his
neck and whispered in her ear.
“Never was a
story of more woe…”
She pulled a
little away from him.
that they’re at peace? All three of
He’d not been
able to detect any scent of life, any sign of consciousness, but who knew? And so he simply hoped that they were at
peace. She seemed satisfied, though,
and then she took him back to their bed and started to remind him that he was
Angel. Not Angelus, and not
lesson, that act of sweeping and garnishing, took quite a long time, and the
cleansing was a thorough one.
peace this morning with it brings;
The sun for
sorrow will not show his head:
to have more talk of these sad things;
be pardon'd and some punish’d:
was a story of more woe
of Juliet and her Romeo.
Act V Scene iii
1 The Reform Club
stayed here overnight, and I’m dismayed to find that I can only hazily
recollect it! If I’d known I was going
to write about it, I would have taken copious notes. Since the place seems to be very secretive about publishing
layout plans or descriptions (if you know better, tell me), I’ve made some of
good information from Wikipedia:
And here’s a more
complete drawing of the monumental entrance area:
If you’ve read
Jules Verne’s ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’, then you know that the journey
for Phileas Fogg and Passepartout did, indeed, begin from the Reform Club,
which you now know is not fictitious.
In addition to those notables already mentioned, membership has
included: E. M. Forster, Henry James,
Stella Rimington, William Makepeace Thackeray, Winston Churchill, David Lloyd
George, Guy Burgess, and Sir Henry Irving.
2 Giles and Eyghon
season 2, The Dark Age
3 Sophists vs Sapphists
If you haven’t
looked it up, this is not a spelling or pronunciation mistake. I guess it’s more of a pun, or play on
the Concise Oxford Dictionary has to say:
sophist // n.
1 a person who
reasons with clever but fallacious arguments.
2 Gk Antiq.
a paid teacher of philosophy and rhetoric, esp. one associated with moral
scepticism and specious reasoning.
Sapphic // adj. & n.
1 of or
relating to Sappho, poetess of Lesbos c.600 BC, or her poetry.
n. (in pl.)
(sapphics) verse in a metre associated with Sappho.
without a dictionary to hand, here’s the meaning of specious, which sort of
completes the pun:
superficially plausible but actually wrong (a specious argument).
attractive in appearance.
4 Lisa and her livery stable
We first met
Lisa in ‘Slayer’.
5 Turner paintings
William Turner (1775 – 1851) is one of the most famous British artists, often
know as the painter of light. His
sunsets and sunrises are particularly colourful, and it is believed that he
painted them from those that he saw during the years when the Earth’s
atmosphere was affected by the eruption of Tambora in Indonesia. It first erupted in 1812, and continued
until 1815, when it treated the world to the greatest volcanic eruption in
recorded history. The blast on 5 April
1815 was heard 1,000 kilometres away, and the death toll has been put at
117,000. Because of it, 1816 was known
as the year without a summer, and Ireland had its first great famine. And because of it, the poet, Lord Byron, and
his party at Villa Deodati on Lake Geneva, had such miserable weather that they
had to amuse themselves indoors most of the time. And so one of his guests, Mary Shelley, wrote Frankenstein.
Here’s one of
Turner’s incomparable sunsets, painted around 1830:
6 Green lanes
some of which are at least 2,000 years old, are composed of an unmetalled farm
track with field boundaries either side; boundaries can be grass banks, hedges,
wood edge or stone walls.
corpse-candle can be either a lighted candle placed beside a corpse before
burial, or a lambent flame seen over a grave, and regarded as an omen of death.
that this is the same phenomenon as ignis fatuus, the will-o’-the-wisp,
that misleads travellers - a phosphorescent light that appears in the night,
over marshy ground, caused by the decomposition of animal or vegetable
matter. It is thought to be methane, or
possibly phosphine, which fits the descriptions better. We, of course, know differently, now, don’t
we? It also goes by the name of
balefire, death fire, fata morgana, watch fire, and witch fire, among many others,
but no one other than us knows that it’s Syriak demons.
The city of
Leicester, which we visited in DM’s story earlier this season, is pronounced
‘Lester’. Gloucester is pronounced
‘Gloster’. Cirencester is obviously,
then, pronounced ‘Sirensester’. The
joys of British place names… All of the
ones that include ‘chester’, ‘castor’, ‘caster’ and ‘cester’ derive from the
Latin for ‘camp’, and show that the Roman military were there. They’ve had over fifteen hundred years since
then to make their pronunciations very… individual.
9 Fibrodysplaysia ossificans progressiva
it. This is indeed a wicked and cruel
disease, and the information I’ve given is accurate, to the best of my
knowledge. It was a TV programme about
a young girl with this disease that was the sad inspiration for this story.
10 In Greek mythology, Pygmalion was a
sculptor who was so disenchanted with women that he vowed to live
unmarried. He made an ivory statue of
perfect, maidenly womanhood. When he
made a wish that he should find a woman like his statue, Aphrodite brought the
statue to life as the virgin Galatea.
11 Duntisbourne Leer
indeed, exist, as do the other Duntisbourne hamlets, near to Gloucester. How could I resist using such a wonderfully
Here’s a nice,
picturesque view of the hamlet and its ford.
Here are some
other views, including the garage that is only accessible by driving along the
stream. There are other villages shown
there, too, with interesting, erm, roads.
For those not
familiar with the British National Health Service, the General Practitioner
(GP), or family doctor, is the doctor that you see about absolutely
everything. He or she will then refer
you on to whichever specialist you need if he or she cannot help you. A consultant is the most senior of medical
practitioners, and those who reach these dizzy heights stop being called doctors
and become plain Mr, Mrs or Miss again.
It all goes back to the differing medical traditions in centuries past,
when there were the barber-surgeons, called mister, and the rather seedy
individuals practicing other sorts of medicine, who called themselves
doctors. So, which one do you trust?
13 The lily pond lawn, with its two huge
trees is a scaled down version of one of the formal lawns at the beautiful
Bodnant Garden, in Wales. I loved it,
so I borrowed.
little slideshow here
underwater, these are stunningly beautiful.
Here are some pictures:
varies from less than an inch across the bell, to more than seven feet. Tentacles can exceed 100 feet in
length. For all this, jellyfish are
very fragile, often containing less than 5% solid organic matter.
through two different body forms. The
larval stage is a small, sessile polyp, which will divide and bud into young
jellyfish, which then grow into the adult medusa. Jellyfish have a specialised venom apparatus for dealing with
prey, and in some species this venom can be very powerful.
15 Bridgnorth and the Hermitage
There are a
number of hermits’ caves along the course of the River Severn. Here’s information about the Hermitage, its
associated Witches’ Caves and the Queen’s Parlour:
In a tale of
love and jealousy, Geoffrey of Monmouth tells us of the death of an innocent
maid, Habren, and her mother Estrildis, murdered by drowning in the waters of
the river. The murderous Gwendolen
decreed that the river should carry the child’s name, Habren in Welsh, Severn
in English and Sabrina in Latin. And so
the river got its genus loci, its goddess.
describes her in Comus:
thou art sitting
glassy, cool, translucent wave
braids of lilies knitting
train of thy amber-drooping hair;
dear honour’s sake,
Goddess of the
17 The necklace of mother of pearl doves,
gold beads and freshwater pearls is real.
It was my necklace, and it had a stupid screw thread fastener, and after
having it for only a few weeks, I lost it.
I still mourn it.
18 The Severn Bore
The Severn is
a tidal river, and has a world-famous bore – a sea wave that sweeps up the
river. It’s particularly large at the
equinoxes. When the tides are right,
the Severn Bore will travel from the mouth of the Severn all the way to
Worcester, which even by the much straighter road must be a good fifty
miles. It’s not a one-way river.
19 Full fathom five…
five thy father lies;
Of his bones
are coral made:
pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him
that doth fade,
suffer a sea-change
rich and strange.
hourly ring his knell:
act 1 scene 2
20 The Thames, before it reaches Oxford, is
usually called The Isis. There is a
myth telling of how the Thame married the Isis, and became the Thamesis – the
Latin name for the River Thames, and that Isis is simply a truncation of
that. However, there is some suggestion
that the river carried the name Isis long before the Romans arrived.
21 Summer Down
It’s a real
place, one of the Wiltshire Downs – open rolling chalk uplands, with few trees,
mainly used for pasture – and it’s right next to Westbury, exactly as
about Medusa vary. In all of them, she
is one of three sisters, the Gorgons.
She is described as a beautiful woman who offended Athene by lying with
Poseidon, the god of the sea, in Athene’s temple. As a result, Athene cursed her to have snakes instead of hair,
and to look as she does. Her sisters,
Stheno and Euryale, are more shadowy figures, but were said to be immortal,
whereas Medusa herself was mortal.
They lived on
an island – they were always connected to water in some way – and were known
far and wide because of their deadly power. They had tusks like boars,
protruding tongues, thick dragon scales, hands of brass, wings of gold, and a
face so ugly that all who looked at it were turned to stone. They were the
daughters of Phorcys who had also offended Athene by leading the Libyans of
Lake Tritonis in battle. Tetchy beings,
these Greek gods.
And yet, the
interpretations of the myth make it plain that Medusa was originally an aspect
of the goddess Athene from Libya where she was the Serpent-Goddess of the
Libyan Amazons. In her images, her hair sometimes resembles dreadlocks, showing
her origins in Africa. There she had a hidden, dangerous face. It was said that
no one could lift her veil, and that to look upon her face was to glimpse one’s
own death as she saw your future. Her
sisters were other aspects of that triple goddess, and some sources give them
hair that isn’t quite…hair.
In the myth,
Perseus was sent to slay Medusa. In
some accounts, she became petrified by seeing herself in Perseus’ shield, and
in others he caught her sleeping. In
all the accounts, he chopped her head off and took it back with him.
The myth also
links Medusa to coral. Having chopped
off her head, he washed his hands in the sea, after placing the head on some
branches. In the ones touched by the
head, the stems and leaves were turned into coral. Athena is often depicted wearing the mask of Medusa on her
The union of
Medusa and Poseidon resulted in the winged horse Pegasus, who sprang forth when
drops of blood from her severed head fell to earth.
One of the
best primary sources of information is Hesiod’s Theogony, and he seems to have
imagined the gorgons (gorgones in Greek) as some sort of coral
more, and it’s all very interesting, with many more characters. These will get you started. If you want more, I found it easiest to
Google on Stheno and Euryale – you get more pertinent hits.
23 Swept and garnished
obscure text from Matthew 12: 43-45, and Luke 11: 24-26, King James’s
Version. It seems to mean that if a
person is cleansed of sin, and then falls back into bad ways, their wickedness
increases sevenfold, but it can be read more literally.
24 Thornton’s Continental
Continental Truffles are, in the UK, the standard expensive chocolates for
making up, for Valentine’s Day, for Mother’s Day and so on. And they are yummy.