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A Canterbury Tale

Project Paranormal

Author: Dark Star

Season 2.

Part 14.

 

**

Summary: The Witch's Tale.

 

**

 

A Canterbury Tale

 

 

"What was the name of the hotel that we're looking for?"

 

Buffy pulled the piece of paper out of her pocket. "It's a B&B called The Millers Arms Inn."  Angel gave her an indulgent smile and she giggled. All the way over in the car from Westbury, she had been babbling about the 'quaint' streets and sights of England. He wasn't sure that she was being serious, it was just something for her to talk about. And Buffy loved to talk.

 

"I know what you're thinking," she gave him a quick glare. "You're wishing I would shut the hell up…"

 

"Not at all." He smirked. "There are ways…"

 

Buffy smacked his arm. "Keep your eyes on the road, mister! We're…" her words trailed off, and her eyes widened. "Whoa…"

 

Angel looked up at what Buffy was staring at. The beautiful Cathedral of Canterbury illuminated, and dominated the skyline, and something… some nameless emotion made him swallow a lump in his throat at the sight.

 

Buffy added, "Well, that's a great landmark, isn't it? Giles said that he will be staying with his friend at the shop right next to that. When do you go and see the sickie?"

 

"Sickle." Angel corrected automatically. "Giles has arranged for us to have a look at it first thing in the morning, before it gets light."

 

Angel found that the car park recommended by Giles' friend Stewart was almost opposite the Inn, and they took the short walk to their B&B. The accommodation was inside an extension of an old pub, and Buffy liked the abundance of flowers adorning the windowsills and walls. The pub stood alongside the river, and on the river a large, and very old water mill still stood.

 

An hour later, the packing still undone and the bed remade, they made their way toward the Cathedral, looking for Stewart's shop. Estrella Oscura sold magic goods, a veritable Aladdin's cave of wonder, and although the goods in the window looked innocent enough, they knew that Stewart did carry the genuine deal as well. Giles had told them that Stewart himself was not a practitioner of magic, but he had picked up a lot of knowledge over the years. The magic user had been his wife Maria - a practising witch - sadly, one of the casualties of the recent apocalypse. Stewart's immediate response to her death, according to Giles, was to sell up and get away from everything. But so many people had begged him to stay, and asked for his help in understanding the use of magic and had just not been able to understand what had happened to their own loved ones, that he had decided to stay on and see if he could help. Maria had loved the shop very much… so ultimately, he had stayed on for her.

 

Stewart came down from the upstairs flat to invite them in, and Buffy was surprised that he was so young. And cute. She almost giggled at the sideways glance that Angel gave her, but she managed to control her expression as they followed him upstairs.

 

Giles was seated at the kitchen table, folders and books stacked up in front of him when they arrived. He cleared a space on the table and Stewart made some tea for them all. A pleasant evening was spent in discussions of all types, and Stewart seemed genuinely impressed to have a Slayer in his flat. He had a lot of tales about Canterbury to recount to them, and had lots of local knowledge, which impressed Buffy.

 

"So," she said, and both Giles and Angel could see the impish look in her eye. "I hear that Orlando Bloom comes from here?"

 

Stewart laughed, having expected some kind of historical question. "Yes. Not far from here, as it happens. If you take the right route back to the Millers Arms, you'll pass right by it."

 

"I didn't realise you were a fan," Giles commented.

 

"Oh, I'm not." Buffy grinned. "But if I can get some info, I'll get extra credit with Dawn…"

 

"If you go through Sun Street, and along Palace Street, you then come out into St Alphege's and King Street. Look for a pub called Scribes - the house where Orlando was born is directly opposite."

 

"Thank you," Buffy replied sweetly. "We'll check it out on the way home."

 

"Of course," Stewart continued, "the family no longer live there, Orlando's mother moved recently…" but it didn't dampen Buffy's enthusiasm, because Dawn was a huge fan and would still be impressed with knowing that her sister had been to his house, and Buffy got Angel to take a picture of her as proof.

 

**

 

--Day Two--

 

Buffy pulled the covers over her head as Angel got out of bed. He could have sworn she muttered something like, "You must be mad…" as she snuggled down for an extra hour or so.

 

Dressed and ready, he crossed to the bed and kissed the top of her head gently. "I won't be long. Stay warm for me?"

 

"Hmmmmph…"

 

A small smile quirking his lips, Angel let himself out of the room and began his walk toward Stewart's shop. Giles was watching for him out of the bedroom window, and he saw Angel cross the street, making no attempt to conceal himself. He met him at the shop doorway, and together they followed Stewart's directions to the archaeological dig.

 

It was very early, but several volunteers had already started work. The site foreman, another friend of Stewart's, was waiting for them.  He introduced himself as Bert Lipman, and welcomed them to his excavation site. Angel and Giles followed him down some steps and over to an area that, even at this hour, was alive with activity. Stewart had explained that this area was designated for re-development, and they only had six weeks before the site would be built over and the ancient civilisation lost again under modern bricks and mortar.

 

He stopped at a tarpaulin in the corner, and lifted it off. Underneath lay a sickle that looked very old, and very worse for wear.

 

"This, gentleman, is the golden sickle," Bert said with much aplomb.

 

As one, Giles and Angel both leant over to take a look. Giles asked if they could touch it, and both men ran their hands over the sleek sides.

 

"It's not actually gold, is it?" Angel asked.

 

"Bronze," confirmed the foreman.

 

"I heard," Giles said slowly, "That it was believed that a gold cutting edge would have been unsuitable for the task. It's fascinating to see one close at hand."

 

"You know what it was used for?" Bert asked.

 

"Ceremonies," Angel replied. "If I recall correctly," he glanced over at Giles as he spoke, with a look that clearly said 'correct me if I'm wrong,' "the Druids used it to cut down the mistletoe that grew on Oak trees. Both, I believe, were integral parts in many of the rites and rituals."

 

"We've had a stroke of marvellous luck," Bert interjected. "We have even found the remains of a mummified oak…" both men looked at him at that point, and he added, "I'll take you over for a look in a minute."

 

"According to legend," Giles said when Angel fell quiet, "the oak was supposed to hold the souls of those that were sacrificed by the druids. And that, the parts of the ceremony are symbolic and represent the union of male and female energies."

 

"Gold for the sun," Angel guessed, "and…?"

 

"The crescent blade of the sickle represents the moon," Giles supplied when he faltered.

 

"Over here," Bert led them over to a discoloured lump in the centre of another excavation. "are the oak remains."

 

Angel crouched down and ran a hand over the mummified wood. At close range it didn't look quite as smooth, and he could see that there were in fact a lot of cracks and damaged and crumbly parts of it. The wood felt warm to the touch, and his skin tingled as he ran his hand gently over the surface.

 

Giles too, couldn't resist the opportunity to touch the oak, and then Bert covered it up with a second tarpaulin. A tiny corner of the oak broke away when the sheet scraped over it, but although the further damage was unseen by the other men, Angel shivered.

 

"Are you all right?" Giles asked.

 

"Yes… just… a draught from somewhere."

 

Giles hadn't felt a draught, but he nodded, and then they followed the foreman round the rest of the excavation.

 

*

 

Buffy was still curled up in bed when he let himself back into their room. He shed his clothing, and climbed in with her. She giggled as he wrapped his arms round her, and he muttered in triumph…  "Knew you weren't asleep…"

 

*

 

Giles and Buffy had arranged to do some sightseeing together, on their first day in Canterbury. Giles intended to spend the evenings with his friend, which suited Buffy because she was free then to go out with Angel, but during the day Stewart had the shop to run, and Angel had to sleep, so Buffy and Giles decided to spend some of the time together. One of the first things that they wanted to do, partly due to its impressive proximity, was to visit the Cathedral.

 

Buffy was really looking forward to spending the time with Giles. They had never really done a great deal together, that wasn't work related, and it certainly beat having to be on her own all day. Mind you, Canterbury was just loaded with shops… she hadn't realised how much she had missed being able to pop into the mall in Sunnydale. Westbury was a nice place, but it could be very quiet and the village had all the basic shops she could want but it was rather lacking in fashion outlets.

 

The entrance to the Cathedral was only a few feet from Stewart's shop. Before they entered the grounds, Giles stopped to look at the building.

 

"It's wonderful, isn't it?" Buffy asked, and surprised at her sudden interest, he stared at her.

 

"You like it?"

 

"Oh, yeah." She grinned. "I haven't been in a Starbucks for ages…"

 

Giles blinked and looked again. Right next to the entrance, the first shop in the line - stood Starbucks. He sighed. Was nothing sacred?

 

Buffy giggled at his sour expression and linked arms with him. "Just joking, grouchy. Come on, we have things to see."

 

 

*

--Day Three --

 

The world is full of noise. Hostile hands pull roughly at your arms; somebody  pushes you and you stumble. Rough hands grab you, stop you falling, and haul you up again. When will this end?

 

Buffy opened her eyes and blinked in the darkness. Her dream was already fading, but she felt unsettled by the hostility in the waning tendrils. She slithered out of bed and went to the bathroom for a hot shower, hoping the steam would wash away the uncomfortable dream and the resulting bitter aftertaste.

 

But the day improved. She spent the morning with Giles, some time shopping, some time waking up Angel, slowly, and in the evening they went out for an evening at the theatre.

 

**

--Day four --

 

A sharp elbow in his ribs forced Angel to wake up. Buffy was dreaming again, her arms and legs moving restlessly, her eyelids fluttering like a bird. Her eyes snapped open suddenly, and Angel kissed her cheek.

 

"It's okay," he whispered, slipping his arms round her waist. "It'll be okay."

 

For a long time, Buffy lay unmoving in his embrace, and he listened as her heart rate gradually slowed down again. She was silent, and distant, and Angel knew she was trying to process everything that she had seen. She slipped out from under his arm, and padded over to the chair where she had draped her clothes the night before, and began to get dressed.

 

"Going somewhere?"

 

"I need…" she hesitated. "I need to move, Angel. I have to get out of here, go for a walk, or… or, something." She paused in the middle of pulling on her jeans. "I'd appreciate some company."

 

Ten minutes later, they were crossing the road that led over to the car park. Buffy slipped through the little gateway  and followed the path that led down by the river. She stopped on the riverbank and looked down at the water. It was good to get out in the open air, she missed doing the nightly rounds that she used to do in Sunnydale, and sometimes she just felt cooped up. There was no activity in the parking lot at this time of night, and the air was cool and still.

 

Angel moved closer, touching her, and yet, not really touching her. They stood together for a full fifteen minutes before Angel said gently, "Do you want to tell me what's bothering you?"

 

"I was thinking," she responded wryly, "that we can't even have a few days away without evil rearing its head."

 

"You think there's evil?"

 

Buffy shrugged. "Maybe. I don't get slayer dreams about nice things, do I?"

 

"What did Giles say?" When she remained silent, he added, "Why haven't you told him?"

 

Buffy stepped back to lean against his chest, let him enfold her in those big, strong arms, and she closed her eyes for the briefest of moments before replying,  "He was looking forward to getting away. He doesn't need this."

 

Angel made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a snort, and she frowned. "You think I'm wrong?"

 

"I think Giles would welcome a mystery, wherever he was…"

 

"I guess." Buffy's hand found his, and they wandered further down along the path. "I'll tell him when I go round there this morning."

 

*

 

Giles was helping Stewart serve in the shop when she arrived the next morning. Giles could tell that something was bothering her, but there were customers in the shop, and he suspected that whatever it was, wasn't a suitable topic for a public place.

 

"Everything all right?" he asked delicately, as he served his customer with such a large supply of various powders and potions that Buffy wondered if he was opening up his own shop.

 

"I have to talk to you," she responded.

 

Stewart's customers were a pair of teenage girls, young and enthusiastic in their appreciation of the items for sale in Estrella Oscura. Their purchases ranged from pretty crystals, to ornaments and t-shirts with a unicorn and other mythical beasts emblazoned on them. One of the girls held up a pretty feathery ornament. "Can you tell me what this is?"

 

"It's a dream catcher…"

 

"Oh!" exclaimed the second girl. "It's perfect for Sue…"

 

"Yes," her friend enthused. "She hasn't been sleeping well…"

 

Having paid for their goods, and still chattering excitedly, the girls headed out of the shop.

 

"I can relate to that," Buffy muttered.

 

Giles frowned. "You haven't been sleeping well?"

 

"No." She gestured at the dream catchers. "You don't do those in…" she waited while the last customer left the store. "… industrial slayer sizes, do you?"

 

"Have you been having prophetic dreams?"

 

"Not prophetic," Buffy responded. "More… images. Feelings…"

 

"Of what?" This was from Stewart.

 

Buffy shivered, the memory of her dreams unpleasant. "Menace. Evil. Not something you'd want to invite in for tea, anyway."

 

 

**

 

--Day five --

 

Water. The water is cold; it surrounds her; she tries to hold her breath, but it's too long, and she is forced to take a gasping breath and water immediately invades her mouth and nose. She tries to move, tries to lift herself up but her arms won't move. She is tied to something, and she can't get away from it. She is frightened, panicked, but she is also angry. So very angry…

 

**

 

A morning's shopping had left her feeling tired, and she could do with a drink. She didn't want to return to the hotel and wake up Angel, though that option had its merits, and she didn't want to return to the shop and be with 'stuffy book guys.' Stewart had said that the Old Weavers House did nice teas, so she started to walk back the way she had come. She stopped on the bridge and looked down on the river. Pretty. It was a pretty city, though she still wasn't convinced it was big enough to be called a city. It was calm and quiet here, which made what happened next all the more startling. A sudden, overwhelming sense of fear squeezed her chest. She was falling, cold, so cold; water surrounded her, filling her mouth and nose and getting in her eyes. She stumbled, grabbing the brick wall to steady herself, and the world span.

 

"Are you all right, Miss?"

 

A man's voice broke into her jumbled thoughts, and she blinked the world back into focus. A young man, maybe early twenties, stood next to her, concern etched on his face. "Shall I call someone for you?" he asked her uncertainly.

 

"I'm fine," she managed to get out, feeling foolish for alarming the young man. She hefted her bags. "Too much shopping." She tried to smile.

 

"Well… if you're sure…"

 

"Yeah." She waved to the river. "I'll just get my breath back…" She hesitated. "What's that?"

 

The gallant young man followed her gaze. "Oh, that. It's a ducking stool. They used them for… witches and… stuff."

 

Buffy felt the blood drain from her face. She made herself smile at the man. "Thank you. I have friends here - I'll be fine."

 

The young man blinked, feeling as though he had been definitely dismissed. He nodded politely, and left her standing on the bridge. Buffy glanced back at the stool. Suddenly her dream last night made a whole lot of sense.

 

She hurried back to the shop. Stewart was putting some goods on display when she arrived.

 

"Hi, Stewart. Is Giles upstairs?"

 

"I'm afraid you've just missed him, Buffy," he began, but noticed her disappointed expression. "Can I help?"

 

"What do you know about ducking stools?"

 

Stewart frowned. "They were used mainly for the punishment of shrews." He noticed her expression, and clarified, "Nags. Wives who didn't know their place."

 

"Not witches?"

 

"Sometimes, yes. Why do you ask?"

 

"The stool in town… the one by the Old Weavers House - is it genuine?"

 

"Yes and no. That particular one is a modern replacement, but yes - there has been a stool there since the middle ages."

 

"I think…." Buffy said slowly, "that I'm dreaming of somebody who drowned there. Is that possible?"

 

"Sadly, yes. The unfortunate women were 'sentenced' to so many submersions with the stool, but how long they stayed under was not governed. Some women did drown."

 

Buffy shivered. "That's horrible. Why didn't the woman's husband stop them?"

 

"Often, it was the husband that put the woman up for sentencing. It was quite barbaric by our standards."

 

"Yeah." Buffy drummed impatiently on the counter with her fingers, unaware of what she was doing. "Is there any record of who the woman might be? Can we find out?"

 

"I'm not sure we can, " Stewart said doubtfully. "I think it's too long ago." He finished loading the shelves, and added, "But I have a friend, a local historian, who might know something. I can give him a ring, if you like?"

 

"Please," Buffy said gratefully. "That would be most helpful."

 

 

**

--Day six --

 

Smoke. In her dream she smells smoke, and hears the unmistakeable crackle of flames. She turns quickly, she can feel the fierce heat against her skin, and she sees the flames crawling up the wooden struts and along the overhead beams. Little pockets of fire are breaking out everywhere, the wooden mill workings and the round wooden drums are ablaze, and the smoke is billowing toward her and obscuring her view of the exit. She feels fear, and begins to run toward the only way out. A thick beam cracks and falls in front her, and she swerves to avoid it. Another falls, bringing the searing heat closer to her and she panics. She must get out.

 

 

At breakfast the next day, Buffy asked the girl serving her, "Has the water mill over the road ever been on fire?"

 

Janet shook her head. "Not as far as I know. Perhaps you're confusing it with the mill that burnt down last year?"

 

"Last year?" Buffy queried.

 

Janet nodded. "Yes. Barton Mill - a little further along the Stour, it was. Shame really. They were going to turn it into a nature reserve, but the building was destroyed before they could do that."

 

Buffy thanked her, and the assistant moved on to the next customer. She picked sporadically at her bacon and scrambled egg while she considered whether the mill she had dreamt of was the same one the girl had suggested. There was no way to tell, but she just felt that the mill was important. Her dream - dreams - were trying to tell her something; she had been the Slayer long enough to know when she was being given a warning. She had the feeling she was missing something. She could see the river from where she sat, and the running water was starting to make her skin itch. Oh. Oh, my… She got up, leaving her breakfast practically untouched. She had to talk to Giles.

 

*

 

"What do you know about Barton Mill?" she blurted out.

 

Giles handed the shrunken skull back to Stewart across the counter and said, "Barton Mill?"

 

"Yeah," Buffy replied. "Do you know why it burned down?"

 

Stewart looked uncomfortable. "It was an accident…"

 

Buffy stared at him. "And one I'm guessing you know something about. What was it? Vampires?"

 

"No. And I didn't have a hand in it. But Maria…" He sighed. "I think you'd better sit down."

 

Curious, Buffy sat. Judging by Giles' expression, he had already heard this story, which intrigued her even more.

 

"You probably know that my wife was a witch?" He hesitated, and she nodded. "But she was… you know, a white one. She only used her power for good. Sometimes she would be called upon to help out… in a supernatural capacity." He fidgeted uncomfortably. Clearly he was unhappy about what he was telling her. "She was called to a disturbance at Barton Mill. Strange things were happening, a…" He shrugged. "I don't know what it was, Maria wouldn't tell me."

 

At Buffy's raised eyebrow, he explained, "She knew that I worried about her getting mixed up in this stuff, so sometimes she refused to tell me what happened. She did this after she visited the mill, so I know it was something serious."

 

"She stopped…" Giles said gently, "A creature getting a foothold on our reality." Stewart winced. He had never liked the fact that she would tell Rupert things that she refused to tell him. "Usually, the spell we use is very effective, but it's lengthy, and the mill was due to be opened as part of the nature reserve. That meant people would be in serious danger. Maria's spell got out of control, and the evil became too hard for her to cope with. She did the only thing she could, to protect herself and the people who would soon be in danger. She set fire to the building, took out the evil and saved a lot of lives in the process."

 

"She was…" Stewart smiled slightly. "Crazy like that."

 

"Lay people should not have to get involved in this, Giles. It isn't right."

 

"Buffy…" He hesitated. "Have you never wondered about the rest of the world? You're the Chosen One. The one girl…"

 

"Yes, I know this. What are you getting at?"

 

"You're just one person. Even with supernatural powers, you cannot be everywhere. Sometimes we need help to keep the evil under control. There have always been those that, well, watch our backs. If we hadn't had their help, over the years, we wouldn't have survived. Without that help, all over the world, eventually we're going to have a problem."

 

"Oh, boy," she said, as she absorbed the implication of that statement. They no longer had a whole world of backup help. This time, they really were on their own.

 

 

--Day seven --

 

Resting on one arm, Angel watched over the Chosen One. He had always thought she looked beautiful when she slept; he never tired of watching over her. She was restless again tonight, and he was worried about her. She stirred, her heart pounding, and she whimpered. Part of him yearned to hear her whimper more, maybe even… he shook his head to clear away such detrimental thoughts. Buffy moaned, her movements growing more stressed, and Angel gently ran a hand over her shoulder, trying to soothe her. Instinctively, she pressed her back against his arm, but she continued to squirm restlessly. A soft buzzing from the dresser caught his attention, and Angel swung his legs off of the bed and went over to his cell phone. A message was glowing on the screen, and he glanced at it for barely a moment before swiftly pulling on his clothes; he glanced quickly at Buffy again, and then let himself quietly out of the room.

 

Menace. Her dream was full of menace; fear, and pain, were searing through her body. A myriad of images and sensations cavorted and twisted through her subconscious. Fire. Crowds. Rope. Fear. Hopelessness. Fire/water/fire/fear/pain/despair/terror/help… She screamed. She screamed again, and again, and hands were reaching out for her. Frightened, she hit out at them, only to be grabbed firmly by the arms. "It's okay," somebody was saying to her. "Buffy - it's only a dream. You're okay…"

 

Angel. Trembling, she let him hold her, as she slowly came out of the dream and back to the present.

 

"It's okay," he said again.

 

"No," she heard herself say. "It isn't." Angel pulled back to look at her, and she whispered, "It's coming…"

 

**

 

"What's coming?"

 

"I don't know, Stu." Buffy was pacing restlessly. "Did Giles say when he would be back?"

 

"I'm afraid not," he replied. "He only said that something had come up. I imagine he'll be back by lunch time."

 

Buffy sighed. "Did you ever hear from that historian friend of yours?"

 

"This morning, as it happens," Stewart responded.  "He says there's an old story - a folk tale, if you like, about a woman that drowned in the Stour. So the story goes, the woman was a real harridan; never gave her old man a moment's peace. In the end, he reported her and she was sentenced to be ducked. I don't know how many she was due to be given, but… apparently, there was an accident."

 

Buffy had stopped her pacing to listen to the story. "What happened?"

 

"While she was under the water, the wooden supporting strut of the chair snapped - they had no way to bring her in again. Apparently, the woman's brother jumped in to save her, but when he -and some of his friends- managed to pull her out, it was too late. The pour soul had died."

 

"And?"

 

"According to the legend, her expression was terrifying. She looked… so angry. Many of the superstitious people ran away in fear; within a month, almost everyone who was in that group had suffered a violent death. The only ones to survive that fate were the woman's brother and the three men who helped him to pull her out."

 

"Was she a witch?"

 

"Unknown. People said she was afterwards, but… there's no mention of it before. It's not possible to be a witch without knowing it, is it?"

 

"Actually, yes. That happened to a friend of mine."

 

"Oh. Well, maybe that's what happened, then."

 

"Maybe."

 

*

"There's a Charlton  Heston movie on at the Cinema," Angel was saying. "Want to go?"

 

"What one is it?"

 

Angel smirked. "Does it matter?"

 

Buffy grinned back. She doubted that she would see much of it, anyway.

 

*

They had just arrived back at the hotel after seeing the movie, when the telephone rang.

 

Buffy snatched up the receiver. "Yeah?"

 

"It's Giles. Buffy - Stewart's friend has unearthed something I think you might be interested in. In the 1930's, there are reports of an evil woman with 'a fearsome face' who materialized at Abott's Mill on the Stour. She appeared to be levitating in a sitting position. The frightened villagers razed the place to the ground."

 

"Another mill, huh?"

 

"Not only that, but… Maria told me that the evil creature she took out was a woman - levitating in a sitting position."

 

Overhearing part of this conversation, Angel said, "There's another mill across the road. Could that be why you're getting the dreams?"

 

Buffy recounted this to Giles. "If she appears there again - is there any way to take her out without actually burning the place down?"

 

"Yes. There's a spell you can use. Do you anticipate trouble tonight?"

 

"Yeah, it's close, judging by the dreams I've been getting."

 

"I'll be with you in about half an hour."

 

*

The mill stood quietly. Giles had brought them some mystical herbs and shown them how to draw the archaic symbols. He gave the spell book to Angel; it was all written in Latin.

 

"I hate to leave you like this," he apologised. "But I have a little problem of my own to deal with. Will you be all right?"

 

"We'll be fine, Giles," Buffy confirmed. "What's your problem? Do you need help?"

 

"I don't think so," he replied, gathering up his bag and other bits and pieces. "I'll tell you all about it tomorrow."

 

"Well, that was strange," Buffy muttered as she watched him hurry away. She looked at the book in Angel's hand. "You can read that?"

 

"Yes. Are you ready to get started?"

 

As Giles had warned, the spell was a lengthy one. Just as they were beginning to think that nothing was going to happen tonight, the temperature in the room, already cold on this April night, dropped dramatically.

 

"Party time," Buffy muttered. She gathered up one of the swords that Giles had brought them in case of emergencies, and gave the other to Angel. He held it awkwardly, balancing the book on his arm to read, and without missing a word of his spell.

 

Something was shimmering into being in front of them. A terrible, twisted evil figure of a woman began to form in the air. She appeared to be looking straight at them, and she waved her arms frantically, gesturing and shouting - and yet - they could hear no sound. But she could see why the villagers might have been frightened of her; she was terrifying.

 

She squirmed in midair, held in place by the strength of the spell.

 

"It's working," Buffy murmured.

 

The woman wailed, clearly distressed, and Buffy hefted her sword. A chill breeze sprung up, making her shiver. She glanced over at Angel, his valiant recitation of the spell as strong as ever. By now, he had memorised the repetitions of the spell and he caught her eye.

 

The wailing grew loader, and the breeze intensified. Over Angel's shoulder, a mist began to coalesce in the darkness. Buffy darted past him. "She's trying to come this way!"

Angel glanced back at the tormented woman, still suspended in anguish in front of him. "Buffy, no!"

 

At the break in the spell, the woman shot toward them, and Angel hastily resumed his chant. Buffy reached the forming mist, and sliced at it with her sword. It went straight through, and immediately afterwards, a male figure, dressed in seventeenth century apparel, and holding a burning torch in his left hand, solidified and became corporeal.

 

Before Buffy could move, the man spun on her, backhanding her so fast even the slayer didn't have time to respond, and she staggered backwards. Angel winced; he couldn't help her without dropping the chant, and if he did that, the witch would get through. What was going on?

 

Buffy was up fast, trying to reach the now solid form, but his speed was inhuman. Wielding his blazing torch to keep her at bay, he darted round her and pushed the torch against one of the wooden supporting beams. It caught instantly, and began snaking upwards.

 

Angel snatched up some old sacking and attempted to smother the fire and maintain his chant as best he could. Buffy was trying to get a hold on a figure that was too fast, even for her. The torch lit up a second wooden strut. And above it all, the damn witch continued to wail alarmingly. It was hopeless.

 

"Drop the chant!" Buffy shouted suddenly, hacking and slicing at the man, aiming to keep him occupied so that he couldn't start any more fires. Angel stamped and suffocated the flames as quickly as he could.

 

Freed from the chant, the woman thankfully stopped wailing, and she headed directly for Buffy. Angel looked up from his work and saw the woman reach Buffy, raise her arm…  and strike past her, hitting the man, sending him spinning away.

 

Buffy began smothering the fire too, and together she and Angel began to get it under control. The woman was advancing on the man, and eventually managed to wrap her arms round him. Both faded away, taking the flames with them, and leaving no sign of them behind; and when Buffy tentatively touched the scorched wood, she found it soaked in water.

 

Angel appeared at her side. "What happened?"

 

"I think… she was trying to help us."

 

A shimmering in the air heralded the return of the woman, standing, this time, and looking much more pleasant than before. She was saying something to Angel, but Buffy couldn't understand what it was. She thought it might be Latin,  because Angel answered her in the same language, and the woman faded away.

 

Buffy gaped. "Well?" she said, finally.

 

"It seems, that our witch has been trying to help all along."

 

"Huh?"

 

"The man had been known to her, back in her day. She saw him fight with a neighbour, and murder him for money. He then set fire to the building in order to conceal his crime. He knew that he had been observed, and managed to persuade the woman's husband that she was a terrible nag, and that a stretch on the ducking stool would calm her down and make her 'a good wife'. Except… he tampered with the ducking stool, to make sure she didn't come up again. She, in her dying moments, cursed him to find no peace until she could find him, and take care of him herself."

 

"So - it was him starting the fires all over the place?"

 

"Yes. She tried to stop him,  but she couldn't get through to our reality because of the spell that we had in place. I think she will finally be able to rest now."

 

**

--Day eight--

 

"Have we got everything?"

 

Angel gestured at the rather large pile of cases and bags accumulated on the floor. Only one of them was actually his; Buffy always packed more than he did, but he supposed it was the same with women everywhere. Several of the packages were new, some of Buffy's many purchases in Canterbury, and he was actually wondering if everything would fit into his Carrera. "What do you think?"

 

Buffy grinned. "There's still time for some more shopping…" Angel groaned, and she added, "You know we have to get back. I'll just call Giles and see if he's coming back with us."

 

Angel sat down in the armchair to wait. Buffy was on the phone… this might take a while.

 

"Hello, Giles? Yeah - it's me. We're all packed and ready to go. Did you get your problem sorted out?"

 

Buffy curled her feet under her on the bed. "That's good, then. You don't need us for anything? Are you coming back?"

 

Angel watched the one sided conversation that was now only consisting of: "Oh." "Okay." "That'll be fun." "Bye, Giles. Angel sends his… lo… uh, regards."

 

Buffy placed the receiver carefully back on its cradle. "He wants to stay on a few more days with Stewart, and I think that'll be good for him." She stood up. "Let's get going, then… shall we?"

 

End.

 

 

Notes:

 

Estrella Oscura is fictional, but there are several shops standing along the wall of the Cathedral. Starbucks, sadly, is genuine.

 

The pub called Scribes, The Millers Inn, and all of the mills mentioned, are real. Barton Mill burned down in 2005, and Abbott's Mill in 1933. The remaining mill is still standing, but is now, I believe, a private residence. The ducking stool by the Old Weavers House - a quaint 16th century restaurant - is also genuine. The legend of the witch is not.

 



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