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Fee. Fie. Foe. Fum.

 

 

Project Paranormal

Author: Ares

Season 2

Part 20

 

**

 

Summary:  The blood of an Englishman has been spilled. Our three heroes investigate.

 

Thank you, Jo. This tale is all the better for the challenges you set me and your beta skills.

 

**

 

Fee. Fie. Foe. Fum

 

 

“I like this place,” Buffy stated with a smile, her eyes crinkled with delight, at the wonderful park-like grounds and quaint accommodations.

 

“I wish I could say the same,” a muffled voice behind her grumbled.

 

Buffy turned her head to look over the back of her seat to the prone, blanketed, unseen and surly figure that was Angel.

 

“Sorry,” she said, and the smile widened, making a liar out of her.

 

“You’re not,” the deep voice grouched.

 

 “The sun is almost set, Angel.” Giles coughed politely, reminding the vampire that he was still with them. “I’ll go inside and sign in; you two come when it is safe.” So saying, Giles left the two lovers alone in the Discovery, his overnight bag swinging in his left hand. Giles’ eyes were drawn to the police car that was parked nearby. He picked up his pace and disappeared indoors.

 

Angel never forgot that there were two humans in the car - how could he? Their heartbeats thundered in his ears at every moment.

 

“At least you got some sleep. You did get some sleep, didn’t you?” Buffy asked, trying to soothe the savage beast.

 

“I did. And remind me again, never to travel in daylight, in the back of Giles’ car.”

 

Buffy leaned over and patted the lump that was masquerading as a blanket.

 

“We could have left you at home…”

 

The blanket was silent.

 

Buffy’s full-blown smirk faded when she reviewed her suggestion.

 

“Should we have left you at home?” she asked, praying that he would answer no.

 

The silence stretched.

 

“Angel?” Buffy was worried now.

 

“No?”

 

A tap on her window startled her and her eyes lifted to see an elderly gentleman peering in at her. Buffy manoeuvred her body back onto her seat and she wriggled about until she could reach the handle for the window.

 

“Are you alright, Miss?” The man had watery grey eyes set in a kindly face.

 

“Yes, thank you.” Buffy smiled her sweetest smile and hoped the man would leave.

 

The wrinkles in his face deepened as the man tried to see past her shoulder. His face pulled back and appeared at the passenger window. He stared at the blanket for a while before returning.

 

“Who were you talking to?” he asked, his frown replaced by confusion.

 

Buffy’s heart sank. Well-meaning people were well-meaning, and that was the problem.

 

“I…”

 

“Hey.”

 

Buffy gritted her teeth in despair. This was a fine time for Angel to decide to be verbal. Why couldn’t he keep his customary silence? Her mind raced trying to think up some plausible excuse.

 

The gentleman’s face moved back to the passenger window. Buffy scooted over her seat again and wound Angel’s window down a crack.

 

She whispered to her lover, “A fine time to be talking!”

 

Buffy smiled again and said, “My friend is…”

 

“…carsick.” Angel pulled the blanket down, carefully adjusting the tarp beneath, and when his fingers did not combust, he uncovered his face. The sun was disappearing from the sky and there was enough shadow beneath the door for Angel to safely lie. The vampire always knew when the sun had set or was about to rise, and in this case the sun had only minutes left to offer a fiery death.

 

“Yes. Angel gets carsick and he had a lie down. I think he went to sleep,” Buffy babbled at the old man.

 

The man pursed his lips. “One really shouldn’t lie down in a moving car when one is ill. It’s all in the motion you see…”

 

“I told him that, but you know men, they never listen. Um…” she realised that maybe she shouldn’t have said men, in quite that way but the old man was peering intently at Angel.

 

“He does look rather pale. I think a glass of brandy is in order.”

 

Angel lay there and listened to the conversation. This was familiar, being talked about. His friends often chatted about him, forgetting that from a room away, or a floor above, he could hear them. Angel amended that thought. His friends were dead and could no longer gossip about him, and for that he was profoundly sad.

 

“Thank you. We will get him a glass when he feels well enough to sit up and come inside.”

 

Buffy was relieved when the old man left, “A good evening to you,” hung in the air behind him.

 

She turned her attention back to her vampire lover. “Carsick?” she asked her eyes wide with disbelief.

 

“You didn’t want him thinking that you were talking to yourself, did you?”

 

“I could have bluffed my way out of it, and besides, aren’t you supposed to be all mysterious and non-communicative guy? What happened to the non-speaking part of your résumé?”

 

Angel just looked at her and she gave in. She was much too talkative to play that game.

 

“Okay, point taken.”

 

Buffy turned her head to look out the window, the rosy glow of the fading day caught her profile and Angel thought she had never been more beautiful. So precious a moment, his heart ached because of it, and he tucked away the memory to cherish.

 

“Only a moment more,” she said unnecessarily, and he loved her for it.

 

His eyes stayed on her beauty, drank in the changes of colour that transformed her skin, shades of pink and gold danced until the blaze dimmed and Buffy was a Goddess of the Sun no more, she became his Buffy, his light in his dark.

 

Her profile shifted and her eyes caught his. Their gazes locked and time flew away, the world stopped, and all there was, was each other.

 

Buffy was the first to move, she breathed in and swallowed, the spell broken but never fading.

 

“Come on lazy bones. Time’s a wasting!”

 

Angel sat up relieved to be able, and besides, now he could see his whereabouts. The grounds were well manicured. It was a pretty place. The police car caught his attention but he knew that Giles was dealing with it. He opened his door and slid out dragging the blanket and tarp with him. While Buffy fussed with the bags, he folded both and placed them neatly on the back seat. He straightened his dark clothing, and reached for his coat and bag that Buffy held out to him. He raked his fingers through his hair, and stopped when Buffy chuckled at his attempts to rein in his unruly locks.

 

“What?”

 

“You’re so vain,” she teased as they made their way to the door of the Castle View Bed and Breakfast. A middle-aged couple were seated on wooden chairs on the small patio, sharing a bottle of wine before dinner. Buffy smiled at them, Angel who was deep in a frown, only offered a slight nod as they reached the front door.

 

“*I* do not spend hours in front of a mirror,” he retorted, to which Buffy sniffed and turned her nose in the air.

 

Angel smiled toothily and Buffy couldn’t hold in the giggle that was lodged in her throat. Angel opened the door and stood back to let Buffy enter. She loved that about him, his 18th century manners. He could be such a gentleman when he wanted to be, which was usually most of the time. She swept by him, the giggles now free of her throat floated in behind her.

 

There was a lady behind the small counter that stood to one side of the entrance. A two-tiered stand of postcards cluttered the counter, as did maps and brochures of the nearby towns and countryside. Buffy wondered again, how small English houses were and how on earth did the British manage. She noticed that Angel’s head was somewhere near the ceiling.

 

Angel took charge, stepped up to the woman, and inquired about their room. The woman, Mrs Cooper, owner and manager, smiled dreamily at the handsome, dark-headed young man and asked if they were Buffy and Angel. Her eyes flicked past him to Buffy, barely assessed her before zeroing back to the handsome young man.

 

“Mr Giles has signed for you. You have a double room and en suite.” Mrs Cooper handed Angel the keys and if her hand lingered a second too long, Angel chose to ignore it.

 

“Mr Giles has indicated that you will want dinner. It is at seven.”

 

“Thank you.” 

 

Buffy frowned. She had noticed the hand thing. Not to be left out, she grabbed her lover’s other arm and leaned into his side.

 

She offered a sickly sweet smile to Mrs Cooper, and stormy eyes that spoke of possible maiming and murder. Buffy murmured, “Come on, baby,” and pulled him away before the woman could walk around the counter and show them to the room.

 

“Baby?” His eyebrows rose and his lips quirked in that teasing line that Buffy loved but rarely saw.

 

“I saw what she was doing. Touching up *my* honey!” Buffy all but growled.

 

Angel snickered and received a bruising grip about his arm. Barely keeping his face under control he allowed Buffy to manhandle him away from her competition.

 

Fortunately Buffy had dragged them in the right direction and after glancing up the narrow stairs, she continued to hustle them up. The number on the key, 3, was on the second door along the narrow hall. Inside was a bed, too small for the vampire’s frame, a couple of chairs, a table and dresser and a bathroom door that stood ajar.

 

Angel blessed the bed with his evil eye. “Is this supposed to be a Welsh bed?”

 

Buffy bounced happily on the lovely cream bedspread. “Cosy: perfect for snuggling.”

 

The vampire’s animosity towards the bed underwent a drastic change. He dumped his bag and pounced on his love. She laughed, kissed him, and shoved him away when a knock sounded at the door.

 

“Buffy? Angel?” It was Giles.

 

Buffy pulled a face and let Giles in.

 

Giles avoided looking at the bed and the vampire that sat there. Buffy and sex, he was not going there. Angel and Buffy and sex, definitely not going there! Shades of Xander Harris popped into his head and he cringed.

 

He steadily surveyed the rest of the room and said, “This is quite acceptable, don’t you think?”

 

“Yes thank you, Giles. What’s up?”

 

Giles turned back to Buffy, who was now sitting on the bed beside Angel.

 

“I’ve been speaking to Constable Blakemore. The victim has not regained consciousness…”

 

“Will he?” Angel’s voice was low and soft.

 

Giles looked him in the eye. “There’s a chance, small though it may be. However, we cannot rely on it, and according to the Constable, there is no evidence of the attacker, weapon or otherwise.”

 

“So you said, before, on the trip here.” Buffy wanted to hurry Giles along. The watcher had a gift for drawing out the boring bits.

 

Giles ignored his slayer and offered new information. “Blakemore says that it now appears as if the weapon is pointed, shaped like an ice pick. The man, a Paul Lewis, received a couple of vicious blows to his head. His hands carry defensive wounds.”

 

“And the police are letting you investigate because?” Angel asked, already knowing the answer.

 

“The locals around here know of a legend…”

 

“Yeah! Got it! Giants, gold, key, yada, yada, yada.”

 

Giles glared at the slayer, which prompted her to lean into her vampire and rest her head upon his shoulder, her eyes alive with laughter. Giles sat heavily into one of the two chairs under the small window undeterred. He suspected the slight twitch of the vampire’s lips but ignored it in favour of continuing.

 

“As I was saying, again, there is a legend of two brothers – giants – who lived in ages past. One at View Edge and the other lived at Norton Camp. Apparently, although this is unsubstantiated, the brothers are supposed to have owned most of the countryside and kept their wealth in a chest in a secret stronghold at Stokesay Castle.”

 

“You think the man in the hospital was after the gold?” Buffy straightened and Angel wished her warmth back.

 

“Stokesay Castle has nothing of value, at least, in the sense of anything small enough to steal. The Castle itself and its lands are a treasure…”

 

Buffy interrupted, “And there is that footprint.”

 

Giles cleared his throat. “Certainly, and that is why we have been called.”

 

“Okay, but we eat first, before we go haring off into the night.”

 

“Dinner is a little way off; perhaps we could venture outside for a while.”

 

Angel stood and donned his coat. He had offered little to the conversation but was no less intrigued. It was obvious that he and Buffy would be denied a little privacy before dinner, and the suggestion of a walk was welcome. It was plain to him, at least, that Giles was uncomfortable in their bedroom.

 

The sky was clear and the twilight deep when the three emerged out into the garden. There were a few well-placed seats about, and these were ignored as Buffy drew the two men towards the water feature she had spied on the manicured lawn. It was a small man-made pool, set in some sort of slate. A gazebo stood nearby, offering shelter and a place to sit and contemplate. Hungry diners that preferred al fresco could avail themselves of the wooden table and chairs that waited beside the pool.

 

“I don’t suppose there are any fish in there,” she said as she peered through the gloom and into the dark water.

 

Angel glanced into the pond and said, “No.” The pond was decoration only and if there had been fish, the herons no doubt had had a feast when first introduced.

 

Light flared suddenly. Well-placed globes illuminated the small trees and shrubs, the gazebo, a turret of darkness, showed welcome in its cheery single lamp, the pool had a borrowed gleam and the main house carried its own sentries of the electric beam.  Angel blinked at the brightness; the other two welcomed the warm glow.

 

“I’m sorry that the journey was uncomfortable, Angel,” Giles said suddenly, unsure what prompted him. Perhaps it was Angel’s quietness, his more than usual reticence. He wondered if this place brought forth painful memories for the vampire.

 

Angel acknowledged the apology with a nod and held his peace. He knew why he was here. Buffy did too, she was glad to have Angel here with her, and knew that he understood that although it was necessary he accompany them, she wanted him not just for his preternatural abilities. Buffy snared his hand, gave it a little squeeze and did not let go.

 

Angel squeezed back and allowed Buffy to walk him around the English garden. Giles allowed the pair their privacy. He meandered about the garden, small though it was, the hedgerows and retaining wall open to the countryside at the far end of the property. Beyond the pond, a path began its journey there. Giles supposed the path joined others that wound through the diverse countryside. Countryside that included moor-like Caer Caradoc, the mystical Stiperstones, Ragleth Hill, and the ancient Wenlock Edge to name a few. He stepped away when he felt the lovers venture near, reflecting on the violent history of the old Marcher lords. Well that the lords were protected within their castles, their plundering and pillaging wouldn’t have endeared them to the peasantry when they indulged themselves in petty wars.

 

“You’re not coming in for dinner,” Buffy stated when she noticed the direction of Angel’s gaze.

 

“Not much point.” His eyes travelled the path. “You can meet me at Stokesay when you’re done.”

 

Angel leaned down and kissed the lips she offered before pulling away. She watched him go, watched his dark shape disappear into the deepening night. Giles came to stand beside her.

 

“Is anything amiss, Buffy?”

 

“With Angel? Why do you ask?” She peered up at her Watcher.

 

“He’s rather quiet tonight.”

 

“Are you kidding? He was positively chatty in the car.” Buffy nudged Giles in the direction of the house.

 

“I find that hard to believe.” Giles let Buffy push him towards dinner.

 

“Believe.”

 

 

 

Angel trod the path that wound its way through the countryside. Stokesay Castle was not far, a mile or two, half that if you did not follow the path. Angel chose to follow. He did so, hoping to stumble across a clue that could point to anything that had occurred at the castle, or fortified manor, as he preferred to think it. He concentrated on watching the ground and tried not to think of the times he had hunted the farmlands here. He had killed the poor folk with abandon, never caring about the destruction and misery he left behind him. He had not even cared when he had had to make good his escape across the open heather-clad moors, avoiding the angry peasants and their sharp implements, to find safety in the forested valleys further south. It had all been a game to him, back then. Life had rarely mattered; it was the dying that had fascinated him.

 

He cursed softy and shook his thoughts free. Concentrate!

 

He carried no light, his eyes more suited to the night, picked out details that a human in daylight would have missed. Several people passed by on their way to the small village of Craven Arms. Torch-lights bobbed, unaware of the danger that lurked invisible, laughter and conversation floated on the evening air, blanketing Angel in human normalcy. Not a few were curious about the incident at Stokesay.

 

In no time at all, he stood near the grounds of the old church that nestled next to Stokesay Castle but did not linger among the gravestones. He would follow the path around to Much Wenlock which meant following the river Onny a step or two. Angel knew he had time. Giles and Buffy would be a while at dinner and he wanted to scout the terrain.

 

Angel returned the way he came, his quest for clues a failure. Undeterred and satisfied all the same, he enjoyed the walk back and kept his stride human.

 

 

Angel found himself back at St John the Baptist Church’s graveyard. He knelt beside a splash of blood, the police marker unnecessary, among the headstones. The blood was human. The vampire cursed the hunger that growled low in his throat, his fangs ached in anticipation of a delicious feast. He did not move for a moment or two. On his knees on hallowed ground, he battled the demon within for control and won.

 

Something unusual tickled his senses, drew him up on his feet and took him to the edge of the cemetery. He looked down at an unusual gravestone…and the rumble of an engine impinged. Angel shook his head and gathered his wits. It was Buffy and Giles.

 

 

Buffy flew from the Land Rover and ran towards Angel who waited for them at the perimeter of the car park.

 

“Did you miss me?” she asked breathlessly as she hurtled into his arms.

 

He enveloped her in a fierce hug, kissed her cheek and said, “Always.”

 

Buffy’s eyes twinkled and after a quick peck at his lips she murmured, “Better put me down. Giles is all…Watcher-like.”

 

He did as she asked as Giles came towards them, a light in his hand. Buffy could see quite well in the dark, but accepted a torch because although she was a slayer, she was not a vampire.

 

“Have you found anything?” Giles asked in way of a greeting.

 

“Blood. Human…and something else.” Angel led them to the scene of the crime.

 

“Something…” Giles shone his light over the grass. The grass looked trampled sure, and unable to see the blood, he did not doubt his colleague. One would never challenge a vampire his sense of smell.

 

“More than one human?” he asked.

 

Buffy felt her skin prickle. There was something odd, an indefinable feeling of unease slithered into her awareness.

 

“I feel it…it’s strange…”

 

“Dangerous?” Giles shone his light about trying to discover what his companions felt. The shadows stood silent and unthreatening.

 

Buffy murmured, “It could be…I’m not sure.” She watched when Angel stepped away, his head came up and he sniffed the air. Buffy followed him and Giles did too. He crossed the grass until he stood beneath the walls of the estate.

 

Angel looked to the earth. “The ground here has been disturbed.”

 

Buffy and Giles shone their light and saw yes, the sod had been removed and put back carefully. In the long grass, it wouldn’t have been noticed.

 

Giles squatted to see better. Angel moved to point out another abused clump of earth, and another. The digger had become reckless, frantic, and the earth was clearly disturbed. The numerous holes stared dark and open at them. A discarded spade lay a few feet away, forgotten. Buffy shadowed him, casting illumination over the patchwork of grass.

 

“Somebody has been digging…” Buffy looked at the shape that was Angel. “You sensed this, why?”

 

“Not the dig…something was here, watching. Something big.” His eyes gleamed for a moment when Giles rose from his crouch; the light from the Watcher’s torch caught his face for an instant before moving away.

 

“Do you sense anything, Buffy?” Giles asked as he surveyed the rest of the damage. It was difficult, considering the circumstances, for gathering clues. He knew, however, that night-time work was a prerequisite if one needed to make use of a vampire’s preternatural abilities.

 

The slayer nodded, uneasy. “Yes. Not in the way of demon - kill…more like, creepy…stay away.”

 

“Angel?”

 

“Something…” Angel was not sure if the creature or whatever had offered harm. It had *done* harm, not its first intent, but harm all the same.

 

Unhappy with their answers, Giles decided to move on. “The footprint.”

 

“This way.” The vampire moved back past the gravestones and onto the path. Buffy hurried and caught up with him, leaving Giles a pace or two behind.

 

“Are you okay?” she asked in a murmur, low enough for Giles not to hear but knowing that Angel would.

 

“Mmm? Sure.” He looked down at her. “What?”

 

“Giles thinks that something is up with you.”

 

He turned at a sign that said Wild Edric’s Way and The Shropshire Way.

 

“Up?”

 

“He says you’re quiet.” Buffy snorted. Angel smiled and she batted his arm, happy to know that there wasn’t anything bothering him, more than usual.

 

A large body of water glistened faintly before them, the moon showing its face from behind clouds, a quarter full. Angel paced back towards the castle until his feet rested before a muddy imprint of flattened grass.

 

Giles again squatted, this time Buffy joined him, both examining the larger-than-possible footprint.

 

“I say,” Giles said in that breathless way that betrayed his excitement. He was excited. Here was proof positive of a creature of gigantic proportions. No human had a tread this enormous.  While he measured with his hand, Buffy swept the area with her torch. She stood and Angel spoke.

 

“There is only one. I looked.”

 

“How is that possible? Even with one foot, and hopping, there would be more.”

 

Angel chuckled.

 

“Buffy. You’re the slayer. Anything is possible.”

 

She grinned at him. “A one-footed giant? I don’t think I want to kill something that has a disability. It doesn’t seem…fair.”

 

Giles had risen and had wandered off to the pond and was striping the shore with light. He was looking for something. They joined him and waited for his attention.

 

“Mmm.”

 

“Mmm, what, Giles?” Buffy asked impatient now. “If you are about to say, let’s break into the castle, can we just get on with it?”

 

“What? Oh. Well. I suppose that would be the next step.” Giles looked up at the shadow that was Buffy and the light in his hand swept towards the distant manor in invitation.

 

Angel caught the slight hesitation in the Englishman’s voice. “What is it?”

 

Giles brushed off the vampire’s concern. “Nothing of import I’m sure. Yes, let’s do get on with the illegal portion of our evening.”

 

Angel held his tongue. Giles was not forthcoming and he wondered what was bothering him.

 

Angel led the humans back the way they came and to the beautiful timber-framed Jacobean gatehouse. It was the public and usual entrance into the Manor and its inner grounds.  Angel plucked up the wooden bench that sat outside the gatehouse and positioned it against the low wall for Giles to use to scale the wall.

 

Angel gracefully leapt up on to the stone and stretched out his hand. Giles did not decline the offer, and although he was getting on in years, he was a fit man and proud of it. It made sense to allow the vampire to help him scramble up and over the wall. He did not see the same hand being offered to Buffy as his feet hit solid ground. She shook her head and leaped the distance with no trouble at all. Angel smiled at her as they both stepped off the top and landed beside the Englishman.

 

“Where’s the moat?” Buffy asked and she thought she should have noticed the lack outside the walls, not in.

 

“Moat?” Giles questioned.

 

“Yeah. You know, castles have moats. In movies, castles always have a moat. What happened to the moat, or did the owners run out of money?”

 

“The moat has been filled in, Buffy. In its day, the man-made moat was fed by the large pond at the south-west of the property, the very same pond we just visited.” Giles’ tone bordered on admonishment, his mind clearly elsewhere and not on the large space that was the courtyard.

 

“Maybe the moat was drained for a reason,” Angel suggested, showing that yes, he had been listening - noted the chiding given by Giles – and softened that by his appreciation of Buffy’s oblique reference. His teeth showed white when she angled her light his way. He nodded at her blooming smile.

 

“The key,” Giles said, somewhat mollified.

 

“Duh! That’s what the digging was about. He, or they, were looking for the key.” Buffy whirled to look at the Englishman and Angel could see the look of triumph on her face. She was sure she had picked up on the clue when the Watcher had not.

 

Giles had already considered and discarded the notion.

 

“The moat has been dry for a very long time. I imagine that the area has been thoroughly searched.” At the slump of Buffy’s shoulders Giles added and conceded, “The legend does state that the brothers lost the key in the moat when throwing it back and forth. Many people have looked to no avail over the centuries. Then again, there are signs of a renewed search. Maybe Lewis is better informed than we.”

 

“Is that even possible?” she asked, incredulous.

 

Now it was Giles who chuckled and Angel felt the tension in his shoulders ease.

 

The three paranormal investigators stood silent before the Great Hall of Stokesay It was magnificent and flanked by the North and South towers.

 

“This is not really a castle.”

 

“It sure looks castle-like,” Buffy observed.

 

 “The manor was once a sheep farm and the owner, a Lawrence de Ludlow, became very wealthy exporting wool.”

 

“So why isn’t it called the Ludlow Castle?”

 

Angel interjected. “The de Say family built the original manor house. Stoke is the word for dairy, and of course Say, or de Say, is the Norman family name.”

 

Giles was impressed. “However, the de Say family sold the estate when their fortunes declined in 1250 or thereabouts. Lawrence de Ludlow was granted a license to crenellate, or in layman’s terms, to strengthen his defences. He practically tore down the original manor house but kept the North tower, added to it, and built the three-storied South tower in 1291. What you see here is the 13th century finished product.”

 

The three moved past the flower beds, crossed the grassed courtyard and climbed the stairs to the entrance of the main hall. The stairs carried on past to another door set into the South Tower but they ignored that for the first door. Angel quietly forced the lock and they were inside the Great Hall. Giles continued his lecture as they moved across old wooden floors that insisted on creaking with every step.

 

“The castle, which was not named so until the 16th century has changed hands several times. The Ludlows had the Manor in their possession for nearly 300 years. The Cravens – who were Royalists -” Giles held up a hand when Buffy opened her mouth, “bear with me, moved into the manor in 1620 and the family held the estate until the 19th century. It was then that the Castle was sold to the Allcroft family…”

 

Angel interrupted the Watcher, again. “The castle was in disrepair and was being used as a cooper’s, granary and a blacksmith’s.”

 

“Coopers?”

 

Angel blinked at her. “Barrel makers.”

 

Buffy looked at Giles and then at Angel in wonder. Boy! The two men in her life were her own personal guides to the weird and not so wonderful past. They really needed to get a life.

 

Giles gazed at Angel, fascinated. Here was someone who had *lived* through some of the history of this place. “Had you been to the castle…in your…past life?” he asked tentatively.

 

Angel sidestepped the question. “I’ve been in the area before.”

 

Giles let it lie, vowing to find out at a later date. His was a Watcher’s curiosity, and it would be satisfied. He turned his attention to the room they stood in. It was enormous. Large tall windows adorned the walls, letting in light during the day. The Ludlows had to have been extremely wealthy to have afforded such extravagance, he thought. Giles looked to the cruck-roofed ceiling, some thirty-odd feet above. He played his light across the medieval beams, and marvelled at the skill of the craftsmen that linked the beams in such intricacy. Buffy’s light showed the hall to be at least 50 feet in length and picked out the remains of an open hearth centred in the floor.

 

Angel walked over to examine the vestiges of a stairway that would have once led to the North Tower. He placed a booted foot and tested its strength. It swayed and Angel took his foot back.  He was unimpressed with the Hall. He could appreciate the beauty, the craftsmanship, yes. Having lived through the era that lacked hot showers and indoor plumbing, he was not nostalgic. People were oppressed back then, more so than now, in the civilised countries at least. It wasn’t a time he wanted back, ever.

 

Buffy had wandered away, and found herself in a room that boasted an enormous fireplace with an intricately carved mantle, the panelled walls warm and beautiful. The room was in keeping with the rest of the Hall, large. The only furniture was a long bench-like table with bench seats on either side, and a wooden high seat for two sat near the fireplace. To peer out into the night, Buffy had to step carefully into the recess that allowed her to sit on the window seat. She squinted through the magnificent windows and could see little. The leading in the windows and the old glass obscured her vision.

 

She ventured back to the main hall and declared, “Nothing doing in there. In fact this looks like a bust.”

 

“We need to get into the basement.”

 

Buffy glanced in Angel’s direction. He was hard to see in the gloom. “Oh joy! Basements, they’re always fun!”

 

“I have to agree. There is no sign of a struggle or damage of any kind here. The legend does state…”

 

“The treasure is kept in the basement. I get it, Giles. So let’s get it over with.”

 

Angel left the stairs for the lower arch of an open door that led into the tower.

 

 

Two humans and a vampire found themselves beneath the North Tower, climbing down the narrow stairs towards the dank, dark and smelly basement.

 

“What’s that smell?” Buffy asked, holding her nose.

 

“The latrines are evident in the South Tower. Perhaps the North Tower had its share?” Giles murmured behind her.

 

“Ew! That’s gross.”

 

“Vampire sense of smell here,” said a deep voice ahead, not at all sympathetic.

 

“Yeah, but you lived in the time of out houses, bathing in steel tubs and no electricity.”

 

“Bathing?” Angel asked.

 

“I see that you didn’t waste all your time in school, Buffy,” Giles commented behind her with a chuckle.

 

“There’s a drain,” Angel stated as his foot found the ground. He chose to ignore his two companions: they were accurate in their assessment of his previous life.

 

The basement was larger than anticipated and yet it closed in on one. Angel’s keen eyes were drawn to the faint designs that decorated the walls. The fingers of one hand were tracing the lines of the medieval painting when Buffy and Giles arrived. Their light illuminated the object of his attention. He blinked at the brightness and closed his eyes.

 

“Good Lord. One wonders why anyone would decorate a storeroom so.”

 

“At least the drain is empty,” Buffy waggled her hand towards the open drain, “but why the smell?”

 

“Mould, damp, any number of reasons, Buffy. A closed space traps such odours, the air grows stale and…”

 

“Anyway, back to the treasure.”

 

Giles’ frown went unseen as he directed his light into the drain and peered in without allowing his knees contact with the ground. The drain was, indeed, empty.

 

“The treasure has been sought for many a century. I very much doubt if we would in all probability find it, if it ever existed.”

 

“And yet there is the footprint.”

 

“Quite.”

 

“What I want to know,” Buffy said as she walked back to where Angel was still enthralled with flakes of old paint, “why a basement? I mean,” she ticked off each finger as she made a point, “it’s small, too small for anyone large to venture – not you, Angel – they couldn’t get a foot in here, let alone a hand, and this is a storeroom. People store things in here; not exactly rocket scientists were they, these ‘giants?’”

 

Giles stood beside Buffy and both watched as Angel’s fingers trailed the design. “Perhaps the Tower had access through the floor, or outer walls before the additions. I don’t know, Buffy. The legend is just that, legend.”

 

Their talk fell away as Buffy and Giles observed the other hand of the vampire slide up and over the wall, his fingers reading the paint as if it were Braille, his eyes were closed. Buffy’s slayer sense tingled, the fine hair at the back of her neck prickled and she planted her feet, her fists curled.

 

“Angel?”

 

His arms were spread wide, fingers pressed in at odd places. His body was flush with the wall.

 

“Angel?” Giles asked as an odd feeling ran through him.

 

The vampire did not answer. A scrape of stone set teeth on edge, and the rumble and creak of an ancient device not heard from in an era, abraded the senses. The wall, inch by inch, groaned and moved into a recess set behind more stone. The vampire stood as the last stone rested, quiet. He lowered his arms.

 

“How did you…?” Giles started to ask.

 

Buffy shouted, “Watch out!” and pushed Giles aside and attempted to move Angel in the same way. He staggered a couple of steps, and her torch rolled away behind her in the fumble.

 

“Buffy!” She heard Angel shout but she ignored him for the dark, fearsome shape that hurtled out of the bowels of Hell.

 

She stepped away and landed a fast kick as she spun. The musty smell intruded, more potent than before. She shook her head and evaded the vicious jab of a huge beak.

 

“No!” Buffy felt strong arms grab her and pull her back, and in her peripheral vision Giles was upright against the far wall.

 

Buffy trusted Angel and relaxed, and allowed him to pull her out of harm’s way.

 

“What the…?” she asked as she stared into a large black orb that reflected madness and ferocity, and her and Giles’ reflection.

 

“It’s the Guardian. Buffy, the legend is true,” Giles whispered in awe behind them.

 

The orb blinked and retreated and became an eye. Feathers, ebony, shone glossy in the twin beams of light that Giles now held. Buffy felt her lover’s embrace relax before he released her. She tried to peer around the giant bird.

 

“So why is it not trying to kill us? This is the thing that attacked that man the other night, I mean look at that beak! So how are we so lucky?”

 

Giles came up beside them. “I cannot see a box, or chest, or treasure.” He looked over to the vampire. “Angel?”

 

The raven folded its wings and retreated into the stygian hole that was its domain. Giles picked out bare earth with his light. Buffy squinted and thought she caught a glimpse of something indistinct. It was as if the emptiness was not quite...empty.

 

Angel knew what was before him. The legends were true. This was the famous lost treasure of the giants of Stokesay and its guardian. His hand reached into his pocket and when it came out, the hand was smoking.

 

“Angel?” Buffy asked, puzzled and concerned, before she handed him her handkerchief.

 

He wrapped the iron cross in the cotton and approached the bird. It blinked slowly and allowed his entry. The minute he stepped inside, the not-quite-emptiness shimmered and a large chest manifested.

 

“Where on earth?” The Englishman’s breath quickened in anticipation. They were about to discover what secrets the chest held.

 

Angel’s eyes never left the raven as he carefully laid the Key atop the chest. He straightened and took back his step.

 

“I found it in the graveyard earlier.”

 

Buffy sucked in a breath. “That is why no-one has been able to find the key. They were looking for a key, not a cross that *is* a key.”

 

Giles’ look burrowed into the vampire’s broad back. “How did you know?”

 

The shoulders shrugged. “There was something about the cross…it was…there.”

He couldn’t explain it or put it into words.

 

 

The raven’s head edged towards the chest, its beak opened and plucked up the Key. The strongbox vanished, as did the bird, and the harsh grind of rock alerted the three that the wall was about to close off the hidden depths of the castle. Buffy grabbed hold of Angel’s arm as he quickly retreated and they watched as the art rose and assumed its guise as a relic of bygone days.

 

She clutched at her lover and her quip sounded a little forced. “I guess that answers my question about getting in and out of the place. Talking of, can we go now?  I’ll never get the smell out of my hair.”

 

Giles’ eyes narrowed but he held his tongue until they were above ground and walking towards the car.

 

“That was a neat trick you pulled, how did you know the wall…?”

 

“I didn’t at first. The design on the wall was intriguing…” Angel stopped and turned his head.

 

Giles continued to the car and did not notice that Buffy and Angel had halted.

 

“It’s a pity that we did not get to see what was inside the chest. Imagine the wonders, the wealth, the…” He turned around to see Angel giving Buffy a kiss before he melted, it seemed, into the night.

 

“Where?”

 

“He says to meet him at the rooms.”

 

“The reason being?”

 

“He wasn’t exactly forthcoming.”

 

They were at the car. Giles started the vehicle when Buffy slammed her door shut.

 

“I thought you said he was chatty?”

 

“Hmmpff!”

 

Giles chuckled before adding, “It’s a shame the treasure disappeared like that. Imagine what one could do with…”

 

“Giles! You would never take anything that belonged to the history of Great Britain.” The slayer was shocked at the very idea. A niggling doubt crept in. “Would you?”

 

“No…” The no wasn’t exactly firm in both their ears. “There would or could have been a reward,” he added hastily. “Besides, there is the 1996 Treasure Act. We would have to notify the authorities, and I doubt we would be granted a reward. That would belong to the owners of Stokesay or the British Museum would benefit.”

 

“Are we so desperate?”

 

This time the answer was firm. “No. We are holding our own, Buffy; a little extra would have been advantageous.”

 

They drove back to Craven Arms in silence, each reflecting on the worth of their work.

 

 

Angel headed back to the pond sure of the sound he had heard. The water lay quiescent; the soft breeze caressed his hair and soothed the landscape in gentle sighs. The earth trembled and Angel halted beside the print of a very large being. The ground shook again and something thudded nearby. His keen sight picked out the glimmer of gold, and then there were three. He craned his head to see the night sky. A large shadow moved and the cry of a raven pierced the evening quiet. A low rumble growled, thunder of a sort, in his ears.

 

He leaned down and plucked up the ancient gold.

 

IMP CAESAR TRAIAN HADRIANVS AVG was stamped there, along with the bust of the long dead Caesar. The back carried PM TRP COS111 and LIB PVB and a Goddess sat there.

 

Angel considered the coins for several heartbeats – not his – before he pocketed the gold.

He glanced again to the sky and felt only the weight of the stars. The earth was quiet, at peace, the air freshened as the breeze picked up, and he turned back to the path and started for his temporary home.

 

 

Angel found Buffy and Giles sipping tea and hot chocolate when he ventured inside. It was late, extremely so, and the lonely Mrs Cooper had retired for the night. They had the small parlour to themselves.

 

Giles lifted the pot. “Tea?”

 

“Thank you.”  Angel sat on the couch and welcomed Buffy’s warmth when she wriggled close.  He could feel Giles’ curiosity and Buffy’s impatience.

 

Buffy *was* impatient, she couldn’t wait for Angel to drink his tea. Her hazel eyes were fixed on his face and she was relieved to see the small smile he bestowed her. Angel could almost be called happy, almost. He was relaxed, and Buffy knew that whatever business he had attended to, it had ended well.

 

“What happened back there? What did you see?”

 

Angel accepted the cup of Irish Breakfast tea with a raised brow at Giles, and took an agonizingly slow sip. At least to Buffy, it was deliberate and slow. She resisted the urge to punch him, it would only spill the tea and besides, it was childish. He swallowed again, ignored Buffy’s narrowed eyes, savoured the warmth of the tea before he relented and rested the cup on the table.

 

“What are you going to tell Blakemore?”  Angel asked, much to Buffy’s dismay. She resisted the urge to pout and waited like the mature woman she was supposed to be. She found it…taxing.

 

“The truth. He’s a local man; he has grown up with the legends of the Marches.” Giles paused. “I’ll tell him that there won’t be another incident.”

 

“The whole truth?”

 

Giles knew that Angel was alluding to the secret cavern and the treasure. “Maybe not,” he conceded.

 

Angel nodded and it appeared as if the vampire had made up his mind, and that Giles had somehow contributed to that decision.

 

Giles waited with Buffy as Angel delved into his coat pocket and withdrew a fisted hand.

He opened his fingers and there on his pale palm sat three gold coins.

 

“My word!” Giles’ heart raced. He reached out to touch one of the coins.

 

Buffy snatched one up before his fingers could and Giles quickly grabbed one other.

 

“Huh?” Buffy huffed as she eyed the coin. “What’s with the Roman numerals?” She tossed the coin in the air. It was heavy.

 

“Not quite, Buffy.” Giles’ hand shook. The coins were ancient. “It is Roman, well spotted.”

 

“Imperial Caesar Trajan Hadrian Augustus.” Angel translated for her. Giles was conversant with Latin.

 

“Pontifex Maximus - Chief Priest - with power as Tribune and Consul for the 3rd time. Public freedom.” Giles had turned his coin over. He lifted his glasses and replaced them after squinting at the stamped figure.

 

“It’s Libertas, the Goddess of Freedom.” Angel confirmed.

 

“Is it valuable?” Buffy rubbed the coin between two fingers.

 

“Valuable? Good Lord! It certainly is. The coins are nearly 2000 years old.” Giles stared at the vampire. “Where did you find these?”

 

“In the grass by the footprint.” He did not say that there was now more than one.

 

“I never saw any sign of gold,” Giles accused, because he had looked.

 

“What do you call these?” Buffy asked unaware of the sudden tension.

 

“Aureus, aurei is the plural. The Romans introduced a currency in Britain that was based on three metals. Gold, which you see here, silver are denarii and of course copper, which were the less valuable. The aurei are 95% gold and were not used among the common folk.”

 

“That’s why it is heavy? It’s almost solid gold? Wow!” Buffy stopped rolling the coin and put it gently on the table.

 

“I don’t suppose we can keep them, can we? Giles said something about the Treasure Act and that we have to hand it in.” She eyed the coin with regret. New clothes could come in handy and she needed new shoes.

 

Giles licked his lips and placed his coin next to hers. He was tempted but he knew that Buffy was right.

 

Angel now had a clue about the hesitation he had felt in Giles at the castle. Giles had been thinking about the treasure and its worth. Once upon a time it had been called gold fever, and Angel knew that while Giles could not be called a gold digger, he had been affected. Giles’ body language screamed his desire to the vampire. 

 

He spoke softly, and offered, “It was a gift, not a find. I think we can keep these.”

 

Giles looked up and Buffy’s face lit up. “Really? Can we?” she asked with hope and barely contained the happy jiggle she wanted to make on her seat.

 

“We cannot,” Giles insisted. A gift, his Watcher’s mind noted. Who’s gift, and did Angel see the giver?

 

“Why not?” Buffy asked, her hopes for new shoes and wardrobe plummeting.

 

“If we did, we would have to sell them for cash and anyone trading in ancient coins would notify the authorities.”

 

“I know of a certain someone who could sell these for us, discreetly.” Angel placed his coin beside the others.

 

Giles was torn. Was it possible? Was it ethical? He *was* tempted.

 

Buffy was not torn. She wanted the coins turned into pounds.

 

She pleaded, somewhat desperately. “Just think of the use we can make of the extra money, Giles. It must cost a fortune running the house and Martha and John’s wages can’t be cheap.”

 

Angel settled the matter for him. “We do good work and we do not always get paid. As I said, these were a gift, not a find. I propose that you, Giles, keep the lion’s share. You handle the accounts for the business. The two coins are yours, Buffy and I will take one.  I am sure that Buffy has something she needs to buy.”

 

Buffy beamed at him and he knew he had made the right call. Money did not interest him. He had few needs, clothing, and a roof over his head, his car, and a run to the butcher’s now and again. Once, he’d had urgent need of funds, he had a baby to love and cherish and his finances had become important. He had been an idiot. Now, he had Buffy, and although it was enough for him, he wanted to be able to provide for her, buy her gifts, and take her places. Giles supplied most of their wants, paid them a small stipend but now he had an opportunity to call this money his own, it was enough to put by for a rainy day.

 

Giles knew that every man has his pride, especially where one’s finances are concerned. He didn’t blame Angel wanting his own, it must have rankled, having to rely on handouts. Not that the vampire hadn’t earned his share of the agency’s profits, he had, admirably. Angel had been used to running his own affairs; he was over two centuries old. Giles often wondered what the vampire did for money when Angel was living in Sunnydale. He took note of the hold Buffy had on Angel’s hand and the anxious look on her face. It reminded him that they had committed graver acts than this.

 

He released a large breath.  “You’ve convinced me.”

 

Buffy squealed with delight, and with dismay covered her mouth. “Sorry,” she apologised for the noise. Her eyes were shining and Giles did not regret his capitulation.

 

“This someone?” he asked.

 

“Demon.”

 

“Right.”

 

Giles’ eyes did not leave the aurei, and he watched as Angel nipped them up and placed them into his hand. “I’ll ask for them when I need them.”

 

Giles’ hand trembled. Here was history, relics of ancient Rome and Britain cupped in the palm of his hand. He wanted to keep these precious items and almost changed his mind.

 

“How much?” Buffy asked again behind a yawn. She was excited and tired.

 

“A rough estimate? Fifteen hundred to two thousand pounds…each. Less on the black market.”

 

The tiredness dropped away. Her mouth dropped open. “Oh.”

 

Angel kissed her mouth closed.

 

“A new pair of shoes?” he murmured, and his eyes twinkled.

 

“Damn straight!” Buffy laughed. This trip had turned out to be the best ever. Demon hunting and gold, what more could a slayer want. She gazed at her love. Maybe one thing more.

 

“Who’s for bed?”

 

The End.

 

 

 

 

Author’s notes.

1.  As I have never been to Stokesay Castle, I have relied on the Internet for information on the interior. Forgive me for any errors, call it artistic license.

 

2.  Stokesay Castle.

 

http://www.virtual-shropshire.co.uk/gallery/stokesay_castle

 

3.  The Giants of Stokesay.

 

http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/legends/stokesay_giants.html

 

4.  Roman Gold Coins.

 

http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/frames.shtml?http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/MOLsite/exhibits/coins/

 

5.  Castle View Bed & Breakfast is an actual place. I’ve changed the name of the owner, and have no idea of the interior but if you want to see how picturesque the place is, go here.

 

http://www.southshropshire.org.uk/castleview/

 

6.  The Shropshire landscape.

 

http://www.virtual-shropshire.co.uk/shropshire-landscapes/index.shtml

 

7.  The Welsh Marches

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welsh_Marches

 

 

 

 



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