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A Knight in Shining Armour

 

Project Paranormal

Season 4

Part 9

Author: Ares

 

 

**

 

 

Summary: Giles’ car breaks down on the edge of Dartmoor.

 

 

**

 

 

What defines a hero? His willingness to risk his life to save another? To do the right thing, no matter the cost? Or is it circumstance that drives one to heroic acts? Circumstances beyond one’s control. What counts as an act of bravery? Is it to dive into a raging torrent to rescue a drowning soul, or to run into a burning building to save a helpless puppy? To brave the dragon in his lair, bearing a sword and a valiant heart to save the maiden? Courage comes in many forms and guises, as do the heroes.

 

+++

 

A Knight in Shining Armour

 

 

Giles had left the town of Ashburton and was making his way back to Westbury. The road he was on skirted the moor. Dartmoor to be exact. For most people, the name conjured up a dark and desolate place, a prisoner on the run from an establishment nestled monster-like in the centre of a harsh and inhospitable place. Giles didn’t find the moor an intimidating landscape. Sure, it had a brooding quality, but he had been sharing his home with a creature more dangerous and brooding than the moor. Besides, from what he could see through his windscreen, the countryside was beautiful and picturesque with its pretty farms and villages hugging the road. One could almost say they were the lace trimmings on the main fabric of the moor, the beast itself hiding behind the skirt of civilization. 

 

His time in Ashburton had been well spent. His sole purpose had been to visit the apothecary. An old name: the owner was an eccentric. It had been on his mind for a long while to venture down to Devon to check out the place, and this had been the first time he had had the opportunity. The establishment had unguents and potions that he lacked, hard to believe, but true. And the business kept a substantial library, he discovered, purchasing two of its volumes after sifting through the shelves. Whilst there, he had been persuaded by the proprietor to look into the myth of Kutty Dyer, an evil little water sprite that was purported to live in the river Ashburn under King’s Bridge, near the town hall. One or two revellers had been accosted roughly and had their wallets stolen. Giles did investigate the myth and the bridge, and he studied the reports that had been published in the local paper. He came to the conclusion that an opportunist had chanced upon the drunken men and had taken advantage of both the myth and the men’s inebriation. He was no slayer, he didn’t have Buffy’s instincts, nor Angel’s, in dealing with the supernatural, but Giles would put money on the fact that the water sprite hadn’t been involved. Besides, the sprite was a cutthroat, literally. It targeted children and drunks alike, but left them dead, not robbed and beaten. In fact, Kutty Dyer hadn’t been up to his old tricks for quite a while. Giles wondered if the sprite was even inhabiting King’s Bridge of late. Maybe it had moved on.

 

The stannary town had become prosperous through tin mining back in the day, and like most tin mining towns was now reliant on other areas of trade, tourism, for one, to stay viable. Buffy would have called the place quaint, and she would have been right. The architecture was old and beautifully kept. There were many old houses and inns, one now a supermarket, and an old gaming house now masquerading as a hardware store. The churches were magnificent in Ashburton. Many small towns boasted such. Churches were numerous throughout the country, and Ashburton was no exception.  Giles didn’t have to imagine the tourists descending in droves like the barbarian hordes upon the poor inhabitants come the height of summer. They were already out in force. The moors were popular with walkers. They could be seen tor to tor during the warmer months. His smile dipped. Much as he valued the landscape, he knew that the average man - he amended that thought - the average city folk did not appreciate the countryside the same way as he did, and left signs of their passing in disappointing piles of litter.

 

Looking out the windscreen, he wondered where the year had disappeared to. Not long ago Buffy had been complaining of the cold. This day, though, was bright and warm. His spirits lifting once more, Giles felt that for the moment all was right with the world. He passed by Bickington. It was a small village, hardly a blip on the motorist’s radar. The farms and houses and the occasional hedgerow kept him company as his wheels ate up the road. His radio went silent all of a sudden, and the engine followed suit. Giles gently applied the brakes, pulling over to the side of the road. Fortunately, where the car came to rest, was a lay-by, offering a safe haven from passing traffic - if there had been any passing traffic.  That in itself was odd, but Giles had no time to wonder why the road was empty just then.

 

“Botheration!” he muttered under his breath.

 

The Discovery had had its service not so long ago. There would be words, he thought, as he climbed out of the vehicle, popping the bonnet as he did so. Tinkering with the engine, Giles couldn’t see anything wrong, not that he really knew what he was doing. He checked the battery connections hoping that it would be that easy. Trying the ignition, he found it wasn’t. Resigned, he clambered out with his phone and found there was a lack of signal. Typical!  He couldn’t ring the Automobile Association to come and attend to him, nor could he call Buffy to tell her he was stuck in Devon and would be home later than originally thought. Locking the door, he looked about, ready to walk back towards Bickington, where, hopefully, he would find a telephone.

 

It was then that Giles noticed the lay-by wasn’t so much a lay-by as the entrance to a property.  A gate hung between two fence posts, with no fence either side but shrubs, and beyond the gate a cobbled path ran. Squinting against the sun, he could see where the path ended a house stood. Its stone walls and windows were festooned with hanging baskets, overflowing with bright petals and greenery. An apple tree beside the cottage, laden with blossoms, sweetened the air. A garden, filled with beautifully coloured plants and small shrubs, bordered the walls of the house, breaking for the one step leading to the front door.  Opening the gate, Giles ventured onto the property. He hoped the occupants were home and that they had a working telephone.

 

As he lifted an arm to knock on the door, it yawned open. An old man stood blinking at him, peering against the light of the day.

 

“Yes?”

 

“Sorry to bother you, sir. “Giles pointed back to the road where the top of his car could be seen. “My car has a bit of a problem with the engine. Have you a telephone I can use to call the A.A.?”

 

The old man stared at him blankly.

 

Giles tried again. “I’m not a thief or someone of ill intent, sir. If you’re unsure about letting me into the house, can you ring my service for me?” Reaching for his wallet, Giles searched for his card and handed it over. Callused hands accepted the card and sharp eyes perused it. The card was handed back, the old man backing away from the door, gesturing for Giles to step inside.

 

“You best come in. The telephone is in the front room. To your right.”

 

“Thank you,” Giles nodded as he edged past the old man. His host hovered in the doorway as he entered the living room.

 

The room was as neat as a pin, although the furnishings a bit old-fashioned. There were doilies on the side tables and a cabinet full of silver and cut crystal. A couple of china teacups stood pride of place next to an ornate plate of the same make. One or two old photographs, faded in their frames, stood guard on the wall over them all. A young man and a beautiful woman, Giles noted, as he sat down in a well-worn armchair, the old man’s, obviously, with books arranged haphazardly on the floor near his legs. The telephone sat on a doily-covered table beside the chair.

 

Giles decided to ring Summerdown House before calling the A.A.

 

+++

 

 

“Giles has car issues,” Buffy explained when she had hung up the phone.

 

Angel lifted his head. He hadn’t been listening to the conversation, he had been massaging his head. There was a giant headache looming, he could feel it.

 

“What sort of issues?”

 

“The Discovery broke down. The engine just stopped on him. He’s outside a little place called Bickington.”

 

“Does he need a lift?” Angel asked.

 

As if Buffy could hear the hope in his voice, and she probably did, she quirked an eyebrow, saying, “Not from you. It’s the middle of the day.”

 

“Oh. Are you going, then?”

 

Buffy shook her head, chuckling at the resignation that appeared in her boyfriend’s eyes.

 

“He’s going to call his car service. The A.A? I think he said. Isn’t that Alcoholics Anonymous?”

 

“Automobile Association,” Angel automatically replied, closing his eyes on the multitude of colours dancing before his eyes. The table and carpet were awash with swatches of various hues and textures. Buffy was in the decorating mood. The new house needed the personal touch, and Buffy was just the girl to do so. With help from Angel, of course. He was sure Buffy had been possessed by a demon of some sort. A colour-choosing-pain-in-your-ass-demon. One that wanted to co-ordinate everything from sheets to towels to curtains and carpet. Heaven help him if Buffy had the sudden urge to colour co-ordinate him.  He sighed…again.

 

Warm fingers crept to his temples and began to gently massage there.

 

“Mmm…” he murmured. “That’s nice.”

 

“I know this is all a bit of a chore for you, but you do want to have some say in how our home will look and feel like, don’t you?” Buffy all but purred behind him.

 

“Mmm.”

 

“And you have such good taste. The places you called home were always tastefully decorated.”

 

“Minimalist,” he replied, melting to her touch…and charms, he realised, ruefully.

 

“Does that mean what I think it means?” she asked, her fingers digging a little harder at his flesh.

 

“Minimal. Less. Yes.” Angel wasn’t a fool, but sometimes he couldn’t help himself.

 

The fingers went away, and when Angel turned to look, the fingers, hands, and arms were crossed against the slayer’s chest. Belatedly, he noticed her foot was tapping.

 

“It’s not like I’m going to put up pink wallpaper, or have chintz curtains and fluffy pillows everywhere…” An evil glint blossomed in her eyes, “although fluffy pillows do appeal,” she finished with a grin.

 

“It’s not… it’s…the house is nowhere near finished,” he said, not realising he was treading on dangerous ground… again. The house had walls and a roof…just. He didn’t see the need to be choosing interiors so soon.

 

Buffy’s eyes flashed dangerously. Was it her fault that the building was taking so long? Back in California a house would be finished and inhabited in half the time, a quarter of the time, she was almost sure. Just because their new home had to adhere to strict building guidelines, which meant using building techniques thought up in the Stone Age, where time didn’t mean a darn thing, didn’t mean a girl couldn’t start planning ahead, did it?

 

“And these are the finishing touches,” she said, stalking back to the table and snapping up one of the curtain fabrics.  She shook it at him.  “You like fine things. What’s the problem?”

 

Angel got up out of his seat to put his arms about Buffy. He could feel the tension thrumming in her body, but at least she didn’t push him away.

 

In her ear, he offered, “The places I’ve lived in…the ones that you saw…I used what was available. The curtains and fittings were already a part of the house. I scrounged what I could from other places and second hand stores. Junk yards, that sort of thing.” He didn’t add that he wasn’t averse to stealing.

 

He felt Buffy relax against him.

 

“You did a great job, then,” she said. “I remember statues and books and fine sheets.”

 

“And not too much else. The weapons were spoils of war.”

 

Buffy turned in his arms.

 

“Do you miss what you lost?”

 

“Do you?” he asked in return, thinking of Sunnydale.

 

“People, yes. Things? Mr Gordo, for one. Photographs of family and friends, that kind of thing.”

 

“I never had a place that I knew I wouldn’t have to leave. That’s all they were, places. I learned not to get attached to material things…Ow! What was that for?” he asked, rubbing his arm. Buffy had pinched him.

 

“You’re attached to your coat, your sword, and your books,” Buffy replied, her smile amused, and to say she was sorry, she brought his head down for a kiss.

 

“To you,” he breathed when he had the chance.

 

“Come on! Let’s take a break.” Her glance became coy. “I heard vampires were supposed to be in bed this time of day, so let’s get you back in there.”

 

Angel’s eyes rolled heavenward as she led him to the bedroom. “Thank you,” he murmured, grateful for the chance to bed Buffy and for the break from interior decorating.

 

+++

 

 

Opening his eyes, Giles was disorientated. He didn’t remember falling asleep, but he must have, because his eyes weren’t seeing the old man’s living room, he was somewhere else.  Giles pinched his arm to wake up. It did no good.  He was still inside a tent, slumped over large cushions, a mat of some kind covering the floor. There were voices outside the tent, loud raucous voices. Giles got to his feet, adjusted glasses that were slightly askew, and, pushing open the flap of the canvas, peered out.

 

Noise and colour greeted him. There were people and animals everywhere. A child darted by him, chased by several others. Giles backed up a step, looked down at his dress and was gratified to see that he still had on his jeans and jacket. The children had been wearing homespun clothes, peasant-like, he supposed. Taking the plunge, Giles exited the tent. The smell of animal manure mixed with human sweat, followed by an aroma of cooking oil hit his nose. Unless he was in a local market, and he didn’t think so - the place didn’t look at all like Bickington, Ashburton, or anywhere remotely like it - he could be in a country not his own.

 

He followed the path the boys had taken, by-passing several stalls that sold cloth and wool and household goods. The stall keepers were of varying hues of colour themselves. The coffee-coloured lady, attractive in her voluminous skirt and scarves, sold her wares next to a man that had skin as pale as a vampire’s, with white hair to match. Giles looked up at the sky to assure himself that, yes, the sun was shining and the man wasn’t a demon. The chap from Asia was small and thin with a pleasant smile when Giles looked back down. Giles was jostled from behind when he stood unsure of where to turn next. The family behind him stepped around him and hurried by. Giles decided that way was as good as any other, so he followed.

 

He came across a crowd watching a troupe of acrobats, and he smiled at the pleasure he saw on the faces of the children gathered there.  The next row of stalls sold food of various types. His mouth watered at the chicken pieces doused in some sort of relish. Fresh bread was being offered, and biscuits, hot from a wood stove, he saw, when he looked carefully. Giles knew that the money he had in his pockets would be of no use here. No one appeared to be from the twenty-first century, or the twentieth, for that matter.  The fact that people didn’t look askance at him told him that strangers with even stranger garb were not unusual. He found various styles of dress more remarkable than those he had on. Even the odd eye-glass could be seen on a few noses. Wealthy noses. The common folk would be unable to acquire such an expensive innovative item.

 

A juggler loomed into sight, his brightly coloured balls spinning in the air, keeping the on-lookers entranced. A tent, in front of which stood an imposing man, knives in his hands, and a pretty girl tied to a makeshift wall, told its own story. Children on ponies were trotting in a roped-off area, their parents hovering nearby watching with doting eyes. The farm animals announced their proximity with smell and sound. Chickens and geese clucked and honked noisily as he passed. Goats bleated as they were milked, pitchers of the foaming white sustenance filled for selling.

 

Giles moved on, wondering what on earth he was doing here, and how it was even possible. Had he been drugged and then a spell used? He hadn’t been offered a drink back at the old man’s house, he was sure. Had he stumbled into a portal without even knowing it? Was that the cause of the Discovery’s engine failure? Had he driven into another world, a fracture in time and reality? And what about the house and the old man?  Giles had to find out what was happening to him, else he could find himself stuck here, wherever here was.  He noticed a fellow watching the crowd passing by. He appeared to be looking for a particular person. Was it Giles he was looking for? Giles headed in his direction.

 

A glimpse of a form from the corner of his eye had his head turning, and his steps veered aside. Did he recognise the figure? He wasn’t too sure. Who would he know in this incredible dreamscape, if that was what it was? The younger man’s identity tugged at his memory. With nothing else to go on, Giles hurried after the elusive shape.

 

Impossibly, he was distracted by yet another he was almost sure he knew. A woman this time, fine of form and stature, was moving with determination through the crowd. He was led away from the bustle and fuss of the stalls and found himself in a garden of sorts. The foliage was rich and lush when he pushed through. The woman had vanished when he emerged on the other side. Walls of green stood waiting. Down a path the walls led, and, twisting at the far end, beckoned him to follow. Giles did so, with a glance behind. A wall of shrubbery hid the bustling market from view. The sounds from the market place were muted and before long were silenced. Giles felt as if he was in a different world, again, stranger than the one he had first found himself, one where man and beast had long vanished and all that remained was the garden.

 

Before long, Giles recognised the world he was in. The garden had become a maze, and he was lost inside. Turning around, he realised the way back was out of his reach. He had to continue on. Why had he been led here, if that had been so? You can’t leave well enough alone, can you, old chap? he asked himself as he forged ahead.

 

Keeping one’s hand on the left wall is what he recalled about mazes, and he hoped that by continually turning left he would come out the other side.  He prayed the maze wasn’t a disjointed one. He could use the pledge algorithm to solve the puzzle but he didn’t know in which direction he was heading, and he hoped that there weren’t obstacles in his path. Deadly obstacles came to mind. Where was he and where was the maze leading to?

 

Coming round the next turn, Giles found to his surprise an old man before him.  Wisps of snowy white hair hung long and sparse to the man’s shoulder, and a beard just as flimsy trailed down to his chest. Pale eyes, opaque with age, regarded him with a keen intelligence. The wooden staff gripped in one hand seemed more a crutch than weapon. Giles hurried the last few steps.

 

“Excuse me, sir. Are you lost, too?”

 

Deeply etched lines about the old man’s mouth remained still.

 

“Do you know the way? Can you help me?”

 

Teeth, yellowed and stained, showed when the old man parted his lips to speak.

 

“At night they come without being fetched, and by day they are lost without being stolen.”

 

“Pardon?”

 

The old man repeated his sentence, the lack of inflection informing Giles the man had repeated the line many a time.

 

Giles scratched his head. He was being presented with a riddle, here in a maze of all places. And it wasn’t a particularly hard riddle at that. He wondered, if one didn’t know the answer to the riddle, could one pass the senior citizen by? The merest puff of wind looked enough to topple the old man.

 

“Stars,” he replied, sure of his answer.

 

The old man stood aside and allowed Giles to pass. As Giles did so, he glanced back to see that the old man had disappeared.

 

The maze twisted and turned, with Giles veering left at every opportunity. Blotting his forehead and neck with his handkerchief, Giles wished he had a bottle of water with him. He was sweating. The sun beat down overhead and even though the green walls offered shade to some extent, the maze trapped the sun’s heat with a breathless quality. He plodded on not knowing what lay ahead, mulling over why he had chased after the woman in the first place. Since setting foot in the maze he hadn’t caught a glimpse of her. His first priority should have been in discovering where he was, how he had come to be here, and how on earth was he going to get back.  Berating himself, it took Giles a moment to realise another figure stood blocking his way.

 

An outlandishly decorated hat sat upon the head a demon. Giles wasn’t too sure if the hat was indeed a hat, it looked as if it should be alive with all the fur and feathers that sprouted forth.  The demon’s coat, patched with a multitude of various materials, draped the ground around its feet. It brought to mind Joseph and his technicoloured coat but Giles wouldn’t presume to place the two beings in the same category. Eying up the demon and the sword in its hand, Giles approached warily.

 

“What is it that is deaf, dumb, and blind, and always tells the truth?” the demon asked him before he had a chance to speak.

 

Giles blinked. Deaf, dumb and blind and always tells the truth? Mmm…

 

“Where does the maze lead,” he asked, instead.

 

The demon repeated its question. It was as if Giles hadn’t spoken.

 

Giles decided to find out what the demon would do if he didn’t answer the riddle, and attempted to push past him. It wasn’t until he was almost toe to toe that the sword was lifted in a menacing gesture. He stepped back quickly, and spoke his answer.

 

“A mirror.”

 

The sword arm lowered and Giles was allowed to pass. Giles did so, wondering if he was in a Hell dimension, destined to run the maze like a lab rat for eternity.

 

Time seemed to stop as if confirming his hypothesis, and he trudged on desperate for the next riddle. Anything to further his escape from monotony…and thirst. A headache was forming, a sign that he was becoming dehydrated.  He was in dire need of water. Looking at his watch did no good. It had stopped on the eleventh hour. He was lost in more ways than one. If he didn’t find a way out of the maze he would be in trouble.

 

Giles decided he needed a rest to conserve his energy. Choosing a shady spot, he sank to the ground with some relief. Closing his eyes for a moment he tried to sort through his options. He found he didn’t have any other than to continue on.  Still, he remained sitting with his eyes closed, enjoying the respite from the sun. After a few minutes Giles reached out a hand in readiness to steady himself into standing. His fingers encountered a leather bag. It was filled with liquid when he picked it up. Unstopping the cork, he found it was water. Startled, Giles hurriedly got to his feet, the bag still in his hand. Where had it come from? Had it been there when he had rested and he hadn’t noticed? Had someone stealthily crept up on him to leave it beside him? Had he fallen asleep and not been aware? It was obvious that somebody was looking out for him. Giles shook his head. He had been at the mercy of all and sundry. He should have stayed more alert.  Nethertheless, he was grateful for the water, and swallowed a good portion of the liquid.

 

Perspiring, Giles peeled off his jacket and, draping it over his arm, he plodded on, and on, and wearily on. The skies darkened suddenly, and when he looked up, he could see clouds gathering thick and heavy, pulling a welcome curtain between the earth and the sun. Without warning, in turning a corner, he stepped into a stygian blackness, and stumbled, thinking he was falling. Recovering his equilibrium, with arms stretched out before him, Giles turned about and stepped cautiously back the way he came. His fingers met a wall. It was solid, stone, not at all the green shrubbery of the maze. He shivered, his sweat drying cold and clammy against his skin. Donning his jacket, and with no recourse but to venture forward, he spun about and carefully felt his way. Ten steps had him blinking into the gloom of a candle-lit cavern. Without understanding why there hadn’t been a glimmer of light until his tenth step but accepting that anything was possible, Giles lowered his arms and stared about. There were faces in the shadows looking back at him. Human faces, and some not so human, he realised.

 

“Hello?” he said, not too sure of the welcoming committee.

 

His voice echoed in the deafening silence, and unsure of what else to do, he put a hand to his chest.

 

“I’m Rupert Giles, and you are…?”

 

A lad, no more than fourteen, stepped away from the others. Giles could see something written on his face, an emotion that Giles had come to recognise all too well. Hope. 

 

A woman moved towards him, and another, until Giles was confronted with a small crowd. Everyone was looking at him with hope and expectation.

 

“Are you here to save us?” the lad asked him.

 

“Save you?”

 

“Are you the one?” a deep voice said from the back of the group.

 

“The one what?”

 

“The one to take us out of here,” said a woman standing to the side.

 

Giles looked to the speaker. She was dark-haired and quite the beauty. There was something about her…

 

“And where is here, exactly?”

 

“The maze,” squeaked one of the demons.

 

“How did you all get here?”

 

“The same way you did,” said a sneering voice. The crowd began to disperse. Someone muttered, “He’s not the one.”

 

A few remained though, with hope still in their eyes.

 

“Don’t mind them, sir,” the woman said. “They just want to go home. We all do.”

 

“What’s your name?”

 

“Roweena, sir.”

 

“I’m Matthew, sir.” The lad thrust his hand out, and Giles shook it.

 

“Pleased to meet you.”

 

Other names were offered. Jake, Niall, William, Lucy, and Eloise. Giles nodded to them all.

 

Giles indicated they should all sit. He was tired and his legs were aching. They sat in a semicircle, Giles at the fore.

 

“Tell me how you arrived here,” he asked.

 

Their tales were all similar to his own. They had wandered into the maze from the fair and had been trapped inside ever since.

 

“How long have you all been here?”

 

No one knew. Time had no meaning for them here.

 

“And you all answered the riddles and ended up here?”

 

Everyone nodded. Giles was impressed. The people in the cave were all intelligent enough to have figured out the answers to the riddles. Not that they were hard at all, but it showed him that, at least, they hadn’t just stumbled here by accident.

 

“What happens to the ones that don’t answer the riddles, do you know?”

 

Shaking her head, as did the others with her, Roweena said, “I didn’t encounter another person while I was stuck in the maze.”

 

“Me neither,” Matthew confirmed, as did Niall and the rest of the group.

 

Mmm. Giles wondered what did happen to the hapless soul that couldn’t answer the questions put before them. Were they killed? He hadn’t seen any signs of bodies or bloodshed or violence. Were they still wandering the maze, or dead somewhere from lack of food and water?

 

His gaze kept falling back to the dark-haired woman in the group.

 

“Roweena, I have a recollection that I know you but I can’t think from where.”

 

Shrugging her shoulders, Roweena, shook her head. “I don’t know you, sir. This is the first time we’ve met.”

 

Giles wasn’t so sure. He wasn’t that old and doddery to be mistaken. Old. The old man…Giles tried to latch on to the elusive thought just out of reach. There was something about the old man. Still thinking about the old man, he decided to impart to the others what had transpired to lead him here.

 

“You think the old man cast a spell on you?” Lucy asked, wide-eyed.

 

“I don’t know. One minute I was using the telephone, and the next…”

 

“What’s a tele…telephone?” William asked, his arms resting on his drawn-up knees.

 

Good Lord, Giles thought to himself. This was definitely another time and place.

 

“It’s an instrument used to communicate over long distances,” he replied.

 

“How long?” the smaller man, Jake, asked.

 

“A great distance. One cannot see the other person one is speaking to.”

 

“Oooh,” came the collective reply.

 

Niall murmured, “I wonder if my Rosie is still waiting for me?”

 

“Your sweetheart?” Giles asked.

 

Niall nodded. “I don’t know how long I’ve been here. She may not have waited for me.”

 

Niall’s statement placed the pieces of the puzzle together in Giles’ mind. Of course.

 

“In that cottage,” he said addressing Roweena, “there was a photograph of a young man and woman. I think that woman was you.”

 

“A photograph?”

 

“An image of the both of you.”

 

Roweena smiled a sad little smile. “Ah. The light box picture. It’s a new invention…is that what you call it? Photograph? The man in the picture would be my husband Roy. But I don’t know why there was a…a…photograph of the two of us in the old man’s home?” Her gaze went distant as she murmured, “We have a little farm, Roy and I. The cottage is small but it’s our own. I miss him. I miss our home. I wonder if Roy is alright, and is he looking after my garden?”

 

A thought came to Giles at her words, an idea that he didn’t want to speak aloud. There was anguish enough here…instead, he said, “I think I saw your husband when I was at the market. I followed him before I caught a fleeting glance of you. It was you who led me to the maze.”

 

Roweena got to her feet in indignation. “I did not!” she cried. “I most certainly did not! As you see I’ve been trapped here all along.”

 

Giles climbed to his feet as did the rest of the group. “I’m sorry, I meant to say the woman looked like you.”

 

Eloise chipped in. “You said you saw her husband too. Was that a trick as well?”

 

“Was it really Roy?” Roweena asked, her ire forgotten. “Did he lead you here?”

 

“I may have been mistaken. I didn’t get a good look and I didn’t recognise him from the photograph at the time. I just thought it was some one I knew.  However, somebody was helping me. They left a bag of water for me in the maze.” He held up the water skin he had found. By this time the crowd had swelled. The others had drifted back, curious to hear what was being said.

 

A wiry fellow, a demon, by the looks, said, “None of us were given water for our journey. What makes you so special?”

 

Giles was as confused as the rest of them. “I don’t know, but I can’t help thinking it’s something to do with the photograph.”

 

He looked beyond the crowd and surveyed the cavern. It was vast, the gloom stretched out before him, his eyes unable to discern the walls of the other side.

 

“Do you have food and water here?” Giles’ stomach was growling. It had been a long time since breakfast in Ashburton.

 

“This way,” Jake said, leading him a ways into the cave to where a pool of water lay quiescent. Giles studied the water. The pool looked spring-fed. There were several cups made of tin sitting on the rock beside the pool.

 

Lucy produced an apple from a pocket in her skirt. “You can have this, sir. I’m not that hungry.”

 

Giles, not wanting to deprive the woman of her food, said, “I don’t like to take all you have…”

 

“Not to worry about that. They keep us well fed. More will be coming soon.”

 

Giles thanked her for her apple, and filling up his water skin, took a moment to slake his thirst. The apple was juicy and sweet when he bit into it.

 

“Have any of you tried to find a way out of here?”

 

“What do you think we are, stupid?” Again it was the deep voice of dissention from the back.

 

“Who are you, sir?” Giles asked, trying to stay polite.

 

“Raul. Spittek Clan.”

 

“Can you step forward so I can see you?”

 

“What for?”

 

“I’d like to see whom I’m addressing, if you don’t mind?”

 

“Well, don’t we speak all la-de-da!” The demon shouldered his way to where Giles stood and glared at him.

 

The watcher put his hand out. “Pleased to meet you, Raul.”

 

A taloned hand slowly reached for his. Giles was surprised at how gentle the handshake was. The demon’s double-lidded eyes blinked at him. However odd the demon’s face was, Giles could still see it was a little disconcerted.

 

“I take it there is no way out of here.”

 

“There’s a way out,” Raul said, taking back his hand, “only it’s guarded.”

 

“Show me.”

 

With the rest of the group trailing behind, Raul led the way through the cave. They passed by blankets stacked against rock walls and a few pieces of clothing spread out to dry. How long it would take to dry without the sun, Giles couldn’t hazard a guess.  They ventured through the gloom, past the last few candles and into complete darkness. Someone hurried forward with a couple of the candles and handed them to Giles and Raul. It was Matthew. The flickering light revealed a terrible figure standing at the far end of the cave. Raul put out an arm to prevent Giles from stepping closer.  The watcher could feel the crowd behind him easing back a little. They were frightened of the demon at the door.

 

“To get by,” whispered Raul, “you have to answer the riddle.”

 

Giles turned to look at the people behind him. “But no harm comes to you if you get it wrong, does it?” He found himself whispering in turn.

 

There was an uneasy shifting of feet, and fear, when one looked closely, on the down-turned faces. “We don’t remember what happens, really. One passes out, we think. All I know is that I woke up beside the pool. We all did, after,” Jake muttered. 

 

“We’re just stuck here for eternity. You could call that harm,” Niall whispered, miserably, thinking about the love of his life waiting for him back home.

 

“Has anyone passed the test?” Giles asked.

 

Everyone shook their heads.

 

Roweena spoke up. “Do you think the demon, no offence, Raul, will let us all go if you answer the question?”

 

“None taken,” Raul rumbled.

 

Giles hadn’t considered that possibility. For all he knew the demon would deny the others freedom even if he came up with the correct answer. Giles decided that he had had enough of caves and demons wielding nasty swords. For the demon at the door was the biggest and nastiest he had seen in a long time. The sword alone stood taller than he did, and he wasn’t a short man.

 

“Shall we go and find out?” 

 

“You go. We are not allowed.” Lucy turned and hurried away.

 

“Not allowed?”

 

“It will not speak if more than one approaches. It’s the rule,” Jake replied.

 

“Surely you can have more than one try at solving the riddle?”

 

Raul shook his head. “You only get one chance. We’ve tried. The guard refuses to acknowledge you if you’ve already had a go.”

 

“And the sword?”

 

“To make sure we don’t rush the door.”

 

Mmm. He had only one shot of getting it right, but faint heart never won the day. Giles squared his shoulders and took a big breath. “Wish me luck.”

 

The others scurried away out of sight.

 

Carrying his candle with him, Giles approached the creature cautiously. The demon inclined its head and its dark eyes stared down at him. Before it had a chance to speak, Giles said, “I want your assurance that if I answer the riddle the others here will go free as well.”

 

The demon stared unblinking at him. The watcher opened his mouth to speak again, when the monster gave a small nod of its head. Its voice, grating and harsh to his ears, rumbled, “You have my assurance. What do you offer in return if you fail to solve the riddle?”

 

Giles swallowed nervously. The demon already had his life in its hands, he couldn’t offer it that. His life was his most valued possession, what else could the demon and its masters possibly want from him?

 

“What do you want from me?” he asked.

 

The fierce gaze bore down at him. “You would serve well as a guide.”

 

Giles’ stomach twisted with horror.

 

“You want me to stand in your maze and put your questions to the poor souls trapped within?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“What happens to those who fail?”

 

“What usually happens to those that fail.” The demon’s tone had a finality about it, and Giles shivered. His life in exchange for the helpless victims of the maze? He had no choice, they were relying on him.  “I agree,” he said.

 

Without further preamble the monster recited his riddle.

 

“I am a man of bones, my flesh is white, I am a man without blood, my flesh is cold, I am a man without life, yet my flesh is willing, I am a man that is lost,” the demon recited.

 

Running the puzzle through his head, Giles realised it was awfully similar to one he knew.

 

I am a man without bones, my flesh is white, I am a man without blood, my flesh is cold, I am a man without life, my flesh is shrinking, I am the man you made and lost.

 

The answer was a snowman. Anyone with half a brain could figure it out. He wondered, why the word changes? Were the riddles catered to each individual, trapping them with impossible answers?

 

Concentrate, old man. Think. The monster beside you is getting impatient. Although to look at the creature it seemed set in stone. It glowered at him, nary a muscle twitching or eyelid trembling.

 

He set down his candle and began to pace. He went over the words again and again in his mind. A man of bones….a man without blood….blood? He halted in his tracks.  Could it be that simple?

 

Drawing out his trusty sword - his handkerchief - and polishing his glasses in the nervous habit he had, Giles drew in a breath and, placing his spectacles back on his nose, said, “Your word that the others go free along with me?”

 

The monster scowled, and Giles had the distinct feeling that its word had never been questioned before.

 

He held up his hands. “Alright.  The man is a vampire.”

 

The demon’s scowl threatened to devour its countenance, and a growl rumbled low in its chest. Giles’ knees threatened to buckle with relief. He smiled instead. He had the answer. It was the correct one. The demon stepped aside and the door behind it opened wide.

 

Giles called out to the others, hoping that they could hear his shout.  He knew they were hidden in the shelter of the dark close by.

 

“You’re all free to leave. Come on!” His words bounced off the cavern walls.

 

Out of the shadows they came shuffling, their eyes wide, with mouths to match, when they caught sight of the open door. The shuffle became a stampede, slowing only when they came in proximity to the monster by the door. One by one they filed through, Giles at the last. Turning to check there weren’t stragglers behind, the watcher noticed a pile of bones at the demon’s feet. Nonplussed that he hadn’t noticed the chilling reminders of mortality before, he stepped through the opening. The other side was all blinding light. The severity of the glare faded, Giles’ sight adjusting in time to see his new friends fading, becoming transparent before his eyes. He had seen vampires turn to dust, and this was almost like that, except the outlines of his friends didn’t disassemble. A young man, the one he recognized from the market, held out his arms to the lovely Roweena and, stepping into those arms, they faded away.

 

+++

 

Giles found himself standing at the door of the cottage. The door was bent and twisted with age, the paint long gone. Giles stared about in bewilderment. The gardens were non-existent. Weeds choked the walls and the walls cared not. The windows, broken and blind to the outside world, were vacant holes that let the cruel weather in. Giles pushed open the door. The house was empty inside. Empty of furnishings, old men, and photographs. Except for one. The picture of the man and woman remained tacked to the wall. It was Roweena, he saw, when he peered close. That, too, faded until it was just an empty frame. Sadly, he wondered about the others from the cavern. Had they failed to solve their riddles and had suffered the consequences? Had they all been ghosts, leading a life-like existence, completely ignorant of the fact? Had that been part of their punishment, the trap that kept them inside the maze? Was Giles meant to solve the riddle, given the fact it had seemed tailor-made for him? And what was the purpose of the maze? Who or what was responsible, and why? Giles had the feeling that the answers would forever remain a mystery.

 

The watcher left the house and walked down the cracked and broken path to the rusty gate. His car waited on the other side. He was sure that the engine would turn over when he turned the key. Scrabbling in his pocket for his keys he came across the half-eaten apple. Pulling it free, he looked back at the cottage behind him. The once magnificent apple tree was now mouldering, its branches twisted with age and disease. Looking down at the apple, Giles wondered at love’s power. He was almost certain the old man had been the young man in the photograph, looking for his lost Roweena. Had he and his cottage been waiting for someone like him to come along to rescue the girl, to rescue the maiden in distress? He smiled. It wasn’t on his curriculum vitae, but he could live with the idea of being a knight in shining armour.

 

 

The End.

 

 

 

ANs.

 

As always, Jo is my inspiration, and her contribution enhances the story no end. Thank you, Jo.

 

 

The town of Ashburton, Devon.

http://www.ashburton.org/history.htm

 

The water sprite Kutty Dyer.

http://www.ashburton.org/myths.htm

 

 

Bickington.

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

 

Dartmoor. Information on Tors on this site.

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

 

 

The British Automobile Association.  There are many forms in many countries of the Association.

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

 

Mazes, the solving of, and more about the pledge algorithm.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maze#Solving_mazes

 

Curriculum vitae is another word, I suppose that’s two words, for resumé.

Thank you, Jo, for that wonderful little gem.

 



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