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Songs of Sadness

Project Paranormal

Season 4

Part 13

Author: Kara

 

**

 

Summary: People are dying at Bolsover Castle, and Buffy, Angel and Giles prepare to spend their time...reading poetry?

 

**

 

 

Songs of Sadness

 

 

The bodies were intricately rendered and, for the most part, intimately arrayed.  Pursing her lips as she peered more closely at the figures adorning the upper walls and ceiling of the small room, Tabitha whispered her fingers over the wooden panelling before her.  She was certainly no expert on Roman mythology, but she was certain that she recognized several of them.  The regal man seated in the centre had to be Jupiter, for instance, and the golden beauty lying in an...interesting...position next to her companion could only be Venus.  On the whole, the artwork was a decadent depiction of carnal pleasure.

 

Casting a sideling glance at the slim figure of her companion, Tabitha sighed and attempted to direct her attention away from thoughts of pleasure, both carnal and otherwise.  Shifting awkwardly, she edged her way around the perimeter of the room, desperately seeking a way to ease the palpable tension that permeated the air between them.  A month ago, it had seemed like a brilliant idea to sign up for this assignment with Nathan.  Of course, they had still been happily dating then, and she had convinced herself that homework with her boyfriend wasn't truly homework at all – and that therefore, it would be fun.  Now, sequestered within the erotically and vividly painted room in Bolsover Castle as they scrambled to finish their Art History presentation, all she wanted was to get as far away from him as possible.  Or, conversely, to push him up against the wall and play the role of Venus.

 

"I guess the owner wasn't big on sexual repression, huh?" she asked in an attempt to be flippant.  It helped to pretend that she just didn't care.  "Why did he bother with the other room if he was into this kind of thing?"

 

"The point," Nathan replied shortly, "was that he would have the option to choose between passion and piety." He said nothing more as he returned his attention to his notes.

 

Tabitha's lips twisted bitterly, an expression she allowed herself to indulge in since his back was turned to her.  She knew all too well how Nathan felt about the concept of choice; he had left her, after all, so that he would have the choice to sleep with whomever he liked.

 

"Let's just go to the other room and get this over with.  I want to go home.  I have a lot of other homework to do." She brushed past him and out the door.  Even if this presentation taught her nothing else, she had learned never to sign up for an assignment with a boyfriend again.  She would definitely be receiving full marks in The Lessons of Life this semester.

 

The second room they entered, located within the castle's master bedchamber next to the first, was much the same as far as size and construction were concerned.  Whereas the room called Elysium had sported cavorting Roman deities, however, the room named Heaven was its counterpart.  Amidst a multitude of angels and various heavenly displays, Christ was in the process of ascending into the sky on the ceiling directly above them.

 

Nathan immediately set to work taking notes on the artwork, just as he had done in the previous room.  He moved quickly, making brief sketches and recording various details.  It appeared that he wanted to be away from her just as much as she wanted to be away from him.  The thought hurt, and in an attempt to distract herself, Tabitha began a close inspection of the walls similar to the one she had carried out in the other room.

 

As she made her way around the corner closest to the door, a series of small, thin scratches caught her eye and she abruptly stopped to get a better look at them.  They were shallowly made and set into the grain of the wood in such a way as to be almost indiscernible.  It took her a few seconds to realize that, despite their near concealment, they were neither accidental nor arbitrary in nature; she was pretty sure that it was an inscription of some kind, consisting of two simple lines.

 

Frowning, Tabitha leaned even closer, lifting one hand to gently brush against the blemished wall.  From their dull appearance, she could tell that the words had not been recently inscribed, but had rather adorned the wall for quite some time.  Squinting, she just barely managed to make them out, murmuring aloud as she forced her eyes to recognize and accept each faded letter.

 

"She, she is dead; she's dead: when thou know'st this,

Thou know'st how lame a cripple this world is."

 

The words struck a chord of sadness within her that resonated in synchronicity with the raw pain of her recent break-up, the ache that came of being so close to him when she no longer had the right to touch him.  Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Nathan turn and lift his head, a frown on his face at her latest interruption.  The pain dug deeper, at that, a reminder that at one time he would have smiled and jokingly asked: when had she become a poet, and why so sad, wasn't there anything – the word so suggestive – that he could do to cheer her up?

 

He opened his mouth to speak, but he never had the chance to articulate his thoughts – unless one counted the scream that suddenly resonated throughout the room.  Tabitha could see the reflection of horror in his eyes, and as a sudden chill passed through the air and the door slammed closed behind them, she spun and pressed her back against the wall.

 

For a brief instant, she could find nothing that could possibly have drawn such a sound from Nathan's mouth, but then something – something faded and pale and translucent and fast – rushed towards her, slamming into her body, and it was a moment before she realized that suddenly it was gone.  Except that it wasn't, for as she whirled around to face Nathan again, she saw that it was there, between them, and she screamed as she saw the blood, screamed until she was convinced that surely her voice must crack.  In the random hysteria that filled her mind, she wondered fleetingly if perhaps this thing was like glass, if maybe her voice would make it shatter, explode, disintegrate, just go away...

 

In the end, it did go away; in fact, everything went away as she tumbled to the ground next to Nathan in a limp puddle of dead limbs and torn clothing.  After the shrillness of the screams, the silence that hung around them rent the air more heavily than sound, and the room, with the smiling figure of Christ looking benignly down on the lifeless bodies, made an incongruous sight for those who found them.  There was no sign of whatever had killed them, but if one looked closely enough, a handful of faded words were just barely visible on the wall beside them.

 

On these things I durst not look.

 

 

***

 

Three months later...

 

When Giles entered his study after ending the disturbing conversation with the curator of Bolsover Castle sometime before noon, it was to find Buffy sprawled on the floor amidst a tangle of assorted documents.  She was scowling at one of them, and he wondered idly which case had provoked her displeasure.  He hadn't had a chance to look at the latest ones, yet.

 

"We have a case," Giles told her as he crossed the room to ease himself into his chair.

 

"Tell me about it," the Slayer grumped sleepily as she reached above her for the cup of tea sitting precariously near the edge of his desk.  He winced at the thought of the sugary liquid cascading over the carefully printed notes and letters.  "I swear, Giles, when it rains it really pours.  And I don't care how clichι that might sound."

 

He smiled at her words and shook his head.  It was true; with the website that Kevin had created for them, the number of cases that came their way had risen astronomically.  "I mean, we have a case at Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire.  The curator insists on meeting with us as soon as possible.  We have an appointment for later this afternoon."

 

"Giles, do you see what I see?  We have a gazillion cases." Buffy gestured frantically around her to emphasize her point, and then frowned.  "Wait, is there a number higher than a gazillion?  Because that's how many cases we have."

 

"And how many of them involve eleven dead?" he asked calmly as he looked over the top of his glasses, his fingers folding together in front of him.

 

Her response was immediate.  "Six." When his eyebrows climbed sceptically towards his hairline, she sighed.  "Okay, none.  I guess Mrs. Galveston's possessed poodle will just have to wait.  When do we leave?"

 

"The drive is about three and a half hours," Giles replied as he reached down to begin gathering scraps of paper from the floor.  "So, fairly shortly.  You may want to wake Angel soon." There was a moment of silence, and when he looked up from the papers in his hand, his quizzical look was tinged with amusement.  "Is there really a possessed poodle?"

 

"He thinks he's a chipmunk," Buffy informed him cheerfully, a grin spreading across her face at the mental image that her words conjured.  "I call dibs on it.  As opposed to the slimy green things in Gloucester, by the way; that one, I call dibs on not doing."

 

Giles' lips quirked upwards into a full smile.  "Well, then, I suppose Angel is going to have an interesting time of it, as I also call...dibs...on not doing it."

 

Buffy's grin grew even wider, and Giles could swear that there was a hint of something evil lurking in those merry eyes.  "That he is.  But you get to tell him."

 

***

 

Giles knew that he would never be able to bring himself to drive quite as demonically as Angel, but nonetheless, the countryside sped quickly by.  Buffy was settled comfortably next to him in the passenger seat, her eyes closed against the bright glare of the sun.  As was usual when they had to make a long trip during the day, Angel was curled up in the back beneath his protective coverings.  Giles chuckled silently to himself.  Having a vampire along for the ride certainly made for some interesting driving rules.  Maybe he should write a book.

 

"So, spill," Buffy said, her voice filling the silence as she shifted, opening her eyes and turning towards him.  "What's up with our castle?  And by the way, are we talking crumbly, old and abandoned, or shiny, Buffy-wants-to-be-a-princess again?"

 

A noncommittal grunt sounded from the backseat.

 

"A non-helpless princess with brains," Buffy quickly amended, and Giles could practically see her thinking back to that disastrous Halloween when she was sixteen.

 

"Bolsover castle was first built sometime in the twelfth century..." he began, though he didn't get far before she interrupted.

 

"Which answers my question, I guess."

 

Giles ignored her interjection and continued on.  "...but it was restored in the seventeenth century by Charles Cavendish, and further built upon by his son William, the future Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  Of course, due to neglect in the years since, parts of it are not in the best of repair today.  The castle is open to the public, however, as an historical site and tourist attraction." He glanced over at her briefly before returning his eyes to the road.  "Starting a few months ago, visitors to a certain wing of the castle began to...well...die.  The deaths were quite gruesome, apparently, and the police have been unable to identify the killer."

 

"Define gruesome."

 

"Well, there are a lot of hearts being ripped out."

 

"Very gruesome," Buffy agreed.  "So what makes us think it was something supernatural?"

 

Giles thought back to the phone call he had received earlier that day.  The curator's voice had been familiar, not in a particular sense, but rather in its paradoxical combination of desperate certainty about what she had seen and hesitancy bordering on disbelief.  He could only imagine what it must be like to have your world turned upside down by a sudden and inexplicable encounter with the world of the paranormal, and then to have to entrust a complete stranger with the ability to judge your mental capacity based on claims that you had seen something that couldn't possibly be real.  He could not remember a time when he hadn't known, when he hadn't been absolutely certain.

 

"The curator, Eleanor Caldwell, has grown rather suspicious of the circumstances surrounding the deaths.  In particular, she contacted me about the latest, which took place only two days ago.  Two police officers were examining another set of deaths that occurred earlier in the week, and she'd only left them alone for a few minutes before she heard gunshots and a great deal of screaming.  She swears there could have been no one else in the castle, which means that she herself is now under some suspicion for the murders."

 

"Is there any possibility that she could have been responsible?  Why exactly are we trusting the words of the potentially crazy, murderous curator lady?

 

Knowing just how much Buffy disliked cases where they might find themselves fighting other humans, Giles hurried to assure her otherwise.  "I am inclined to believe that she wouldn't commit the murders only to ask for assistance in solving them."

 

"Ahh, Giles is being all defensive," Buffy murmured, and he briefly caught the twinkle in her eyes in between glances at the road.  "I'm going to go way out on a limb and guess that she has a really hot voice and you just want to meet her in person.  And she's a curator, you'd have lots to talk about."

 

"Be careful you don't fall off that limb," he warned good-naturedly.  "That most certainly is not it.  And while I appreciate your trying to set me up with someone you deem to be a...a 'crazy, murderous curator lady,' I will you have you know..."

 

Buffy sighed theatrically "That I should butt out, right?"

 

"Something along those lines, yes."  Despite his words, Giles wasn't truly bothered by what might be termed her 'meddling.'  He knew that her teasing was just that – banter to lighten the air, and that she respected his decision not to enter into a relationship until he felt ready to make that level of commitment again.  Her words were meant to assure him that she trusted his judgement in accepting cases and that she knew he wouldn't lead her into a situation that she felt uncomfortable dealing with unless it was necessary.

 

With an internal shake of his head, he returned to the more pressing question at hand.  "When she heard the screaming, Ms. Caldwell ran back to the room where the murders took place.  She claims to have seen something leaving just as she arrived, but it wasn't a human.  It's quite possible that what we're dealing with is a crazy murderous ghost, or perhaps a poltergeist."

 

Buffy shifted again until she was reclining in her seat once more.  "Don't you just love our job?"

 

The muffled sound from the backseat was the only answer needed for that question.

 

***

 

They arrived at Bolsover Castle just after sunset, but even with its features shrouded by the veil of darkness, it was an impressive sight.  Buffy couldn't help but smile as she stepped beneath the two parallel stone gateways that led into the courtyard.  Aligned gateways, Giles had called them; he had chattered on for almost ten minutes about their significance and what they indicated about the castle and the family who had owned it.  To make a long story short, and to reduce his monologue to a single word that would have made Xander proud, they meant luxury.  Apparently, the castle had been quite the place to be, back in the seventeenth century.

 

From where she now stood in the courtyard, Buffy could make out a multitude of structures rising from the gloom.  Their faded honey colour made them easily discernible even in the darkness, and she could see the main building – what Giles had called the Little Castle – rising above the wall that encircled the grounds surrounding it.  As they moved towards their destination, Angel matched his pace to hers so that they were walking side by side while Giles strode on ahead to meet their client.  Angel wrapped his fingers around her hand, and they walked on in companionable silence.  With a smile, she set about determinedly enjoying the walk through the courtyard and gardens, bathed in moonlight with her lover.

 

A woman perhaps ten years older than her was waiting for them at the foot of the stairs that led up to the Little Castle.  She was twisting her hands nervously together as if unsure whether she should turn around and leave, but as they drew closer, Buffy could see a hard determination in the set of her shoulders.  The woman lifted her chin, shaking a few errant curls of chestnut hair out of her face before briskly approaching them.  Her voice, when she spoke, held a good deal of relief.

 

"Mr. Giles?  I'm so glad you could make it down here on such short notice.  I'm Eleanor Caldwell." She held out her hand to shake his before turning to introduce herself to Buffy and Angel.  As Buffy accepted her hand and murmured her introductions, she found herself searching the other woman's face, trying to discern any hint of ill intent that might lurk behind her amicable gaze.  She had been largely joking in her comments to Giles earlier in the day; she didn't truly believe that the woman had committed the murders that they had been asked to look into.  However, it was nonetheless an uncomfortable question that occasionally arose over the course of an investigation.  Project Paranormal didn't take human cases, except in extenuating circumstances; it just wasn't in their job description.  There were others who were qualified to take care of those, others who were qualified to bring human monsters to justice.  She...well, she had a degree in the other kind of monsters; she just killed and exorcised and slayed, and it was a not-so-secret terror of hers that one day, she might accidentally find herself on the killing end of the wrong case.

 

Buffy shook the dark thoughts out of her head as she felt Angel's fingers return to hers, gently stroking the tension away.  She smiled up at him, and then tugged him up the stairs towards the door.

 

"The lighting really isn't the best," Eleanor said apologetically as Buffy and Angel reached the top of the stairs.  She reached into a small bag that she held and pulled out a flashlight.

 

"That's okay; we always come prepared," Angel replied with a hint of humour.  He, of course, might as well have a built-in flashlight as far as his night vision was concerned, Buffy thought as she pulled out her own not-so-built-in version.

 

"You don't have to come with us if you don't want to," Buffy told her.  "You know, just in case something happens."

 

"Yes, I do," Eleanor replied decisively.  "If I'm going to be under suspicion for the deaths of those officers, I'm damn well going to know what did it in the first place." Her lips thinned as she pressed them tightly together, her knucklebones straining against skin as her fingers tightened convulsively around her flashlight.  Buffy wasn't certain whether it was in fear or anger; a little of both, she thought.  Either way, her estimation of the other woman rose.

 

Silence fell as Eleanor pulled out a ring of keys and let them in through the cavernous door.  As they slowly made their way down the dark halls of the building, Eleanor, at Giles' prompting, began to fill them in on the details of their newest case.

 

"It started about five months ago," she began.  "There were two students from the University of Derby.  From what I could gather, I guess they were working on an assignment for a class.  There are two little rooms in the master bedchamber designed around the dual themes of Christianity and Paganism – specifically, the Roman deities.  The artwork is quite marvellous, and they present quite an attraction for visitors.  The students were in the room called Heaven, which shows scenes from the life of Christ.  I was off that day, so I didn't see anything myself; but from what I heard later, there was a great deal of screaming, and when the bodies were found...well, the hearts had been removed, and there was no weapon or killer in sight."

 

She took a deep breath and continued on.  "The second set of deaths happened about a month later; it was a family of four, the parents and two teenage kids.  Same story – hearts removed, no traces.  They have some crazy ex-lover of the mother's in custody, though; they got a full confession from him and everything, even though there was nothing to place him at the castle when they died.  I'm certain, now, that he didn't do it.  That confession is probably the only reason why the castle wasn't closed down, though.  If people had thought there was some crazy murderer still loose and killing people in those rooms, there's no way we could have kept it open.

 

"And then...well, a week ago, the murders started again.  A group of three young women was killed, in exactly the same way as the others.  The officers killed two days ago were investigating their deaths."

 

By the time Eleanor was done speaking, her voice tight, they had reached their destination, a large room, empty of furniture, that was supposed to have been the master bedchamber back when the castle was still inhabited.  From there, they entered another room, which was large enough to fit the four of them without being too cramped, but still small enough that the three flashlights trained upon its walls lighted its interior liberally enough to see without difficulty.

 

"All of the murders occurred in this room?" Giles waited for confirmation as his eyes wandered over the walls and ceiling.  Buffy stepped further in, her eyes taking in the elaborately painted scenes depicting the life of Christ.

 

"No, the family was killed in the other room, Elysium.  I'll take you through there once we're done here, if you'd like."

 

"That would probably be best," Giles murmured, drifting over to the far wall to closely inspect the panelling and the artwork above it.  "This is very well done."

 

"William Cavendish, who was responsible for many of the renovations in the seventeenth century, loved this castle a great deal," Eleanor replied.

 

Buffy broke in before the two could get too caught up in the details of the room's construction.  "You said to Giles over the phone that you were in the building last time.  What did you see?"

 

"Not much.  The bodies were there, as marked." Eleanor pointed to the outline of two bodies near the centre of the room.  "There was blood...everywhere.  And...I guess I have to assume that you won't think I'm crazy since you purport to deal with this kind of stuff, but...I think I saw a ghost.  At least, I saw something dissolving into the wall.  It just...oozed right through it." She shuddered at the mental image that her words conjured.  "And if that's the thing that killed those officers, I hope it suffers whatever horrible death it is that ghosts suffer." Eleanor paused for a moment, and then spoke again.  "I'm sorry, I hope it doesn't seem as if I'm only concerned about the latest deaths.  It's just..."

 

She fell silent again, and it was Angel who answered her.  "It's just that those are the ones you might be blamed for.  That's understandable," he said quietly, and Buffy knew exactly what he was thinking.  It was hard enough carrying the guilt for the horrible things that one had done in life; it certainly didn't help when you had to carry the blame for the actions of others.

 

"What wall?" she asked, to break that train of thought.

 

"The far wall," Eleanor replied, and Buffy headed over to it.

 

There was silence for several moments as each of the four made their way around the room, Christ and his angels watching them from the ceiling as they moved.  Finally, Buffy spoke again.  "Hey, there's something carved into the wall over here," she called out over her shoulder.

 

Eleanor looked up, and then moved towards her.  "Oh, yes, someone who once lived here seems to have enjoyed Renaissance poetry," she said with a small smile, "or at least, to have been rather familiar with it.  There's others scattered about the room, and in the other room, too.  If I remember correctly, that one reads as follows:

 

"Thy tears mixed with mine do overflow

This world."

 

"That's sad.  Couldn't they think of something happier to vandalize the walls with?" Buffy was about to say something else – ask who it was by, what the poem was about – when a slight prickling at the back of her neck made her stop.  Without looking at him, she knew that Angel felt it, too.  "Looks like we've got company." The truth of her words was affirmed by the chilling air and the resounding slam as the door closed, trapping the four – five – of them in the room.

 

Buffy quickly turned to face whatever was alerting her senses as Angel and Giles came up quickly beside her.  It was definitely a ghost and, Buffy thought wryly, it was definitely showing its age.  It – she – was young enough, but the dress was so elaborate that anyone with eyes could see that it came from a different era.  The full skirt brushed the floor, or would have if it had been corporeal, and the tight bodice compressed her transparent waist.  Had it been solid, Buffy would have felt the urge to brush her fingers against the intricate trim that adorned it.

 

"Do you mock my pain?" the ghost asked in a shadowy whisper.  "Do you think to stand there and speak as if everything is right in this world?"

 

"I'd hardly say that everything is right," Buffy replied.  "Not when you're killing virtually everyone who enters this room."

 

"Only the ones who call me," she whispered, and then she was moving towards them with astounding speed.

 

"Good Lord above..." Eleanor began as she stumbled backwards.  The ghost was upon her as the words left her mouth, and if its translucent shimmering made it appear to be barely real, the knife, pitted and scarred with age...well, that was definitely real, and it was moving towards her with a speed that spoke of some kind of desperate urgency.  Buffy didn't stop to think.  Grabbing the other woman by the arm, she spun Eleanor out of the way and then dove, rolling to avoid the blade herself.  Coming back to her feet, she shoved the other woman unceremoniously out the door, crossing the threshold herself to secure more room to move and fight.  Angel and Giles were right behind her.

 

Turning back towards the room, Buffy balanced herself lightly on the balls of her feet, preparing herself for whatever the ghost might try next.  But the apparition did not follow them.  She only stared at them for a long, agonized moment, a look of pure anguish on her face, before flickering and fading away.

 

"Wow," Buffy muttered.  "That is one angry ghost."

 

***

 

It was perhaps an hour later when Eleanor let them into her nearby apartment.  There had been no chance, as of yet, for her three guests to procure rooms for their stay, and Eleanor had insisted on inviting them to remain with her until they could do so.  Thus it was that in a very small amount of time, her parlour had been commandeered as something of a research central.  The space was somewhat crowded with all four of them, but no one complained as they got down to work searching for deaths in and around the castle, with emphasis on the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as indicated by their ghostly visitor's manner of dress.

 

Eleanor was suitably impressed with the professional manner in which the three paranormal investigators conducted their research following what had been the most harrowing experience of her entire life.  They looked as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened – and if they often took cases like this, she supposed that nothing had.  Mr. Giles was coolly and collectedly entering search terms into the laptop that sat on his knees.  The petite blonde who looked so fragile and yet was so deceptively strong, and the silent and decidedly gorgeous man who sat next to her, were flipping through her small collection of local history books.  Eleanor...well, she wouldn't have minded a drink or three, though she refused to let herself fall to pieces now, in front of them.  She already felt useless enough.  Mr. Giles had hoped that she would know details about who the ghost woman could have possibly been, and what might have led to her present residence in Heaven and Elysium; unfortunately, Eleanor had had to admit that her interest and expertise in the history of the castle ran more along the lines of the architecture and artwork than the individuals who had once inhabited it.  All she had been able to contribute was that she did, vaguely, recall something about a scandalous death that had occurred sometime in the early seventeenth century.

 

"Tell us more about the rooms, then," Mr. Giles prompted, looking up from his laptop screen.

 

"You said there were other inscriptions in the rooms," Buffy added.  "Because that ghost definitely didn't appear until the moment that poem came up."

 

Eleanor gave a silent sigh of relief; here was something that she could help with, something that could perhaps take her mind off thoughts of complete and utter panic.  She stood and began to pace.  "Yes, there are a number of them.  For instance, "She, she is dead; she's dead...""

 

"Ah, yes," Mr. Giles broke in.  "From Donne's "An Anatomy of the World," I believe." He pushed his glasses more firmly onto the bridge of his nose, and Eleanor couldn't help but smile a little.  Donne had always been a favourite of hers, and speaking of him allowed her to cross more firmly into familiar territory.

 

"Which means...what?" Buffy demanded.  "And who?  The name sounds familiar."

 

"John Donne, one of the major authors of the seventeenth century.  If you've ever taken a class in poetry, you've probably studied something of his.  "An Anatomy of the World" is one of his longer poems, written upon the death of the young daughter of one of his patrons," Eleanor supplied.

 

"How long is long?" Buffy asked curiously.

 

"In the vicinity of five hundred lines," Mr. Giles answered absent-mindedly, his attention once more returned to the search at hand.

 

"Geeze, whatever happened to haikus?  Or couplets?  Couplets are nice."

 

"I thought you claimed to like poetry," the older man accused.

 

"I do.  But if you have time to read five hundred lines of poetry, I want to know where you found it so that I can buy some, too." Eleanor had to fight another smile.  Glancing at the man who sat silently beside Buffy and was obviously involved with her, she had the feeling that the petite blonde spent most of her free time much more...constructively.

 

"It's rather appropriate for Donne's poetry to be found in those two specific rooms, isn't it?" Mr. Giles commented.

 

"Why is that?" Buffy asked.

 

Eleanor was happy to fill her in while Mr. Giles continued to work.  "Donne is known for the two sides of his poetry.  On the one hand, much of the poetry believed to be written in his early years is love poetry of a decidedly erotic nature.  On the other hand, he wrote a great deal of religious poetry as well."

 

It was silent for a few moments.  Eleanor, unwilling to distract them and unsure how much help she could be to them, sat silently, trying not to fidget.  She could only hope that her guests were as efficient as they appeared to be.  She was desperate to have this situation dealt with as soon as possible, both for the peace of mind of the victims' families and, she had to admit, for her own sake.  The police had been looking at her askance since the last murders; after the three young tourists had been killed a week ago, the castle had been temporarily closed, and she had thus been the only other human present when the officers had been killed two days ago.  Eleanor had the distinct impression that the instant something else went wrong, she would be in a whole hell of a lot of trouble, regardless of her own innocence.

 

Luckily for her nerves, it wasn't long before Giles spoke up again.  "Ahh, I think I've found it.  It appears that there was a mass murder that occurred in the castle in 1622.  On the morning of January 27th, five guests were found murdered in their beds, dead from asphyxiation.  On the same day, Sophia Cavendish was also found dead in...yes, in the room Heaven." He smiled in triumph.  "She died from a stomach wound, and it was never conclusively determined whether the wound was self inflicted or dealt by another.  There were rumours among the servants that she was responsible for the other deaths, though her brother William argued vociferously that she was just another victim of whoever had murdered the others, despite the discrepancies in the manner of her death.  I imagine that if nothing else, he was attempting to protect his family's name."

 

"So she could either be killing people now in retribution for her death, or because she's insane.  Great." Buffy closed the book she had been reading and leaned back against Angel's shoulder.

 

"Why now?" Angel asked abruptly, speaking for the first time since he had entered the apartment.  Eleanor was almost startled to hear him speak.  "If Sophia's ghost is doing this, why now?  Why not a hundred, two hundred years ago?"

 

"The first victims.  Could they have done something to set her off?" Buffy asked.  She turned to Eleanor.  "What were their names?"

 

"Tabitha Gibbs and Nathan Southwell, I believe."

 

"Okay," the blonde said decisively.  "We'll do the sleep thing for a few hours, and then Giles can go talk to the parents in the morning and see if there's anything about them we should know.  Angel and I can check out the other room.  Eleanor..." she glanced at Eleanor as if hoping that the other woman wouldn't take her next words in the wrong way.  Eleanor could tell that the younger woman didn't want to be responsible if anything were to happen to her, and, smiling wryly, she spoke to save Buffy the trouble of voicing her concern.

 

"I will quite happily stay here, out of reach of the murderous ghost who will now haunt my every nightmare."

 

***

 

Bolsover Castle, 1622

 

She wanders restlessly within the confines of the room, capable, now that she is here, of allowing her grief to fully surface.  She comes frequently when left to her own devices, which these days is more often than not.  There is no anger at this thought, only more sadness.  She blames no one for desiring to evade her presence.  Sometimes, Sophia can barely stand it herself; on these days, she wishes for nothing more than to step free from the prison of her own pale skin, to shed the golden hair and discard the delicate frame, to shroud the wide blue eyes that have seen too much.  She wants to be nothing, to loosen herself from the confines of this world and to scatter the broken remnants of her soul upon the wind.

 

It is only here, in the room they call Heaven, that she feels safe enough to expose her fragile self enough to truly feel alive.  On occasion she visits its inverted twin; she likes to have the choice, sometimes, when she has so few outside of this sanctuary. Outside of these rooms, she walks as if dead to the world, the tendrils of her grief curled tightly.  She wraps them into herself, uses them as a veil, a shield, a fortress.  No one can reach her; oh, God, she hopes no one can hurt her.  There has been enough of that.

 

She sits away from the door, curled into a chair in the corner.  Her head leans back against the wall and for a brief moment, she closes her eyes before opening them to gaze upwards at the rendition of Christ.  Finally, she turns her face into the wall and fumbles the small, sharp knife out of the suppleness of her boot.  Idly, she begins to write upon the walls, as she occasionally does when she comes here, whispering the words aloud when she is done.

 

"Blasted with sighs, and surrounded with tears,

Hither I come to seek the spring."

 

She knows that she shouldn't deface the walls with her grief; these rooms are not hers.  She enters them only when her brother, the Viscount, is elsewhere, and she must make certain that the words are not easily discernible to casual visitors.  But all too often, she is tired of trying to hide her grief, and the temptation to leave the mark of her suffering is too great.

 

The words she carves are ones she remembers from her readings.  Poetry has been a passion of hers since the days of her childhood, when grief and unhappiness were only words on paper, mere phrases designed to evoke sympathy within her heart but incapable of stirring true empathy.  She had hardly known what the words meant, then.  Poetry had been a vicarious experience, something through which she could attempt to understand emotions and experiences she had yet to encounter.  Now, the words resonate within her heart, virtually defining her every thought.  They are a part of her.

 

She wonders if it will ever stop.

 

***

 

As he knocked on the front door of the small house in Birmingham, Giles mentally steeled himself for his appointment with Mrs. Gibbs.  Over the phone, he had told her only that he worked for a small investigation company that had been hired to look into the murders at Bolsover Castle, and he was grateful that she had acquiesced to his request for information.  He hated when he had to do this, questioning grieving relatives and friends and dredging up memories more comfortably left alone.  It reminded him all too well of how he had felt after Jenny's death, after Buffy's death, after Ella's death.  It reminded him of the reactions of so many of the Slayers' parents, the angry, tearful recriminations that he had gotten their beloved daughters killed.  He could face demons and ghosts, vampires and monsters; it was this human thing called grief that he sometimes felt he could hardly bear.

 

Mrs. Gibbs was a short woman with dark hair and eyes that were guarded and cautious as she led him into the parlour.  He could remember the sound of her voice during their brief conversation over the telephone, filled with a mixture of resentment at his intrusion and a desire to be helpful for the sake of her daughter's memory.

 

As they sat and she poured him a cup of tea, she looked up at him expectantly.  "What is it you want to know, Mr. Giles?"

 

"We are attempting to determine the exact manner of the...ahem...deaths.  That is, we are trying to determine who could have committed the murders."

 

She watched him for a long moment.  "I thought they decided it was the same guy who killed that family."

 

"Yes, well, due to the recent murders at the castle, we have reason to believe that it has actually been a string of imitation crimes," Giles forced himself to lie smoothly.  "Therefore, the cases have been reopened."

 

Mrs. Gibbs was silent for a long, tense moment before she finally answered.  "When they first told me that Tabitha was dead," she said abruptly, "I thought that maybe it was her.  That she'd done it herself."

 

"You thought that your daughter had committed a murder-suicide?  Why would you think that, Mrs. Gibbs?"

 

"The boy she was with.  They used to date.  Tabitha was...crazy about him.  They'd been together a few months, and I think Tabitha lost it a little when he broke up with her.  I don't mean that she went crazy; she was just depressed.  Except that I thought that...maybe, in that moment, she had gone a little crazy, that she decided to take out her anger in a way that would...really get her point across."

 

"But it wasn't a suicide."

 

"No.  There was no weapon left in the room, nothing that could have...cut...them like that.  Whoever did it took the weapon with them." She looked as if she wanted to say something more, but bit her lip as if afraid to.  Giles waited, and she finally blurted the rest out.  "I think she might have, if it hadn't happened.  Killed herself, I mean.  Eventually, when she realized he wasn't going to come back."

 

Fairly certain that he had what he needed, Giles didn't stay for much longer.  After awkwardly and genuinely making the appropriate consolatory remarks, he asked a few more brief questions to reinforce the validity of his visit, and then took his leave.

 

As he walked towards the Discovery, the words that Sophia's ghost had spoken the night before rang through his mind.  "Do you mock my pain?" she had demanded.  "Only the ones who call me." Sophia and Tabitha – two women, separated by almost four hundred years, and both seemingly in a great deal of emotional distress.  He was confident that this was the link between them, and that it was Tabitha's grief that had called the ghost forth.

 

***

 

"Well, this room's sure different from the other one," Buffy said wryly as she glanced around at the indolently arrayed deities that populated Elysium.  "Those are some naughty gods.  I wonder what poems are on these walls?  Eleanor said that poet wrote love poems too, right?"

 

"He did.  Some very good ones, in fact." Angel smiled slightly, and then recited from memory:

 

"Busy old fool, unruly sun,

Why dost thou thus,

Through windows, and through curtains, call on us?"

 

"Can everyone recite this guy?" Buffy asked jokingly.  The poem was certainly appropriate.  She would have to look it up, or, better yet, have Angel read it to her later.

 

He was silent for a moment before responding.  "Sometimes...sometimes I prefer to read authors who lived and died before I was born.  It puts me in the same boat as the rest of the world.  It's...normal.  I don't have to wonder where I was when they were writing, what city or settlement I was terrorizing at the time."

 

Buffy reached out to squeeze his hand.  "I understand.  Will you read him to me, sometime?"

 

"Most definitely," he grinned.  "Donne has some very interesting lyrics."

 

Buffy looked around the room; there was no ghost in sight.  "Well, apparently that wasn't one of the ones our ghost likes.  Guess she wants her poetry more morbid." They separated to begin their search, moving around the room as they peered at the walls.

 

"Here's one," he murmured a few moments later, his keen eyesight picking out the faded scratches with ease.

 

Buffy crossed over to him and looked at the words.  "I wonder if she can't leave this room, either." She raised an eyebrow in question, and when he nodded, ran her fingers over the letters.  "If we die, Giles is so going to kill us."


"Little think'st thou

That it will freeze anon, and that I shall

Tomorrow find thee fal'n, or not at all."

 

The effect of the spoken words was immediate.  The air gave a brief shimmer as the ghost glided effortlessly out of the wall.

 

"You have returned," Sophia said with a smile as she drifted towards them.  "You want me to take away the pain.  You want me to end it."

 

"Not quite." Not wanting to take a chance, and knowing that it would be useless to engage in a fight – and because they had called Sophia forth to give her a very specific test – Buffy and Angel backed their way out of the room.

 

The moment they were out of the room, Sophia stopped her advance and stared after them in consternation, unable to follow.  "I have to make it stop," she pleaded, reaching out to them.  As soon as her hand crossed the threshold, she faded away.

 

"I guess she is tied here.  When do we get rid of her?"

 

"Giles shouldn't be back for a couple of hours yet," Angel replied.  "We could see if we can get some more research done until then."

 

"Or you could show me how interesting those lyrics are."

 

***

 

Several hours later, as he watched Giles and Buffy set up for the spell they were about to perform, Angel paced restlessly outside the door to Heaven.  He couldn't help but think, with a touch of dark humour, that he'd never expected to use that word in conjunction with himself.  In a way, it was almost appropriate to find himself standing outside of a room with such a name, looking in on those closest to him while he himself hovered on the other side of the threshold.

 

Stopping his movements in front of the door, Angel watched as the others continued their preparations.  Giles was certain that grief was the key, and that a spell to dispel Sophia's unhappiness was all that was needed to calm her spirit and send it on from this realm.  As Angel resumed his pacing, he wasn't so certain.  His senses were screaming at him, even though Sophia's ghost was nowhere in sight.

 

With a low growl of frustration, he turned his head towards the door that lead out of the bedchamber in which he stood.  Something in the house was calling to him, and he knew he wouldn't be able to concentrate until he found out what it was.  He glanced back at Buffy and Giles, who were still busy, and as if sensing his preoccupation, Buffy looked up at him.  A frown furrowed her brow as she tilted her head to watch him.

 

"I'll be right back," he told her quietly.  "I just want to check something out." Turning, he strode off, following the vague tugging of his preternatural senses.

 

He came to a stop in the shadowy hallway a few short moments later and briefly touched his fingers against the door that he stood before.  Pushing it open, he entered and surveyed the emptiness that filled it.

 

It wasn't long before he found the niche in the far wall, and he wasn't surprised to find that, unlike the rest of the room, it was occupied.  He pulled out a slim book, scratched and scarred, with bindings that looked about to fall off.  It was in such bad condition that he wasn't sure if it was even readable.  He very carefully opened it and glanced at the discoloured, almost invisible letters that filled each page.  It was a diary, and from the aura of what felt suspiciously like grief emanating forth from it, he was certain that it must have been Sophia's.

 

Flipping through the pages of the decaying book, he began to skim through the words of pain that filled its pages.

 

***

 

 

Bolsover Castle, 1622

 

Listlessly, she trails her fingers over the delicate panelling.  The silence pounds relentlessly in her ears; wrapped in its folds, she can remember holding thick, soft pillows against pale, warm faces.  They had been unable to gather air for frantic screams, unable to draw breath to give manifestation to their pain.  It is this muteness that haunts her now; no one should be unable to exhibit their pain.  If she cannot bring herself to regret their deaths, at the very least she can repent of her methods.  She should have done it differently.  She will not make the same constricting mistake tonight.

 

Their faces flash through her memory as her eyes move from one angelic figure to the next in the room they call Heaven, but it isn't only their faces that she sees.  There is another, and as her fingers find the carven words that mark her last visit, Sophia lingers over every detail that her memory yields – the smiles, the laughs, the blissful evenings spent in gossip.  These golden images are too few; as she greedily sifts through them, all too soon they are gone and the only ones that remain are the memories of tears, of pleas and pain and grief.  They reach their culmination in the two images that have driven her for so long, even though more than six years have passed.  Arbella, her beloved cousin, enters the Tower.  Arbella lies still and white as she is prepared for her final rest after wasting away, for no other reason than for daring to grasp the happiness that only love and marriage could bring her.

 

"She, she is dead; she's dead," her broken voice whispers as she turns away from the inscription, and the sound is a mingling of pain and relief.  "Nothing can hurt her now." The words are whispered hysterically, and she is desperate to believe them.  "Nothing can hurt any of them now."

 

For this reason, she cannot repent of her actions, and thus there can never be true forgiveness.  She kneels in a daze of pain, unable to stop herself from leaving a few last desperate words at the base of the wall, where a straight line will lead directly to the Saviour's feet.  It is one last act before the one that will end everything.

 

"On these things I durst not look," she whispers fervently, and she turns her back to Him.  She cannot look; she must not look.  In giving them release from this life, she has earned her damnation, and even He cannot save her now.  And so it is that she stares at the door, which leans slightly ajar, as she slides the blade into her own flesh and lets the blood spill crimsonly forth.  She smiles through the throbbing ache, because she has done it right, this time.  Her pain is not invisible, not silent like the deaths she dealt the others.  It will scream loud and clear as it washes the cold floor, revealing its story to all who pass.

 

No hell can be worse than this life.  It is a certainty that comforts her as she dies.

 

***

 

Angel stared at the diary for a long moment after he closed it, Sophia Cavendish's grief still echoing through his mind.  That answered the question of why her ghost was so inextricably tied to the two rooms – or, more specifically, to the lines of poetry engraved into the walls of the rooms.  Giles would certainly be interested to know...

 

He glanced at his watch, and then, tossing the diary aside with a curse, he took off towards the room where he had left the others.  If they had decided, following his disappearance, to go ahead without him...he cursed himself again as he sped through the halls.

 

This wasn't just any ordinary ghost; it was going to take more than a mere spell to banish it from this realm.

 

***

 

"Um...I don't think it worked.  Giles, it didn't work!" The last words were shouted as Buffy spun away from the murderous ghost who was definitely still there.

 

"Yes, I can see that!" The former Watcher ducked as Sophia's ghost abandoned Buffy and lunged towards him instead, as if drawn by the sound of his voice.  Regretfully, he eyed the door that she was, unfortunately, preventing him from reaching.

 

When Buffy and Giles had finished setting up for the spell and Angel still hadn't returned, they had waited for several moments before deciding to carry out the ritual without him.  The sooner it was over, the sooner they could all go home.  Besides, simple spells were pretty standard business for them, and how different could this one possibly be?

 

Apparently, Buffy thought without humour, pretty damn different.

 

"Okay, new plan.  Let's not get killed."

 

"Good plan," Angel's voice suddenly spoke up from the doorway.

 

Sophia spun frantically on the spot, her eyes roving from one moving figure to the next as she attempted to pick her first victim.  "How can I let you live?  You can never be happy!"

 

"Well, at least we weren't practically the last ones to be disabused of that notion after all," Buffy quipped at Angel as she ducked and then rolled smoothly to her feet in avoidance of Sophia's next attack.

 

"You cannot deal with the pain."

 

"Hello, Slayer who's died twice," Buffy growled.  "Vampire with a soul.  Former Watcher guy with lots of emotional baggage.  Trust me, we've dealt.  We're dealing, we have to."

 

"Which is why I must give you rest!"

 

"Thanks for the sentiment, but you can keep it."

 

Moving towards Buffy, Angel grabbed her arm.  "Her grief is too strongly associated with the words in this room.  They're linked; in a way, she's a part of the rooms."

 

"Then get me a sledgehammer and we'll take them all down at the same time." She considered for a moment, eyeing the nearest wall, and then shrugged and drew back her fist.  "Or not.  This will work, too."

 

Giles stared at her in shock.

 

"Giles, it's us or the artwork."

 

"Well...well...yes, I suppose, when you put it that way..."

 

"I do.  I so very, very do.

 

"I don't think that will be necessary," Angel told her.  "Though I'll be happy to help if it is.  I think she'll leave without physical violence."

 

"I can't," Sophia whispered.  "How can you stand it?  How can you stand the pain?"

 

Buffy looked at Angel, looked at Giles, and thought about all of the horrible things they had seen and done, all of the difficult decisions they had been forced to make over the years.  She thought about all of the misery and heartache that had so often ensued.  But no matter how many moments of pain marked their lives, it wasn't all darkness and shadows.  There was the laughter and the companionship, the jokes and the fun and the happiness.  The look of fond indulgence on Giles' face when she did something he didn't understand; the way he made her feel as if she had a real father again.  The way Angel said her name, and the way he touched her as if nothing else in the world mattered.

 

Angel spoke, and it was as if he had read her mind.  "Because the rewards are worth it."

 

Sophia wavered for a moment, a look of anguished indecision on her features, before she desperately shook her head.  "They cannot be.  They can never be."

 

"That's not yours to decide, not for others," Angel told her quietly.  He looked her in the eye, and then spoke again.

 

"The face of all the world is changed, I think,

Since first I heard the footsteps of thy soul

Move still, oh, still, beside me, as they stole

Betwixt me and the dreadful outer brink

Of obvious death, where I, who thought to sink,

Was caught up into love, and taught the whole

Of life in a new rhythm."

 

As he finished reciting, Sophia stopped again, her face frozen into an expression of shock.

 

"It was written more than two hundred years after you died, by a woman named Elizabeth for her husband, Robert.  They were very happy together, and very much in love.  Would you have taken her life before she could find that?  Wouldn't that be equivalent to preventing her happiness, and that of the man who would have become her husband?  If someone decides it's worth it, why would you try to force them to view their life exclusively in terms of pain?  To live is to have the potential for grief and sadness, but also the potential for joy."

 

The uncertainty had returned, and Sophia looked from face to face as the basis of her ghostly existence disintegrated.  Finally, she took a slow step back, and then looked at Angel as if asking for permission.  When he smiled gently at her, she gave a sigh somewhere between acceptance and peace, and then flickered once, twice, and was suddenly gone.

 

"Brilliant," Giles breathed after a long, still moment.  "If her power was tied to the poetry in this room, and was triggered by grief, you essentially stripped her of it by confronting her with a poem of joy and love, one that she could not possibly have read before."

 

"She really was a poetry freak, wasn't she?" Buffy murmured.

 

"She felt that poetry was the only way for her to express her grief, until she decided that murder worked better." When they both looked at him inquisitively, Angel shrugged his shoulders.  "I found her diary.  That's why I was gone."

 

"And for the first time in my life, I won't yell at someone for reading a girl's diary," Buffy said as she shook her head.

 

"It really is remarkable," Giles observed with a faraway look in his eyes.  "It brings to mind a few lines...what were they?  Oh, yes.

 

"And if unfit for tombs and hearse

Our legend be, it will be fit for verse;

And if no piece of chronicle we prove,

We'll build in sonnets pretty rooms."

 

Buffy stared at him blankly.  Even Angel raised an eyebrow.

 

Giles sighed in exasperation.  "From Donne's "The Canonization."  I was simply commenting on the fact that Sophia, in a manner of speaking, made these rooms into a poem of personal grief and that it is a very sad legacy for what was obviously a very sad life." He looked around the room and then headed towards the door.  "Well, if that is all, we'd best let Ms. Caldwell know that Bolsover Castle is safe once more." He glanced back over his shoulder.  "And with any luck, no one will be able to make a case against her."

 

Buffy reached for Angel's hand as they left the room, slowly following in Giles' wake.  She'd never thought to say it, but she never wanted to return to Heaven again...not to this one, at least.  "That was a nice touch, with the happy love story and all."

 

"Well," Angel said, his face almost sheepish, "what I didn't tell her is that they were forced to elope in order to marry, and that Elizabeth was subsequently disowned by her father, who refused to allow any of his children to marry.  He never spoke to her again.  She was also an invalid for most of her life, and died fifteen years after her marriage.  Their son was only twelve, and Robert Browning never remarried."

 

Buffy shook her head in mock reproof, as if disappointed in him.  "Lying to ghosts.  To what depths will you stoop next?"

 

"The point," he said simply, "is that despite all of that, they knew happiness.  Their love story is famous." He sent her a sidelong glance.  "Out of curiosity, did you ever read "Sonnets From the Portuguese?"

 

"I started," she said honestly, thinking about the book of poetry he had given her for her eighteenth birthday.  "But then you left, and, well...I wasn't really in the mood for love sonnets after that." She sent him a sidelong glance.  "I could probably be persuaded to start over, if you were really...you know...persuasive."

 

"Really."

 

"Uh-huh."

 

A slow smile spread over his face as they walked out the door of Bolsover Castle.  "Well, then.  I should have a copy lying around somewhere at home."

 

THE END.

 

 

 

AUTHOR'S NOTES

 

Credit goes to Jo for the idea.  Thank you!

 

The title, "Songs of Sadness," is a vague reference to one of Donne's collections of poetry, Songs and Sonnets, from which a number of the poems quoted in this story were taken.

 

I've attempted to describe Bolsover Castle accurately; unfortunately, however, I have never been there myself and my descriptions are thus based on pictures.  For more information about the castle, a good site can be found here: http://www.timetravel-britain.com/articles/castles/bolsover.shtml.  Images of Heaven and Elysium can, respectively, be found here: http://flickr.com/photos/xglitterbatx/2758313276/ and here: http://flickr.com/photos/11763518@N00/499871995.

 

The allusions to Arbella Stuart are in reference to the seventeenth-century noblewoman.  As a descendant of King Henry VII, she was in line for the throne.  She eventually married William Seymour, also in line for the throne, though much more distantly; however, the marriage took place without the permission of King James, who had her locked in the Tower, where she died.  As she was a cousin of the William Cavendish responsible for many of the renovations to Bolsover Castle, I couldn't resist using her as the basis for Sophia's grief.

 

Sophia, however, is 100% fictional.  There are thus no Donne poems carved into the walls of Heaven and Elysium, and no mass murder (that I know of) that was ever committed at Bolsover Castle by a grief-stricken woman in the seventeenth century.

 

In regards to William Cavendish's rank, according to Wikipedia, he became a Viscount in 1620, and rose through the ranks to become the Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1665.

 

The poetry quoted is credited as follows, in order of initial appearance.

 

She, she is dead; she's dead: when thou know'st this,

Thou know'st how lame a cripple this world is.

-John Donne, "An Anatomy of the World: The First Anniversary"

 

On these things I durst not look.

-John Donne, "Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward"

 

Thy tears mixed with mine do overflow

This world.

-John Donne, "A Valediction of Weeping"

 

Blasted with sighs, and surrounded with tears,

Hither I come to seek the spring.

-John Donne, "Twickenham Garden"

 

Busy old fool, unruly sun,

Why dost thou thus,

Through windows, and through curtains, call on us?

-John Donne, "The Sun Rising"

 

Little think'st thou

That it will freeze anon, and that I shall

Tomorrow find thee fal'n, or not at all.

-John Donne, "The Blossom"

 

The face of all the world is changed, I think,

Since first I heard the footsteps of thy soul

Move still, oh, still, beside me, as they stole

Betwixt me and the dreadful outer brink

Of obvious death, where I, who thought to sink,

Was caught up into love, and taught the whole

Of life in a new rhythm.

-Elizabeth Barrett Browning, "Sonnets From the Portuguese," Sonnet VII

 

And if unfit for tombs and hearse

Our legend be, it will be fit for verse;

And if no piece of chronicle we prove,

We'll build in sonnets pretty rooms.

-John Donne, "The Canonization"

 

 

 



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