rngrdead (rngrdead) wrote in bloodclaim,
rngrdead
rngrdead
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Leading Lines # 9

Insecure writer needs to know if it is worth continuing.

Title: Leading Lines

NB: By request, seventh arc in the Five Gold Rings canon
Author: josie_h@yahoo.com
Archived at:
http://www.excessant.com/fiction/josie/five_rings/five_rings.htm OR
http://www.livejournal.com/tools/memories.bml?user=rngrdead
Pairing: Xander/Spike
Rating: Mature Audiences – for content and themes
Summary: The Immortal Anton is now universally accepted as the Sire of the High Master William Aurelius (aka Spike) and his Esteemed Consort, now Childe, Xander, just as he is to the Full Blood Aurelian, Connor. He has supported them all in the past, perhaps now it's his turn
Spoilers: Canon is Post S7 BtVS and S5 AtS.
Warnings: M/M – if you don’t like boys together, don’t play here!
Disclaimer: Don’t own the characters nor make any money from stories etc, and bow down to their original creators Joss, et al., plus all the wonderful online writers who continue to give the Buffy/Angel verse characters life.




Part 9


The two young men came too with a jolt as the annoyed tapping of an orchestra conductor signalled yet another stop in their practice. Will/Spike recognized the music immediately from his own experience and as soon as they restarted the introduction to “O zittre nicht”. It was Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte” (the Magic Flute) and the violins were struggling with the new opera, and they only had another two weeks of rehearsal.

Alec/Xander was on tympani and was doing a fine job according to the conductor. He looked over sympathetically as once again the second violins were targeted as the rather obsessive (often drunk) Mozart had the same passage repeated, and repeated… and repeated. They were playing at a rather ‘out of town’ opera house in Vienna, but it was by no means obscure – indeed a perfect place to launch Mozart’s latest opera. But in the late summer of August 1791 it was fearfully hot in the orchestra pit.

Finally they were allowed to pack up. Discussions of the dress rehearsal in ten days’ time brought groans as all knew that would mean the itchy wigs, tight breaches and stockings… and little if any break. They could only hope it was a cool day.

As Will/Spike packed away his instrument – carefully cleaning the finely polished surface of any sweat or marks and rubbing resin onto the bow, his friend, and room mate, sidled up behind him and leaned casually against the wall of the orchestra pit.

“Tavern tonight?”

“Nahhh, better get this intro sorted or I’ll be out on my arse and playing second fiddle in some gypsy band!”

“Oh come *on*! You weren’t the one at fault! Even I could hear it was Carl!”

“Don’t matter… You go, I fancy I’ll just eat the bread and cheese then make sure…”

“Oh C’mon Will! You’re the best they have in the seconds… and it’s been weeks since you’ve come out with us… Mozart is sure to show… Oh come *on* Will! Just come for a while at least… Please?”

“Mozart’s there he’ll wonder why I’m not home practicing…”

“Don’t be ridiculous! Besides Aart said one of the major patrons might be there, Count Someone-or-other, very young and *very* rich apparently. Old money too – apparently something to do with the Russian Court as far back as Peter the Great.”

Will finally agreed and followed his friend still carrying his violin and grumbling about ‘old blokes and money and snobbery’. They walked across the cobbled town square pink lit with the sunset.

Veering off into an alleyway the two soon found themselves amongst the patrons of the tavern as the warm night drew people into the street. The two orchestra members wound their way through the mêlée of drinkers and eventually found their fellow musicians, their conductor, most of the singers, plus two men they had seen sitting silently in the balcony seats at the opening of Mozart and da Ponte’s revival of the popular 'Marriage of Figaro' two years previously.

At the time, the entire orchestra had been told that the patron had donated a large sum of money to assist the company, and that he was a personal friend of the Emperor Joseph II, though most assumed a relative, given his young age.

Will instantly recognised the twenty something, handsome man, as he stood with his slightly older manservant.

The Count was a tall, slim figure with raven hair, amazing green eyes and exuding a confidence and charisma that drew a crowd of admirers, most, in this case, members of the current opera production. But for some reason Count Anton's attention fell to the two young men who joined the jolly group of players, and in particular, his piercing gaze focused on the quiet blonde sporting a violin case.

To Will and Alec’s surprise, they were the suddenly the focus of the entire group as the young Count strode through the group and welcomed them into the crowded beer house.

“Hah! Finally someone with an instrument! And what timing… we are in need of a tune. Come good sir, your skills can not go unappreciated. Gregor will find you and your friend drinks if you will but entertain us for a while.”

Will’s blush of embarrassment was head to toe as he studied his shoes most avidly. Alec likewise chose to drop his gaze, but as the youthful Count placed an un-gloved hand under the shy, perfectionist, violinist’s chin, everything changed. Neither Will nor Alec was equipped to deal with the presence of the Immortal when they were his single focus. Finally Will managed a near whispered, “Yes alright…” then turned to Alec “Can you provide the beat?”

Alec merely nodded and both were glad to accept a mug of ale from the enigmatic Gregor as were given a few moments to gather their thoughts, and for Alec to find something that would suffice as a drum. Fortunately the tavern owner had an old hand held instrument from Ireland that had been given to him by a grateful patron. The man fetched it while Alec and Will downed their drinks and seated themselves on a table ready to play.

Will started with a hearty tune that he knew the members of the company would recognize from the Marriage of Figaro and was pleased that fine voices were soon all but drowning out his and Alec’s playing.

What followed was an evening of dance and song, Will and Alec all but exhausted by the end. Will’s final piece was a slow lament, a piece he had written himself after his mother died, and played as though the violin was his own cries of loss. It marked the end of the evening. As he wiped down his instrument ready to place it in its case, Will smiled tiredly at Alec, “Got my practice in after all.”

They were about to leave when the Count Anton approached them. “I thank you, gentle sirs. Tonight surpassed all my expectations, as I intended only to show my support then leave. Ahh but it is now past midnight and I cannot remember such a fun filled night in years. Please, do me the honour of accepting a ride home in my carriage. It’s raining, and the least I can do.”

Will thought to protest, then decided to take a chance when he saw Alec’s delighted expression and near frantic nod. Navigating the dark streets of Vienna was hard (and somewhat dangerous) enough when the roads and alleyways were dry. Wet, it was extremely unpleasant as well. Yet good manners were important.

“Thank you Sir, you are most generous, but we would not want to put you to any trouble.”

“There is no trouble involved I assure you. Indeed I have a favour to ask of you. I am to entertain an important delegation from beyond Italy in two weeks’ time, I wonder if you would agree to playing for the occasion. I will speak to Maestro Mozart – you might come following your performance, if that is not too much to ask. You would of course be paid and accommodated for the evening.”

In the end they both agreed to the ride enthusiastically, but worried a little regards the other request. Their trip home was consequently taken in luxury, with their host Anton, to their surprise, more than willing to make friendly conversation with his travel companions.

He queried them regards their music, families and life in general, sharing little of his own lifestyle but enough to pique the two musicians’ interest. Alec divulged that he was a lucky orphan taken in by his elderly Uncle, a priest and lover of music. He had been trained to play organ but shined on percussion and had found himself in demand as his skill on the glockenspiel and timpani found him moving to Vienna and with almost permanent work.

Will’s shy voice piped up after Alec fell silent, revealing to the Count that he was the only sibling in his family to have survived beyond ten, and parents both dying of a lung illness during a particularly cold winter. Consequently he was left to find his own way in life at fourteen. A gifted violinist, he had been accepted into a small chamber group immediately, and later into the regular opera orchestra.

“Alec and I were in the same orchestra for almost a year and eventually got talking. It seemed right and I asked Alec to move in with me. After the burials, I had enough from the sale of the apartment to survive but Alec needed somewhere too. We pooled our resources and were able to afford our small rooms.” Will shrugged then plucked up the courage to ask, “If I may be so bold… What of your family, Sir?”

It was the first time the dancing eyes of the Count looked pained and Will quickly tried to retract the statement, “Oh… please… Excuse my prying. I have no right…” Will’s gaze immediately fell to the floor, he shrank back into the seat as the carriage took yet another turn, and worked his hands desperately as he attempted to think of some way to ease the distress of their kind benefactor.

Anton did not fail to notice the affectionate arm that wormed its way around the young violin player’s shoulders, or hear the whispered, “It’s OK, Will. C’mon… It’ll be OK.”

The Immortal reached forward and touched both on the knee with his full magical signature all but burning, “Worry not, I am simply sad to have lost those I love so many years ago. I like you, am alone, as is Gregor here. But I, like you with Alec, find solace in a loyal and kind friend. We together will prevail, but you two also have your music… Please agree to play at my home…”

Will saw a fellow soul in the begging eyes and instinctively reached for the pale hand, lifting it to his lips and kissing it, looking pointedly at his companion, “It would be our honour Sir.”

Four days later, after but two practices with wonderful harp player Danton, they were graced by the presence of an exquisite soprano, Illizia and amazing tenor, Minos. Both had voices that would have outstripped any on the stage at the time… but were obviously not in need of employ as Count Anton greeted each with the kiss on both cheeks of a familiar.

Will found himself playing as never before and the singing drawing tears. He poured his heart into the playing and let the salty tributes fall. The extraordinarily tall, blonde woman was singing to his very soul, and there was no way his emotions could be stemmed.

He looked over to his dear friend who was currently playing French horn (not Alec's first choice of instrument but one which he had command of) and noted his friend was similarly affected.

The following night at a second party, they were joined by an unexpected cello, played extremely skilfully by the man who had employed them.

The night progressed as expected and the arias were well known but they found themselves in the presence of royalty from five different countries, and a number of other folk that seemed ‘different’ somehow. Nevertheless Alec and Will felt comfortable in their positions on the slightly raised stage at the top of the ballroom.

The second evening, like the first, was a triumph, though both Will and Alec did wonder at a few incredibly pale guests, several of whom wore the garb of Muslim men and women and seemed unwilling to dance, though were undoubtedly enthusiastic in their applause and obviously appreciative of their host’s prowess.

It was almost four in the morning on their second night in the castle when Will and Alec followed Master Gregor to their rooms.

They had barely changed into their night gowns when a soft knock on the door startled both men a little.

The Count Anton excused himself, then astonished them both by approaching and swiftly kissing each on both cheeks.

“I cannot thank you enough for tonight. And I would ask that you play for me again… at any time you can… I ask as one who seeks solace after so long.”

Will, with Spike’s memories of their task, also recognized the cry for help, and in an atypical act gave in to his combined memories. To his friend Alec’s amazement the young Will fell to his knees at the feet of their patron and fell forward, hugging the Count’s knees.

“I would play for you to the end, were I given the chance.”

Anton was visibly moved, and took the exquisite face in his hands, lifting the visage until he could meet blue eyes with now tearful green, “Why?”

Will answered honestly, “Because I know I can serve you and … And you feel like family.” At that moment the young violinist felt incredibly embarrassed, but as his gaze fell, he felt Alec’s strong arm circle his waist to pull him close, and he relaxed a little.

The Count thanked him then Alec, then took up Will and Alec’s right hands in turn kissing then biting hard into the palms. It was a strange yet strangely unfrightening act and as blood was willingly given, both humans fell back and happily surrendered their love to the rather sad Count. And as he bit the rather enthralled boys, each embarrassingly released their joy into their breeches. Spike and Xander both passed out just as they began to feel the shift.

………………..


The roar of canons was deafening – as was the cry of the wounded. The ground ran with blood and the air so thick with smoke from rifles that breathing was becoming an issue, or would have been had they needed to breathe now. Teodoro (Spike) felt around and finally found it, the date in the tiny diary in the pocket of the remnants of his Spanish uniform noted June 28, 1813, and had the simple words “I think we’re winning.” as an entry.

Then Spike began to recall his body’s memories.

Wellesely had commanded their rather depleted addition to the English and Portuguese divisions, but as Wellington arrived with his lot, all had changed. The young Spanish captain had commanded his troops admirably, as had his Portuguese counterpart Alejandro, but both had fallen in battle.

Happy that the British had turned up with Wellington, the young Spaniard remembered cleaning his weapon enthusiastically after their first assault. Napoleon’s first defeat in the Peninsula War looked about to happen when the French army had flanked their Spanish division and a hail of bullets then bayonets took out most of their front line, of which he was one. His last conscious thoughts were a prayer for his wife and two children and wish that his fellow Lieutenants had better fortune.

It was not until night, as the moans of the dying on the field judged too injured to be saved, or simply missed, lay in the rivers of blood of the four and a half thousand mutilated bodies, that he had seen his maker. The vampires and various other opportunist demons picking through what the humans had left behind.

He and a captain from the Portuguese army woke two nights later, turned for their looks as Childer by a Master Vampire. Sadly there was not the connection to their Sire in their first waking moments, instead there was the extreme feeling of grief and loss as they felt his dusting when stray artillery fire blew his head away. So at three days undead and only just risen, their role was unclear.

They and six others, the rest minions, huddled in the holes made by canon fire in the day, as the last days of battle raged, and at night, fed from the dead and dying. As the French withdrew and the battlefield fell silent, they were amazed to see five or six more of their kind winding their way through the broken bodies and detritus of battle, minions sired by minions with demons so weak that the resulting vampires had little more intelligence than the average sheep.

But in the end they were all lost and simply stood, confused and bereft amongst the blood and the filth, mourning their own deaths and those of the battle mates most dear, but also wishing for their Sire yet knowing intuitively that he was no longer with them. They wandered as a lost group, now ignoring the free flowing blood of the dead as they picked their way through the carnage, their uniforms torn and faces and bodies bloodied. Then they all felt it, a call from the east of the field that carried more than just a spoken word, and had them heading toward a tall, ancient vampire, but not. One who exuded such power that the group of ‘lost boys’ fell to their knees and crawled the final few metres in supplication.

Anton gave all but two a single draft of his own blood via a bitten finger and directed Gregor to lead the now loyal and compliant group back to his stronghold. Meanwhile he fed the two Childer a little more. He would pass them on to the Master of Madrid – a relatively liberal vampire ruler with a penchant for pretty boys and likely to treat the two pretty creatures of the night with as much kindness as could be expected of a vampire.

Three days later as the two were stripped of their clothing by Anton’s staff, and adorned with collars and capes to signal their ownership and conceal their nudity, Alejandro begged their captors, “Please sir… *Please* keep us together… *Please*!” The two fledgelings were huddled together and grasped hands then stilled as the Immortal approached. He took their offered necks then gave them a little of his blood.

Anton felt the connection, not partners yet but certainly connected and of the same Sire. He would have taken the beauties for his own but he and Gregor were just passing through, so in the end he reluctantly handed them on to Master Carlos in Madrid. The sweet lads endeared themselves immediately by first kissing Anton’s then Gregor’s hand then turning to take a submissive kneel in front of their new master, soon to be surrogate Sire, and exposing their necks.

Before Anton left, Teodoro/Spike crawled forward in his prostrated position until at the Immortal’s feet and chanted over and over, “Thank you, once more I have a family, thank you, thank you… thank you.”

Anton looked long and hard at the two then answered, “You are welcome little brother, I understand.”

And their world went black.
……………………

The gathering was to be a rather formal affair, the picture of upper class Victorian polite society, the two boys jerked to consciousness holding full trays of drinks, Alexander almost dropping his as the transition took place.

They were standing in a high class English Men’s Club. It was apparently early evening and a New Years’ Eve celebration circa 1875.

The young servant Alexander steadied, but his fellow serving boy all but fell as Spike’s memories mixed with those of the young John he now inhabited, as he watched his father, a man who had died when he was but thirteen years old, grace the room.

Anton was there also and engaged Spike’s father in conversation, and for the first time Spike, William, was privy to his father’s pride in his son’s academic prowess and love of cricket.

It only took a few moments before ‘John’ was too emotional to stand still. Luckily his tray was empty of drinks as he faltered and almost dropped it as he retreated to the kitchen at speed, the party none the wiser that the lad was in distress and in tears. But for one.

Anton followed him to the kitchen, pulling the lad back after his tray of glasses was safe, and stilled him as the boy was about to retreat hurriedly into the bowels of the building. Pale green eyes levelled with blue as the boy slumped “What, pray tell, has such a pretty boy so sad?”

It was Spike’s other ‘John’ who answered his Master respectfully, but it was Spike’s unfettered sentiments, “I [hic] I am so sorry Vis[hic]count but I… oh… Sir, I fancy I saw a familiar face, Sir, [hic] one of my dead father. I am sorry to be any trouble Sir [hic]… truly sorry.” Tears fell freely.

The Viscount Anton watched as shoulders slumped but pushed the issue a little, “He was a good man?”

The young servant would have fallen to his knees if he could but simply held his head in his own hands as he began to sob even harder, “He was… a g…[hic]…good man… an…[hic]…nd he… he… never really… knew h..how much I l…l…[hic] loved him! Then he was gone but… I-still-loved-him-still-missed-him! And he never knew!!!” And as he gave in to his tears John felt cool strong arms envelope him and a soothing baritone begin to comfort him.

“I too had a father loved and lost, and to this day seek out the sense of belonging, of family. You are my servant John, but you, and Alexander… and Cook Constance and Penny the maid – you are all part of this household, part of a family of sorts. Now who is it that reminds you of one so loved?”

“Um [hic and heavy sigh] The man with the neat dark moustache and black suit, Sir, the one by the fire place. Oh I am *so* sorry to be a bother… I [hic] I will do better Sir I promise!”

Anton patted the boy’s arm with genuine affection, “I’m sure you will, we all will.”

Anton urged the boy to wash his face then led the still rather emotional John out into the party and in a very unusual move, deliberately introduced the unbelievably shy John to Spike’s father, a man he had barely known in life. It was no longer John in control, but Spike who’s own memories were dictating the behaviour. His father caught his proffered hand and politely greeted the young boy as they were formally introduced as though John were one of the guests, the QC all the while looking curiously at the Viscount.

Viscount Anton prompted him by saying, “The boy wished to meet you and I thought it might spur him on with his studies were he to meet you. He is quite an astute student.”

Anton ignored John’s nervous toeing of the rug as he explained to Robert James Bartlett QC that the boy had confessed to the barrister reminding him of a dead father, to which the QC smiled rather sympathetically, nodded at Anton then addressed the boy. “I have a son around your age, he too enjoys his studies. I hear the Viscount has all his staff taught to read and write these days. What is it you like to read?”

John/Spike looked at the carpet then braved a glance at the rather handsome face of his long dead father. “Poems, Sir, I do like poems… and Shakespeare… and the Greek Myths… Sir… I…” John suddenly felt terribly awkward, whispered “Sorry, Sir.” Then returned his attention to the carpet as Robert Bartlett QC looked to Viscount Anton and stated more for the boy’s benefit than any other, “Well it seems you have quite the scholar on your hands Viscount. Would that my William were so dedicated to the greats at such a tender age, still, the serving classes have reason to strive to read for distraction I suspect. Nevertheless” The mousey brown haired man turned to Anton, “Well done Viscount, there are few who would bother with such a venture.”

“Sir, I too benefit from the exercise.”

And with that John knew to withdraw. Spike so emotional that he barely made it down to the corridor outside the kitchen

Alexander barely deposited his tray of glasses on the bench before he raced to his friend’s side, somehow the Mated Childe link transcending the shift. Regardless of the Viscount’s presence, he wrapped himself around his Sire’s current manifestation and nuzzled his bared neck.

The act grounded them both and Anton, who had followed worried about the boy, was amazed and confused by the act, and mouthed a simple “I wonder?”

…………………..

It was strange… Spike and secondarily his Mate Xander felt history catching them for the first time like flashes in a dream: William the Bloody being turned in 1880; 1893 the frustration of Angelus as the Immortal rescued a group of nuns from his clutches in Nice, Italy; various flashes of Spike’s own past as part of the Scourge of Europe; their rampage across Rome for the two weeks prior to their 1894 Room of Pain experience – the ‘stiff reprimand’.

The next set of flashes were fraught with sadness as Spike recalled Angelus’ gaining of his soul and consequent disappearance then the Boxer Rebellion, followed by the return to Europe and eventual flight from the very angry Darla.

It was all a bit of a jumble but then…

…………………

The two awoke but in *very* different guises this time. It was 1915. Xander/Docker felt the hobbles around his ankles and loose rope around his neck as he rose, while Spike could smell the sweaty presence of another man, and rolled over awkwardly on the uncomfortable canvas camp bed before sitting up. It was barely light but the unmistakable sound of the bugle roused the entire camp.

He had his ‘other’s’ memories but was still surprised when his tent companion Jack rolled over, scratched a slim torso, blinked crystal blue smiling eyes at him and said, “Geez mate, bloody hot in here or what! Reckon I musta been dreamin’ ‘bout Mercia again…” Then as Jack spied his own fob watch, there was a yelp and Willem’s fellow ‘light horseman’ sat up with a jerk and urged him to do the same with a, “Crikey… get a wriggle on! The Brigadier is goin’ to call the charge this mornin’.”

There was a strange pause but even as he pulled on his own trousers, Jack felt compelled to say it, “I know we said before… but… the photos go back to mum and dad, you know… if…”

Spike/ Willem knew the scenario and had done it before. The two men in the tent were now both just turning twenty, on the ‘great adventure to defend Mother England’, which they had never seen. At least he had his horse. Spike knew his alter ego was recruited from just south of Perth, Western Australia with the promise of the great adventure and heroism a bonus.

“Nah, mate. Stop all that rot. Both gonna be ridin’ inta history is us. Just watch that Jezebel o’ yours. She’s a right floozy. Probably seduce one of them arab stallions the gerries are ridin’, no doubt savin’ the day!”

Spike winked at his companion and the effect was the right one, lightening the mood. Both knew that Light Horseman W. Mock rode his own bay gelding. A horse that had never shown anything but loyalty and bravery on his rider’s behalf; of mixed breeding; and who had been ripped from the relative boredom of a rural Australian life outside a costal town called Mandurah to accompany his master to the Middle East.

Docker/Xander stood patiently and felt soothed by familiar sensations as he was brushed down and then fed a small ration of chaff and allowed to drink. His blaze and ears were rubbed affectionately and he accepted the bit, adjusting his tongue and feeling the familiar metal across his teeth. He wished his master knew, it made him feel safe, it was part of home, the only part left, and was hardly needed to ‘direct’ him. Master was a good rider and indicated his needs with firm thighs and kind words as they sprinted into the heat of battle.

For Docker/Xander it was odd. His ‘other’ knew the routine, and he felt strangely reassured as the rug went on and he knew to suck in as the girth strap tightened (the alternative was a sharp kick to the area so the saddle might fit snugly).

He waited as his master checked his own kit. Battle fatigues with standard dagger, bayonet, and on the list went. Finally he felt the pressure on his left side and then Master on his back, the squeeze of familiar thighs against his side, now such a part of both their lives that they acted as one. He tossed his head and surged forward, just to display his enthusiasm, only to be reigned in for a moment then let have his head for a little as they joined the line.

They had come as a pair admitted to the 4th Light Horsemen as soon as they saw steed and rider from country Victoria, around Ballarat – rode all the way to Melbourne to enlist for the great adventure… His box brownie camera and five rolls of film bought by his mother at the port, proving the most compelling images from the Egyptian conflict, some took photographs… others composed art.

They had been briefed the previous day… it was to be called the ‘Battle of Beersheba’ though quickly became referred to as ‘Bathsheba’s Behind’ by the troops who had bedded down with little water and less food ready for the final assault. It was the last day of October 1917.

The call to charge came from Brigadier General William Grant himself. Seated on his own pedigree warm blood bay mare, both William and his steed felt the jolt of adrenalin as excitement, pride and fear mixed and they took off.

They charged. Xander in his equine form sweated and began to struggle for breath as he was urged to sprint even faster over the last part of the four mile stretch. The Turkish in their trenches were overwhelmed by the boldness and swift nature of the advance, and quickly acceded to the mounted attack. They had won the day, the essential wells of Beersheba had been taken, and though Docker/Xander had been the bigger target, it was his master’s shoulder and ribs that had been shattered by enemy bullets and whose lungs only barely functioning.

Willem had watched his friend Jack fall as both he and his mount were shot within moments of reaching the Turkish trenches, the horse square in the chest, the rider a blast to the throat that exited, taking with it his spinal chord.

He knew his own situation was deteriorating and he eventually passed out leaning against the warm neck of his long suffering mount. Docker kept moving, his master was a dead weight on his back. In the confusion of the battle he kept moving, eventually turning when all went quiet.

The British and Australian flags had been raised on one of the tanks and the trenches were now silent and devoid of men, but for the few collecting the dead. Eventually Docker rounded and returned to their camp.

A young private was amazed when a horse drenched in sweat and his rider’s blood arrived exhausted, carrying his badly wounded rider some hours after the battle.

Three strong sets of arms eased the young soldier from his steed and onto a waiting stretcher. Willem had been in and out of consciousness vaguely remembering that after he had been hit, Docker somehow keeping his rider aloft as he escaped from the foray. In another lucid moment Willem recalled being aware enough to tuck one foot under the girth and wind the reins tightly around his wrist before passed out, and his horse to move toward their camp.

He came to briefly as his clothes were cut away, waking to lamplight and a medical team. He tried to ask after his horse, but gave up trying to speak as the pain of even the smallest breath ripped through his chest. Docker had carried him and now he wasn’t there, he hoped someone would care for his dear equine friend when he was gone. As the ether was applied and the surgeon prepared to try to save one more of their number, Willem began to mouth an old Methodist hymn, and wondered if his mother ever knew just how much he loved her… and his sisters. He worried that he would die alone and wished that at least his loyal Docker might be present when he passed.

He woke a few times a few times prior to being placed on the hospital ship en route to England. He begged for his horse to accompany him. His Captain, already preparing the report to recommend a medal for the brave young man who, though wounded, had apparently contributed to the defeat of the eastern most section of the Turkish line, ordered that Docker, one of only three surviving steeds of the injured, be shipped with his master.

The seriously wounded soldier found himself at a transfer hospital in Cairo, and for the first few days was less than coherent, but on the fourth day, managed to articulate, “Pleeee, Docker! Whhhat happen…ed to Docker!”

The very efficient ward nurse called for the matron and the soldier’s attending surgeon as soon as the boy was awake and stable.

Three weeks later, William, too injured to make the trip back home to Australia, was transferred to a property in the county of Kent that had apparently been offered by one of the rich friends of the King. They were told it was owned by a young foreigner famous for his fine stables and a favourite amongst the upper classes. Rumour had it he was of royal blood but all that could be confirmed was that he was definitely of very ‘old money’. The wonderful part about the temporary hospital was that it was specifically offered to members of the Light Horse division on account of the fine set of stables available at the Count’s residence. Something that was deeply appreciated by both the recovering wounded and the armed forces of two countries, as the men appeared to recover more quickly knowing their mount was cared for and close.

Xander had been positively ill with the sea crossing then loaded into a rail truck with seven others. He didn’t know where his master, Spike/Willem was, and had all but given up hope when they were led to an ancient truck, tied on and forced to trot behind as they were led to a huge estate.

He was in his own stall, having been washed, brushed, watered and fed by the professional efficiency of a good strapper. The straw was fresh, the chaff and grain sweet and plentiful, yet he pined for his rider. He knew they had brought him to the same place, but what if something happened, if his master did not recover? In the end he hung his head low and simply… waited.

Willem was still in trouble when he arrived at the mansion, his damaged lung had collapsed and there was fear of further infection. There was a huge oxygen bottle at his bedside in a hall that had previously functioned as the ballroom. Four nurses and two doctors tended the wounded men, some missing limbs, others internal organs. Three had died on the trip to their sanctuary and Willem still woke with the nightmare of watching Jack die. They had spoken of family, promised to return together triumphant… there was no triumph in calling pitifully for the nurse as he tried to take a decent breath and pain tore through him once more.

A week later he was allowed to sit up a little and was visited by a rather enigmatic young man who he assumed to be the Lord of the Manor, given the fuss that was being made by the staff.

Willem was greeted politely by a handsome young man perhaps a year or two his senior. The voice was rich and deep, and the accent slight though revealing his European origins, “I am glad to see you are being well cared for.”

“Yes Sir.”

“You will be happy to know that your horse is also here. His condition is excellent, though I do believe he would benefit from a visit.” Anton saw the crystal blue eyes of the young man light up. “I will have the nurses bring you a chair, then we might go together.”

Minutes later Anton was walking beside Willem’s chair in comfortable silence. They both saw Docker’s ears prick up as he heard his master calling him weakly.

Anton watched as the bay of dubious heritage dropped his head to be patted then kissed by the still recovering Willem.

They were together again. Willem forgot his injuries and his kind company for a moment, and kissed the blaze, then whispered, “They say we’re to go home soon… Another boat ride, but we’re goin’ home… you and me… Reckon we can stand the boredom of rounding up cattle again? Ahhh bloody hell mate… ‘cause of you… I’m goin’ home.”

Willem looked up at the man who had given them sanctuary. Anton was visibly moved but was, in truth, looking across to his manservant Gregor and smiling sadly.

Willem tried to take a bigger breath and winced with pain, and with his hand still petting between his dear equine friend’s ears, he simply said,“Thank you, particularly for looking after him so well. He above all deserves that, and now we can both go home together,”

The effort of such a long speech caused Willem to lose breath, causing his horse to whinny his concern, and the attending nurse to rush to his side as his world went black.

……………

Connor saw the shift first. Anton was crying, still unconscious but obviously distressed. It was the first time there had been any response to what was occurring beyond their realm…

Helle entered the room within minutes, and seeing her partner’s worry and fatigue, asked him sweetly if he would mind bedding down Olivia for her afternoon nap. She knew full well that it was her partner, not her daughter, who needed the rest.

She watched and felt the shift, her dear relatives were moving on once more.

All they could hope was that the lessons were all leading to the return of their beautiful patriarch. Helle sent a prayer to her Earth Mother Gaia then took up her turn for the vigil.

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