Chapter 39---Time’s Fleeting River
Wherein kisses are exchanged and a reluctant wizard is persuaded to come to the aid of our heroes
Xander woke at noon, still exhausted, to find that he was alone in the cottage. He stepped to the window and peered out through the drawn curtains curiously, seeing only the empty yard and gardens. A light step heralded the entrance of Lord Asheton, coming quietly up the steps from the cellar below.
“William!” he cried, rushing to his side, “You seem most finely recovered this afternoon.”
Asheton smiled wryly, “I’m well set-up, I find. And what of you my dear, how did you sleep?”
“’t would have been better had it not been in solitary.” He tried to pass it of with a flirtatious joke, but the raw pain behind his eyes prevented it from being other than a feeble jest, “Ah well, but what of the others?”
He led Xander into the dim library, letting his friend lean heavily upon his arm, “Gone to the village to fetch our nemesis, Ethan Rayne. Would that I could have gone with them to add my persuasions, but Giles…” He quirked a wide white grin, “He is truly a fearsome enemy! Rayne will come to us, no doubt, will he, nil he.”
Xander smiled and gave William a sultry glance through his dark lashes, “Are we all alone then?”
William smiled in return.
“I fear for your health, my very dear. It would grieve me would you come to an injury. May we not just rest here together a while?”
Xander stood and ran a hand along Asheton’s coat sleeve, “Perhaps just a kiss for luck, then.”
Asheton began walking him backward toward the pillow-strewn sofa, pressing tender kisses to his face and throat, reciting softly:
“ “Give me a kiss, and to that kiss a score;
Then to that twenty, add a hundred more:
A thousand to that hundred: so kiss on”
Soft sighs echoed for a time as they lay in the velvety cushions, touching warm lips and giving the gentlest of caresses, until Xander’s eyes began to close again in slumber.
William stroked his face softly and whispered, “Ah, my very dear boy, what should I do without you?” He drew a lacey coverlet over him and returned to his observation of the back garden.
Presently, hoof beats could be heard drawing near and Oz thundered into the enclosure just ahead of the rapidly following pony-cart. He gazed regretfully at Xander and lifted him into his arms, “Sleep will be the best thing for you, my dear. Sleep, until I can send you safely home.”
He placed him into the spare bed and closed the door quietly, just as the rest burst through the door dragging Ethan Rayne, bound hands gripped behind him by young Osborne.
“Now, now Ripper. I thought we were all such good chums.” He smirked up at Giles from his space on the floor.
“Father, may I please stuff a handkerchief in his mouth?” asked Willow.
Giles raised an eyebrow and glared at Rayne.
“Okay, okay. It’s a fair cop, Ripper. Can I at least sit in a chair instead of laying here in the floor?” He suddenly noticed another person glaring at him from the shadows of the room and he blanched. Ethan scrambled to his feet and made a dash for the door, only to be brought down by Giles’ outstretched boot. Giles caught him by the collar and slung him into a chair.
“You will now tell us everything you know about the Egyptian Ka spell you used and your ridiculous reasoning for dragging these people through the barriers of time and space.” His eyes were blazing with anger and Ethan shrunk back into the chair.
“Huh, no matter where you go, you’re always the Ripper, my dear old friend.” He smiled winningly, “I wonder…were you and the other Ethan…”
Giles pinned him with a steely blue gaze and shooed the rest into the kitchen. “I’ll have a little private chat with our friend, first.”
William quirked an eyebrow and determined to use his extraordinary hearing to ascertain exactly what was going on in the library. It sounded as though there might have been more than simple friendship between the two wizards. He grinned in enjoyment and leaned against the wall watching while Willow and Osborne bustled around the kitchen putting together a small collation for tea.
“Papa loves hard-boiled eggs, “Willow said, “And we have some lovely pickled gherkins and a bit of the ham left.”
“Will you have coffee or tea, Lord Asheton?”
Asheton waved nonchalantly, “I’ve supped today, but I will grind the coffee beans for you if you like.”
In the other room, Giles brought an elbow-chair close and slouched down in it, fixing Ethan Rayne with his piercing glare, “Well, Ethan? Will you begin or shall I use a means of persuasion which you may not enjoy quite so much?”
Ethan’s clever smile spread across his face, “You always were passionate in seeking for truths, Rupert. One might even say…ardent…”
Giles grabbed the other man’s cravat and twisted hard, stopping his breath. “You shall have the opportunity to see just how easily roused I am, Ethan.” He loosed his grip and let the man fall back into the seat, panting heavily for his breath.
“Sorry! Sorry Rupert. I beg your pardon most willingly.” He gasped again, “Please, I will tell you whatever you wish to know. I fear the spell unravels even as we speak at any rate.”
“Janus deserted you again, has he?”
Ethan had the grace to look ashamed, “It was done on the spur of the moment, you might say.” He turned pleading eyes to Giles, “Loosen the ropes a bit, would you old friend?” But the other wizard shook his head in denial. “Very well, then, I had been imprisoned by a government military faction who hoped to persuade me to aid them in a secret mission. I didn’t want to co-operate, especially since they took great pleasure in denying me the basic human needs—life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Giles was intrigued in spite of himself as Ethan’s tale poured out, “Napoleon’s secret police?”
Ethan laughed loudly, “Indeed not! Americans. A clandestine group dedicated to the destruction of magic and the elimination of all non-humans on the planet”
“Could this be true? Great god, that’s appalling!” Giles looked at him sympathetically, “And you found a way here?”
“I couldn’t bear being locked away.” Giles moved closer and looked into Rayne’s wide guileless eyes. “I swear by the affection we once held for each other, it’s true.”
“In this other world, we were friends?”
“The very best of mates for a time,” their eyes held for a moment and then Ethan’s fell, abashed, “It was my own fault we grew distant. There was a summoning and it went wrong for us. Deidre and our friends were lost.”
“Deidre, poor girl. Yes, something like that happened here.” Giles was lost in thought, “That was the night when I lost you, as well, Ethan. You—this world’s you, breathed your last in my rooms that night.” They gazed at each other for a long moment, both wrapped in memory of past tragedies and lost opportunities.
Xander stumbled into the room, startling the two men, “Giles? I had another dream…What’s going on?”
Giles seemed to come to his senses and stepped toward the kitchens, “Mind our prisoner for a moment, would you, Alexander? I shall just see if tea is ready.”
Xander stepped up and took the empty chair, a fierce gleam in his eyes, “You poisoned my lord Asheton.”
Rayne grinned, “I only did what I was paid to do. Don’t tell me you didn’t have fun.”
Xander’s hands drew into fists, “Fun? You call getting him tortured and nearly killed fun?”
“That was all Angelus’ doing, dear boy. You were such a brilliant nurse to your Lord Asheton and of course, you didn’t mind enjoying the Pharaoh’s oil….”
Xander looked around guiltily, “Hush! I beg you!”
Rayne’s sarcastic eyebrow rose, “It’ll just be our little secret then. Your other friends needn’t know what you two get up to in the privacy of the bedroom.” Xander leapt to his feet and waved an angry fist under Rayne’s nose. The connecting door opened, and the rest of the group entered bearing a delicious tea. Xander subsided to a dark corner of the room in an angry sulk. Asheton slouched on the sofa, staring at Rayne through hooded eyes, watching while Giles allowed Rayne freedom enough to partake of the meal.
Between bites, he asked, “Milord vampire, will you not drink a dish of tea with us?”
“I never drink…tea.” He said with a predatory smirk, “I prefer my drinks to have a little more bite.” Rayne shivered and returned to his biscuits, studying Asheton warily from the corner of his eye.
Xander stepped to Asheton’s side and proffered the brandy decanter, but Asheton laughed, “It was a feeble jest. Will you join me in a coffee? You sit here and I will fetch us both a cup” Xander allowed himself to be settled like an invalid with a plate of sandwiches and cakes while William brought the coffee and then settled in to scrutinize the villainous Rayne. After a considerable time, the silent, single-mindedness of the vampire’s observation jangled the nerves of the entire group and Rayne most of all. When he finally got to his feet and quietly strolled behind Rayne’s chair, the villain shuddered in palpable fear, causing a small smile to cross Asheton’s face. He kept behind the other man, allowing him no notion of what he might intend. Contrarily, Giles was kindness itself, offering Ethan a pipe of his horrible shag tobacco and refilling his plate solicitously. Oz and Willow merely observed and chatted softly together while Xander dozed restlessly.
Finally, Ethan had had enough. He rolled his eyes and leapt up, “Fine! I’ll give you the bloody spell!” he shouted, “Just keep the vampire away from me!”
William shook his head, “How do I know you won’t try tricking us? Giles here says you’re known to be one for the main chance and a mere trifler.” He stepped forward, his eyes glowing brilliant gold, his fangs descending, petrifying the wizard where he stood. “Perhaps the spell will simply break upon your bloody and well-deserved death?”
“Giles! I beg you!”
William stepped closer, his chill breath making the flesh crawl on Ethan’s neck, “Beg if you like. When D’Angelus gets here, you’ll be begging for me to kill you cleanly.”
He fell at Giles feet, clutching at his hands, “Please, you’re the good guys! You wouldn’t do that, would you? I swear, I’ll end the spell and return them both to their rightful place.” He turned pleading eyes upward, never seeing the quick grin William and Rupert exchanged. Giles took his hands and pulled him to his feet.
“Very well. First, you must help us re-inforce the wards, else D’Angleus will be through them in a trice. Then we will need to have the Ka spell ready immediately at midnight. Tonight is the Equinox.”
Ethan blanched. They knew far more about the spell than he had hoped and resigned himself to helping them…at least until he could scuttle away.
Giles looked out the window and sighed, “Good lord, how quickly the sun races across the sky.” He took Ethan by the collar and dragged him to the door. “The moon will be high in the sky before you know it and D’Angelus will be here before that. If you value your hide, you will set up the reversal of the spell now, Ethan.”
Ethan calculated for a moment and said, “ Your daughter is a gifted witch, she can get the ingredients together with some help from the others. We will need Asheton to guard us against the predation of the other vampire, since we will need to lay this outside, nearest the manor, for that is where the opening is in the other world. It would have been better, of course, to cast it there but…well, one can’t have everything.” The two wizards stepped outside and began pacing off the perimeters of the spell-casting area.
from To Anthea: Ah, My Anthea! by Robert Herrick
Previous Chapters may be found: Spander