Ch 4 In Forty Minutes
Chp 4 In forty minutes
Along a narrow passageway, hung with heavy tapestries, Will strode with Buffy at his heels. She didn’t have to turn to sense Spike at her back: she knew he’d never let anyone or any thing get close to her.
Suddenly the Watcher stopped, pulled aside one of the tapestries and gestured to a small door set in the wall. “Here are stairs that lead to another door. That is an entrance into the Queen’s bedroom. It will be empty as Her Majesty is receiving guests. But we are sure that is where the attack will take place later tonight. They dare not let loose the vampires in a crowded area. Too much could go wrong. That is where you must fight. Now I must leave you. Go with God.”
Buffy and Spike bent double, eased their way through the low doorway and felt their way up a tiny spiral staircase. In the pitch dark the walls were so close they rubbed hard against their bodies and Spike had to turn sideways on the tight bends to get round.
At the top of the stairs, Buffy found a flat wooden panel. She ran her hands over it then, “There’s no handle,” she hissed back at Spike.
“Let me try,” and he reached around her. Even in the dark she could see the flash of his smile as his body squashed hers against the cold stone wall. Then his hands were pushing and the whole panel slid silently to one side.
Buffy stepped through and realised she was in a space where a heavy curtain hung against the wall.
Spike stepped through at her side. There was a little more light here. She reached up to find the opening in the curtain when suddenly she heard a voice, muffled by the drapes, but still clear enough to hear.
“Whoever is there, show yourself!”
Buffy pushed into the room and paused. A woman, only a little taller than herself was standing by the side of a vast four-poster bed. She had a long, thin face with brilliant dark eyes, a rusty red braid touched with grey hung down over her shoulder. She was wearing a white robe, heavily embroidered with gold and silver thread, with ermine at the neck and edges of the long sleeves.
Buffy realised Spike was bowing and she bent her own head a little.
The dark eyes twinkled and a long white hand, the fingers laden with rings that sparkled in the candle light reached out towards the slight boyish figure standing in front of her.
“For all the doublet and hose, you are not a boy, Miss. And you do not bow before me. You come up the secret staircase that is known to so few. You are what Lord Travers calls a Slayer, I believe.”
“Yes, your Majesty,” Buffy said quietly.
“And this – young man – this is —?” The eyes sparkled with interest as she got her first good look at Spike’s face.
“Spike, your Majesty, at your service,” he said.
“Spike? An unusual name for an Englishman. And I can tell that you are English. You, on the other hand, Miss, are not.”
“Ah – from one of our colonies.”
“Not so much. It’s a place called Sunnydale, in California,” Buffy said, wondering how much more weird this evening was going to be. “It’s on the west coast of America.”
“The west coast! So, we have explored that far, have we? I have been informed that you are from a time I cannot even begin to imagine.”
Buffy glanced swiftly round the room. There was no one hiding anywhere that she could see; everything seemed secure. But why was the Queen here alone? Will had said she would be downstairs, receiving homage from her guests before watching his play.
“Your Majesty, we believe you’re in great danger. We want you to be in company, amongst a crowd. You’re vulnerable on your own.”
Queen Elizabeth made a gesture of disdain. “I was late rising. I have sent my ladies away for half an hour. They were clucking around like headless chickens. The play will not start without me.” A grim smile crossed her face and Buffy winced at the blackened teeth that showed under the painted lips. “Nothing starts without me. But I long to see a vampire. I have heard of them for so many years but never seen one.”
Buffy waved a hand at Spike. “Well, there’s one here, right now. But he can’t hurt you. But whoever is conspiring against you tonight will be sending some who can. You must take precautions.”
The Queen stared at Spike, then reached up and ran a long white finger down his cheek. “So,” she whispered. “You are my first vampire, Master Spike. Your hair is a strange, magical colour. You must tell me how it comes to be that particular shade.”
Spike looked bemused, then grinned and bowed his head. “Delighted, your Majesty,” he said. “But right now, your safety has to come first.”
Buffy crossed to the door. She just had a bad feeling about this whole set-up. Admittedly, she knew nothing about how English royalty was treated in Tudor times, but she was quite sure the Queen of England would have had guards and courtiers in attendance the whole time.
She opened the door into another big chamber. Candles flickered and a fire smouldered in a vast hearth. A window was open and the mist spiralled in from outside, making the air chill. Lying sprawled on the floor were the bodies of four guards, their swords undrawn. Pewter goblets lay by their outflung hands, dregs of wine in the bottom of each.
Buffy slammed the door shut. “Your guards have been taken down,” she snapped.
“By their faces, I suspect they’ve been poisoned. And there’s no sign of your ladies.”
“Interesting. ” Seemingly unmoved, Elizabeth Tudor raised her thin, painted eyebrows and sat down on the side of the bed. “I spy Cressida Fletcher’s handiwork here. She is my senior lady tonight. If she told the others to go down and watch the play, they would do as she said, believing the message had been sent by me.”
Buffy hauled a heavy carved chest in front of the door. “Then I reckon the attack could happen at any moment,” she said. “Spike?”
“Room’s clear, pet.”
“Then we wait.”
Buffy drew the stake from her belt. “Your Majesty, if you could stay on the bed, out of the way.”
The Queen‘s lips twitched; she obviously found taking orders extremely amusing. “I have my own weapon,” she said and withdrew slender bladed dagger from under her pillows. The handle was encrusted with rubies and emeralds and glittered in the candlelight.
“Master Vampire, will you sit with me and tell me of life in your times while we wait?” She patted the bed and Spike cast Buffy a frantic glance as he gingerly sat down next to her.
Buffy would have laughed if she dared. The expression on her lover’s face as the older woman stroked his hand was worth a fortune. Suddenly she stiffened. There was a sound from the secret staircase they’d climbed from the passage below. She caught Spike’s gaze and he gave a brief nod before swinging off the bed, cloak flying.
Elizabeth opened her mouth to speak, then suffered the indignity of having Spike’s hand clamped across it. He jerked his head towards the tapestry and the dark eyes in the pale lined face widened with understanding.
Just then, the curtain that hung across the sliding doorway billowed out and a rush of vampires roared into the room in full game face. Buffy was alarmed at how many there were. The room seemed full of screaming demons, desperate to reach the Queen. And as fast as she managed to dispatch one, another came hurtling up the secret stairway to join in the fight.
“Spike! Watch out!” she yelled as the vampire was born to the floor by three vamps. She spun and kicked out, her stake flashing down, once! Twice! And two more disappeared in puffs of smoke and dust.
She turned to see Spike being hurled across the room onto the great bed, getting himself tangled in the velvet curtains. With a roar, the vamps flung themselves after him, their hands stretching, clutching, reaching for Elizabeth who coolly pulled out a jewelled cross from under her robe and held it in front of her as she stabbed out with the dagger.
Buffy took a flying leap across the room, grabbed the biggest vamp around his neck and wrestled him to the floor. She was vaguely aware of Spike freeing himself, and pulling the other two vamps off the bed. But he lost his footing for a vital second and one tore out of his hands.
As Buffy stake her vamp, she whirled to find Spike kneeling on top of another, but the third had the Queen by the throat and was about to bite. Just then, before Buffy could move, a small bundle of fury leapt into the room and with a vicious plunging motion, brought her stake down right though the last vamp’s heart. He dissolved into dust and Maria and the Queen of England lay on the great bed, staring at each other over the floating mist.
“So, they were vampires!“ the Queen breathed out with a wide smile and the little Slayer nodded solemnly.
“Yes, your Majesty,” she said, then rolled over and sat up as shouting and yelling could be heard coming closer and closer.
“Ah!” Elizabeth nimbly climbed down from the high bedstead. “I think my loyal followers are about to discover that my personage has been threatened.” She imperiously held out her hand to Spike who took it and kissed it. “My thanks, Master Vampire, but you should leave now, much as I would like to keep you by my side. I fear for your life if you are caught here.” She turned to Buffy, and smiled at the tousled blonde hair that fell around the Slayer’s face. Her squashy velvet hat had been an early casualty of the fight.
“I will not offer you a reward, my young friend from across the world,” she said gravely. “I sense that you fight for what is right, not for money.”
“The odd piece of gold – always comes in handy –” muttered Spike and tried to look innocent when Buffy glared at him.
“Maria here is your Slayer, your Majesty,” she said quietly. “She will guard you.”
The Queen nodded. “Now go. Both of you. And quickly.”
Spike bowed again and disappeared behind the curtains. Buffy turned to follow, then hesitated and held out her arms. Maria rushed into them and gave her a tight hug. “Take care,” Buffy whispered. “Watch your back at all times. Do what you think is right, not what the Council want you to do. I’ll never forget you.”
And then she was running, down the spiral staircase, through the little door and down the passageway, Spike at her side. “We’ve got to get back to the Watcher’s house, pet,” he said.
“Maria told me that the charm that brought us here finishes at dawn. If we’re still here then, we stay here!”
“But Will – ”
“Did exactly what he had to do to protect the Queen,” Spike snapped, lengthening his stride.
“But why didn’t he warn us?”
“He knows Maria isn’t ready. The Council wanted you to stay here and help out. You can‘t blame them.”
They‘d reached the outer door of the palace and behind them they could hear yelling and shouting. Someone had raised the alarm. The dead guards had been discovered.
“Is there enough time?” Buffy asked as they clattered down flights of steps onto the jetty that ran alongside the palace gardens. “Wait!” She gripped Spike’s arm and they stood, close together in the mist, as two other figures appeared and began to untie one of the boats.
“You clumsy oaf!” the young woman hissed, her blonde hair escaping from under the hood of her cloak. “You’ve ruined everything! I poisoned the guards, got the other ladies-in-waiting away. The Queen was at our mercy. She could have been turned and we could have ruled the world through her! Why didn’t you send in more vampires when you heard a Slayer had been summoned?”
The man was swearing as he fought to lift a heavy rope off the mooring bollard. “How was I to know there would be two Slayers? It’s a nightmare. I should never have got involved with you. You’re a witch, Cressida!”
“And your head will roll on Tower Green, Toby, unless you flee the country. I’m for America – to Virginia. There’s a ship at Plymouth and a captain who will be happy to take me – for the price of my body! One that I shall have to pay, because of you! I hate you, Toby Fletcher. I shall see that you and your descendants suffer for what you have brought me to!”
She straightened up and Buffy frowned. The fair hair, the perfect features, reminded her of someone, somewhere….
“Pshaw! I’m not going to travel that far.” Tall and well built, with a broad face and dark hair, Sir Toby grunted and jumped into the boat. “I’ve a house in Ireland. I’ll hide there until all the hue and cry has died down. Perhaps I’ll even live there permanently. I rather fancy founding a family, getting away from all the intrigue of court, getting away from you, Cressida, my dear …”
The young woman skipped into the boat and it moved off, jerkily, into the mist with the couple still arguing.
Buffy turned and stared at Spike - “She looked like – ”
“He looked like – ”
They both stopped, then Spike shrugged and turned to find another boat. Whatever the truth, what would be would be and now they had to get back to London – fast.
Luckily the tide was with them as the rowed down river, back towards the south of the city. The mist was clearing and the dark night was lit by a crescent moon. The river was deserted. Too many people were scared to be out and about on the Eve of All Hallows when spirits roamed the world looking for a human body to inhabit. Most sensible citizens stayed safely indoors with every window tightly shut to keep out the demons, ghosts and vampires.
Buffy sat facing Spike as he cast off the long royal blue cloak and, clad only in his black T shirt and jeans, rowed them upstream. “Do you think Cressida escaped to America?” she asked at last.
Spike smiled, a flash of white in the darkness. “If Cressida is who we think she is, then we know she did.”
“And Sir Toby?”
Spike shrugged then cursed as one oar missed and splashed spray over them both. “Bloody hell! Same thing, Slayer. I’m here, so Dru was here, so Liam was here, so – ”
Buffy said no more. She was beginning to stare apprehensively at the eastern sky. Was it getting lighter? Did the charm end at actual sunrise itself? “Have you any idea how the spell works?” she asked suddenly.
Spike nodded and grunted as he dug deeply on the oars and the boat fizzed across the water. “Asked Will yesterday. There’s a glass globe. You put it in the fire and he reckons a drop of your blood will be enough to reverse the spell. As long as we’re touching, then I’ll go back with you. Of course – ” the smile came again and Buffy shivered; this time she could see his face as well – “if you want to leave me here, pet, then all you have to do is let go of my hand!”
“We’re cutting it fine,” she said because there, over her right shoulder, the sky was beginning to change from black to dark blue and a faint apricot tinge was trickling along the horizon over the treetops.
The dark sky had become duck egg blue by the time Slayer and vampire were running up the road and hurtling inside the Watcher’s house. They burst into his study and Buffy grabbed the glass sphere being used as a paperweight, and carried it across to the fireplace. Then stopped dead. There was no fire burning. The ashes were cold.
“Great! Spike – ” she turned in desperation as the first very faint rays of sun began to pierce the window.
Spike grabbed the pile of papers the globe had sat on, screwed them up and set fire to them with his lighter. Buffy snatched the knife Will used to sharpen his quill pens and slashed it across her finger. As the flames licked up around the glass globe, the blood dripped onto it.
Buffy reached out and grasped Spike’s hand as he pulled his duster from the back of a chair. The door to the room was flung open and Will stood there. He shouted, “Wait! Please don’t go. We need you,” but it was too late. Slayer and Vampire vanished into the smoke.
Will slowly crossed the room and stared down into the hearth. He sighed and turned back wearily to his desk. They’d gone and he’d never had a chance to thank them for saving the Queen’s life, to explain that he hadn’t told them about the ending of the spell because his duty to the Council came first and that if they’d stayed, they could have had a good life together here in England.
He winced as he realised which papers they’d used to light the fire. Love’s Labour’s Won he’d called his latest scribble. But perhaps it was all for the best. It hadn’t been as good a play as Love’s Labour’s Lost.
He pulled out the page of manuscript from the play he’d been working on that morning and frowned. His line of dialogue for Puck had been boring. He hadn’t been happy with it. It had read, “I’ll presently fly around the world…”
Now someone had written, “I’ll put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes.”
That was better. That had the sensitive touch of a true poet!
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Note: There are several historical references to Loves Labours Won. I didn’t make it up. It may well have existed and been lost or destroyed.
Final epilogue chp to come.
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