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In secret place where once I stood
Close by the banks of Lacrim flood
I heard two sisters reason on
Things that are past and things to come
from "The Flesh and the Spirit"
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Such tales as we've heard tonight. Some boring, some funny, some incredibly stupid, some disturbing -- where did that girl get that hypnosis idea and how much do these people know? -- and some ridiculously lurid. Really Drusilla, you had no reason to be *that* explicit … it quite ruins their reactions if they know what you'll do ahead of time. And it's overkill, my dear; you should never give away all your secrets or reveal exactly how much damage of which you are capable. Not that it matters now, you silly little … Oh, it's not even worth it. You'll never be quite as adept at this as Angelus and I, probably because Angelus was foolish enough to drive you fully into madness. Stupid boy.
"Well sweetie, you're up." The Host's eyes lingered on me a bit longer than needed and while I might normally enjoy such attention, I knew that he was trying to read me. Oh, yes, we were stripped of our various powers for the duration of this little get-together, but old habits, you know. He may not have his abilities, but if you spend your life reading people you become well versed in observing and analysing their reactions. Therefore, it's not that much of a stretch to think he was trying to gauge my reactions.
"Mmmm … what should I tell? Something vicious, maybe? No, none of you are ready for that. Perhaps a tale of vengeance and retribution? Mmm, no, Drusilla's already ruined you for that one … "
"Just pick something," Buffy grumbled. "Stop stalling."
"Oh? Would you care to pick my story?"
"Just cut it out," Cordelia groaned. "You two have been at each other's throats all night. Tell something from your vast repertoire of experiences or stories so we can get out of here."
Apparently Angelus just realized the tales I could tell, because I can see his expression darken with worry as he shoots tiny concerned glances at the blonde on his lap. She noticed and faced me with the strangest expression on her face.
"Nothing with Angel in it," Buffy said firmly.
"Buffy -- " Angelus started.
"No, Angel," she stated. "I don't care what she tells so long as you're not in it. I don't want her thinking she can drive a wedge between us by sharing some lurid tale from your past. Period. No negotiation."
I can't help but roll my eyes. "Please, my dear, don't tell me you're so naïve as to think that world revolves around Angelus? I was over a hundred years old long before a boy named Liam was ever born to his mortal parents, so believe me when I say that my world was full before he ever stumbled into it."
Buffy snorted. "Like you remember that far back. You probably don't even remember your first turning, much less your human life."
Her words were like a smack to the face although she couldn't have been more wrong … I vividly remember that day in Virginia, my death and rebirth. However, I knew better than to allow myself to show weakness in front of the enemy, so I held my tongue and curbed my more violent impulses. Instead I allowed my mind to wander, to think about those days, the ones I could not fully remember until Drusilla turned me once more.
"In the year 1595, there was a young girl being fostered among virtual strangers who might as well have been mortal enemies," I began.
"What was her name?" Fred asked. "Because everybody has a name, except for when they don't, but even then they usually do it's just that people ignore it much like -- I'll just stop now."
My Angelus, where do you find them? Such odd ducks with which you surround yourself these days. Still, the girl has a point … what was her name? Elizabeth? Hardly. Anne? Too many bad associations. Mary? Same thing. Margaret? A possible contender, but that's not it either. Jane? Ah, no, too simple. Susanna? Familiar, but not right. Amelia, Caroline, Henrietta, Frances … all familiar but still incorrect.
"Catherine," I finally decided. "Every family had its Catherine."
Drusilla's lips trembled. "Grandmummy?"
"Dru, darling, do be quiet," I tsked. Still just a mad little girl inside the body of an insatiable woman. I've often wondered if Drusilla ever truly lost her human soul, or if it's simply buried deep within her crazed psyche. Still, she really should learn to mind her manners; no one interrupted her tale despite our deep-seated desire to do so.
"Catherine," I reiterated. "She was eleven years old and separated from her family -- truly separated -- for the first time in her life. You see, her father had incurred the queen's wrath and had been sent to the Tower while her mother was sent to rusticate on their country estates. She and her elder brother were fostered with different families in Shropshire and Cornwall, respectively, and her younger siblings remained with their mother in Kent. Her Majesty considered this an act of kindness on her part, that she would not visit the sins of the father on that of the children. Catherine always thought this was ridiculous because the stigma would remain, although others certainly managed despite the scandal and treacherous nature of the Court once the ordeal was over. Still, to the people of England, their beloved Gloriana could do no wrong … even when she did."
The bitterness in my voice must have been palpable because Angelus sent me a sideways glance, curious eyes full of confusion. Silly boy. Did he think I had no secrets?
"For her birthday her parents had given her a set of small golden balls, beautiful works of art more than toys," I recalled. "However, that mattered little. When she was sent to live at Pendennis Hall she was allowed only a few items of leisure, and among these were her shiny new balls. She often played with them when she was not studying with her tutor or being instructed in the genteel arts of lute playing and weaving by the ladies of the household."
The Watchers each looked a bit startled and one of them -- Angelus', I think -- finally cleared his throat and asked, "Pendennis Hall, you say?"
I couldn't help the near smirk that slid across my lips. "Yes, Catherine was fostered at Pendennis Hall by the Huntington family until she was married six years later to a man four times her age … but that's another story."
"So, what is the story?" Cordelia asked, her voice bored.
"It starts on Michealmas night in 1595," I continued. "There were games and mummers and feasting, players and minstrels and all sorts of merrymaking, but Catherine was unhappy because it was the first holiday away from her family. She left the group to play on her own … she would close her eyes and toss or roll the balls, then chase after them. A simple game and one she was almost too old to enjoy, but in those early days even simple childhood pleasures gave her joy."
"Grandmummy," Drusilla whispered conspiratorially. "Don't tell the nasty Watchers … they'll use you again."
"Damn it, Dru," I snapped. "Quit interrupting."
Drusilla whimpered as if stung and I sighed, unable to deal with her mutterings during my story. As strange as it sounds I wanted to continue recounting my tale even if, as Drusilla suspects, it will one day come back to haunt me.
"On that night one of Catherine's balls rolled down what was called the Tower hall," I told them. "You see, Pendennis Hall was in its third incarnation. It began as a Norman fortress in the twelfth century -- complete with square towers -- then became a monastery. After King Henry broke with Rome and confiscated all the Church lands, he occasionally gave them to loyal supporters, which is how it came into the possession of the Huntington family. They had made many repairs and additions to the property since the monastery had been in decline."
I raised a glass of wine I'd accepted from Angelus to my lips as I paused. The red liquid slipped over my tongue and I admit I was surprised that he even bothered to stock such a vintage. Didn't he brood too much to enjoy such a treat? One of the Watchers removed his glasses and stared appraisingly as he wiped the lenses. "Please, continue," he invited.
A bitter laugh echoed in my head. Oh, yes, those two were interested even if no one else was. "One lone tower was all that remained from its days as a fortress and it was connected to the new additions by a long hall that stretched across part of the old monastery. Lord Huntington supposedly kept his coffers in the old tower so the huge door on the hall leading into it was usually bolted shut from the inside. On this night, however, the door was open a bit and Catherine's balls rolled through it and disappeared into the dark … "
Catherine stared at the door for a quarter hour as she debated what to do. Losing her beloved gift was simply unacceptable, but so was venturing into the tower in search of the tiny treasures. She had been warned about the wrath that would be visited upon her head if she was caught in the tower, and decided as she picked up her skirts and slipped through the door that she would not be caught. The darkness was nearly absolute and she crept slowly closer to the lighter area, her slippers making no sound on the stone floor. Upon reaching the edge, she found that the light source was a window that was covered by a drape, heavy tapestry panels that she carefully pulled to the side.
Silvery moonlight flooded a barren room and Catherine's eyes widened as she found a large mirror to be its only occupant. There was another door, but she discovered after a few tugs that it was bolted shut and so returned her eyes to the window. Iron bars had once filled it, she thought as her fingers traced the grooves in the stone, bars that kept out invaders and kept others prisoner.
They no longer needed bars to keep prisoners, however, and Catherine quickly abandoned her flights of fancy to search for her balls so that she could be gone from the tower before she was discovered. Two of the balls were recovered within moments but the third proved more elusive. An entire half hour had passed before she realized that it would not be long before she was missed. Tears filled her eyes at the thought of abandoning her search; she hated to lose one of her treasures and she hated that Lord Huntington could find it in here and know that she had disobeyed a direct order. Catherine stood shaking and crying in the cold room, her breath ragged as images played out in her mind. Indeed, she was so upset by what she thought would happen that she barely noticed the fog and mist building inside the mirror.
However, she did notice the mirror when its surface went from foggy to obsidian. A gaping darkness filled the frame and, as she stared, a figure appeared where her reflection should be. Catherine gasped aloud; the woman in the mirror was as lovely as her mother but flaxen-haired as she herself was, and dressed in silk and velvet with pearls at her ears and throat. She whirled around but found nothing but the silent room and when she peered at the mirror once more the figure seemed to see her and smile, holding out a hand.
"Catherine … "
She shuddered as her name echoed in the cavernous room. What sort of witchery was this? For it was surely witchery -- nothing this strange happened naturally and she froze as the lady in the mirror knelt and leaned forward, as if to reach through the glass.
Just then the glass began to fog once more, the mists stretching out tendrils of smoke from the edges that would soon obscure the vision. Catherine started to protest, but any sound she was capable of making died in her throat as the woman's beautiful face twisted into a horrific countenance.
"Demon," she stuttered as she squeezed her eyes shut and crossed herself as her mother had privately instructed.
When Catherine opened her eyes the mirror was clear once more and cast back nothing more than her reflection and the empty room. Heart pounding, she pulled the drapes closed and fled the room, only to quickly take refuge behind the tapestry hangings in the hall to avoid being seen by her guardian. Catherine held her breath and listened to him swear as her fear reached overwhelming heights before being diminished by the words of his companion.
"As we suspected," her guardian answered as he bolted and locked the door. "It must never leave this place … the results could be disastrous."
As the two retreated back down the hall Catherine allowed herself to relax. Her trembling knees buckled and she slid to the floor and gasped for breath between tears, unable to comprehend what she had seen and that she had obviously gotten away with breaking a cardinal rule of the household. Only she really hadn't, she realized as she stood up and started back to the party.
One of her gold balls was gone.
Such silence. One would think they had never heard a story before. Most of the group looks shocked or confused, but Angelus is looking at me with his sad and pitying eyes and the Watchers look nervous. Hmmm … I wonder why they could be nervous. Perhaps because their safety net of belief has been shattered? If so, let's see what they think of the rest of it.
Or rather, that particular part.
"It's funny," I remarked. "It was exactly three hundred years ago tonight that I paid a visit to Pendennis Hall. The Huntingtons all died off and the manor had been left to moulder since the last days of the Protectorate … which meant that, although it had passed into the hands of a distant cousin, it was no one's residence and I could enter. And the wards that had been set were such paltry things, easy to defy since no one had tended to them in over a decade."
Memories filled my mind as I remembered my last visit to the crumbling house and I found myself speaking without conscious thought to what I was saying. "Nothing had changed, not really … it was decayed, abandoned, but I could still hear the music if I listened. The bolt on the tower door was nothing, a flick of my wrist and I was free to enter the dusty room … and I no longer needed the moonlight to see … "
"What?" Buffy whispered, more curious than she would care to admit.
"The mirror was still there, much to my surprise," I recalled. "I was certain they would have taken it away but I suppose they never expected that Cromwell and the Roundheads and that ilk would ever wrestle power from the monarch. Stupid of them, really, to think that nothing would change. I looked at the mirror, stood in front of it and cast no reflection … I was convinced it was nothing until the mist began to form and the glass went black … "
"Darla?" Angel asked. "Darla, what did you see?"
I didn't answer him immediately. The flame of the candle on the table beside me was quite alluring actually, and I was idly passing a wine-drenched finger through the flame as I considered finishing the tale. What was the harm? They could do nothing with the information except connect dots. Hell, it might spur a rereading of their biased history.
"I saw young Catherine," I told him. "She looked away, surprised to see me and turned back a moment later. I called to her, why I cannot say, but I think … I think it was to warn her not to trust her brother or the others … warn her away from those who would be responsible for her destruction … I was so angry, then, when the mirror began to fog again … I snarled because for the first time I tasted the magic in the air, knew the mirror for what it was … "
I could not tell them the rest. Never could I tell them that I saw a second image in the glass, another glimpse of Catherine … but a Catherine with whom I was much more acquainted, dying alone in a strange land where the one she turned to for help refused her.
"My necklace snapped and the pearls were scattered to the edges of the room," I finished. "Payment for services rendered, I suppose. I tried to shatter the glass but it's enchanted -- or cursed -- and I failed. I eventually covered it with one of the tapestry drapes and left."
Silence reigned as the crowd digested my little revelation, but the Watchers were exchanging those little glances that allowed them to communicate without words. They both hesitated and I smiled; their need to know would get the better of them right about …
"Ah, hmm," Wesley murmured. "Darla … "
Giles sat forward. "Would you answer a question for us?"
I studied him over the rim of my glass and hid my smile in its depths. "Of course."
"What was Catherine's family name?"
I could see Angelus' little ex-Watcher -- Wesley, that was it -- hold his breath and I smiled at him. "Brandon. Her name was Catherine Brandon."
Wesley choked and Giles swore under his breath and I laughed to myself for a moment before leaning forward and locking eyes with my questioner. "Now that I have answered your question, Mr. Giles, will you answer one for me?"
His head jerked in a nod.
I felt the smile slide from my face as I let my eyes harden. "Tell me, do any of my treacherous brother William's get still exist within your Council? Or have they all died out?"
I watched a pale Wesley shoot little glances at Giles, whose eyes never left mine. "Indirectly, yes," he answered.
"Pity for you, Mr. Giles."
"Why do you say that?"
I lifted by brows in surprise. "Why, I would think that's obvious, Mr. Giles. They're all a treacherous lot."
"You can't know that," Wesley managed to force out in a strangled voice.
"Of course I can," I told him as I leaned back and sipped the wine as the mantle of last storyteller of the evening fell from my shoulders.
"It's in the blood, after all."