Disclaimer: BTVS belongs to Joss and Finovar is Guy's. Still not mine.
The massive dining hall was full of soldiers, courtiers, ladies, and bustling servers. Buffy, Giles, Willow and Xander were led to seats near the front the hall. They could see the blond prince talking to a slightly shorter dark haired man who wore worn, but well cared for, armor and a crown. Buffy gestured in their direction and asked Giles, “Is that the 'Grand Poobah'?”
Giles blanched and turned slightly, “Yes, Buffy, that is most likely the High King. Please do not use any of your delightful pop culture references when referring to their king. Most people tend to react poorly to such disrespect to royalty. Simply refer to him as 'Your Majesty.' Kings are 'Majesty' and princes are 'Highness.' There are no poobahs.”
Buffy widened her eyes and her mouth quirked as she murmured back, “Got it Mr. Majesty and Mr. High Ass.” Giles' left eye twitched slightly. Buffy stifled a small giggle and then offered a reassurance, “Don't worry Giles, I'll be good. Besides why worry about me? There's always Xander.” Hey, there goes that twitch again.
“Giles, maybe you should see someone about that twitch.” Any response that Giles might have was drowned out by a herald's cry for all diners to take their seats.
After the hall was seated, the food and drinks began to come out quickly. The blond prince, Diarmuid, stood and called for attention. He turned to his brother, High King Aileron, and bowed slightly. “I bear glad tidings my king! Our far traveled friends, Pwyll Twiceborn, Kevin, Davor and Lady Jennifer have come among us once more. They bring news of help.”
He then turned towards Buffy and her friends, “We also have new guests, Rupert Giles, Alexander, and the Ladies Buffy and Willow.” He gestured smoothly to the foursome.
Giles immediately stood and indicated that the others should stand as well. “It is an honor, your Majesty.” He gave a slight bow. “I am sure we will enjoy our visit here, however brief
it may be. His Highness, Prince Diarmuid has been a most gracious host.”
Diarmuid smiled again and faced the hall as he added, “Indeed, we are most fortunate to have such auspicious visitors. Which is why I have named them as guest-friends to our House. I have assured them that their honor is now my honor.” Diarmuid's voice carried throughout the now largely silent hall.
Aileron smiled stiffly as he looked at his brother. Buffy sensed there were undercurrents of tension between the two brothers, but she really didn't care about their family dynamics. She had her own family to take care of.
Aileron spoke at last, “I am pleased to welcome our new guest-friends. Diarmuid is quick to welcome newcomers, and I am sure this will be a most fortuitous visit.” His eyes promised danger if the visitors proved untrustworthy. Buffy smiled to herself, veiled threats she could deal with. She started to speak when Giles laid a restraining hand on her arm.
Giles cleared his throat, then looked steadily at the High King. “Thank you, your Majesty. Your brother was imminently clear about our welcome here. I am certain all parties will be able to meet with satisfaction by the end of our regrettably brief
visit.” He bowed again, waited for Aileron's nod and sank back into his chair in relief. Neither Buffy nor Xander had spoken, the immediate danger of irrevocably insulting their hosts had been avoided. I wonder if they can serve a decent cup of tea?
The servers brought forth platters of delectable foods and moved between the tables filling goblets with various wines. A slim young man rose and stood before the King requesting permission to sing in honor of the returned guests. As soon as he stood, the ambient noise of hall fell away into a waiting stillness. This man shone. He moved with an ethereal grace. To watch him was to know joy, longing and sorrow at the same time. When he smiled, a rippling of sighs followed. As he spoke, all attention focused on the words he spoke. Buffy had never seen such an embodiment of grace, beauty, light and longing.
Buffy turned to the man seated next to her, Dave ... Davor, and whispered, “Who is he? What is he?”
Dave smiled slightly at the wonder in her voice, “Brendel is one of the lios alfar. One of the Children of Light.” His voice shook a little with awe and longing of his own, “He honors us tonight. The lios alfar are the Weaver's answer to the Dark.” He shrugged, “Or so I've been told. Kevin could put it prettier, but it means they are special – Brendel is special.” He fell silent as Brendel's song wove throughout the hall.
At first Buffy only heard the beauty as he sang, melody flowing like motes of liquid silver and gold. His voice reminded her of a perfect summer day, laughing as her father swung her from his arms. Joy, light, loss and longing permeated each perfect note. She touched tears on her face in surprise and realized that almost everyone in the hall was moved to tears as the singer sang. The High King was unmoved though, as were his brother and the golden beauty, Jennifer. Jennifer seemed to listen from a far away place.
She listened as Brendel wove a song about the other visitors from a far away land. He sang about Pwyll Twiceborn, who sacrificed himself on the Summer Tree to free the land from drought, and became the voice of Mornir when he returned from the land of death. He sang of the seer Ysanne who sacrificed her soul and gave it as a gift to the outworld seer, Kimberly. Brendel sang of betrayal and sorrow. He sang of the slaughter of lios alfar and the capture of Jennifer, taken by the Black Swan, Avia, to her dark master Rakoth Maugrim. He sang of the horror of Rakoth Maugrim, who escaped in a explosion of power from his mountain prison of a thousand years. Brendel's flawless voice grew harsh as he sang of the Unraveller's bloody hand clawing a challenge across the sky. And still he sang before the silent hall. He sang of the death of a king and the passing of power. He sang of Kimberly, filled with the Baelrath's wild, crackling power, pulling Jennifer from Maugrim's fortress, the Starkadh. He sang of Kevin, who dared to rail against a god and vow vengeance for the broken, bleeding woman who had been Golden. He sang of courage, despair, love, anger, and in the end, he sang of hope. He sang of light. He was lios alfar, most beloved Child of Light. A sigh rippled through the hall when Brendel bowed his head and fell silent.
The High King spoke softly into the silence, “Brightly woven indeed. You remind us of our purpose.” He stood abruptly. “While we sit and feast, others suffer.” He nodded briefly towards Paul and Jennifer. “Others have paid much in blood. Our land lies wracked in unnatural winter, but still we must find a way to fight the Unraveller. He does not wait and his only purpose is destruction. War council, meet with me in the war room.” He glanced towards Buffy, Giles, Willow and Xander. “I apologize. We will attempt to send you back to your home, but my war comes first.” He turned sharply and walked out.
Buffy felt a surge of anger wash through her. The wonderment and awe of the lios alfar broken by the king's brusque manner. “Giles, did he just bail on us? So, what? The pretty song means we don't go home?” She frowned in frustration. “Willow, can't you just find a way to send us home? You've got so much power, maybe you and Giles could cook up a spell and send us home.”
Giles sighed and rubbed his forehead as Willow started to tremble. “Buffy, you know that is not an answer to this predicament. Willow's control is far too erratic for such a powerful spell.” He raised his hand to forestall any other argument from Buffy. “Please be rational. Even if Willow was fully in control of her magical abilities, spells require more than power or a cantrip. Magic is a powerful force that cannot be used injudiciously. If we attempt to return home through magical means, we need to know exactly where we are in relation to where we want to go, we need to know how much power would be necessary for such a return, and we need to know the cost. Willow's...er...dilemma was predicated precisely because she failed to take these factors into consideration.”
Buffy interrupted as he paused, “Okay, I get it. A magical solution is not of the good. At least not without more intel.” She rolled her head in annoyance, “I'm sorry, but Dawn alone is like asking demon kidnappers to come by for milk and cookies, with a side of, ... uh ..., Dawn. I've been taking her with me more, but she is sooo not ready to be alone on a hellmouth..”
Xander threw his arms around Buffy and Willow, “S'ok Buffy, we have a little time. Remember, we're in a freaky little dimension that time moves differently in. For once, time is on our side.”
Buffy, Willow, Xander and Giles followed their escorts back to their rooms. Buffy and Willow allowed the servants to help them out of their clothes and then dismissed them for the evening. Buffy happily changed back into her own clothes. “Much better,” she decalred. Willow raised an eyebrow questioningly. “Oh, you know, the breathing and the moving thing. Those clothes were so not slayer friendly.” Willow chuckled in agreement.
“Buffy, what are we going to do? There is no way you're just going to sit around waiting for these people to do something.” Willow looked at her friend and added softly, “I swear I didn't have anything to do with our being here. The coven has been monitoring me so closely. I couldn't float a pencil, much less create a spell to transport us to a completely different dimension or reality, without one of them knowing and all of them shutting me down. However this happened, it wasn't my mistake. I promise! Oh, and I've never once said the 'W' word either.”
“I know, Wil'” Buffy reassured her friend. “I pretty much figured this wasn't your fault the first time you told me. That, plus the other people showing up from a world remarkably like ours. Since they were expected, I'm thinking we were caught up by mistake. I think they know exactly how to send us home. They're either too caught up with their war, don't think we're important enough or don't trust us enough to send us back.”
“Oh.” Willow thought about the situation a moment longer and then hit herself in the forehead with heel of her hand. “Duh! How could I be so stupid. We probably got caught in the 'call,' if they didn't put the right limitations on their spell.” Buffy cocked her head and waited for more of an explanation.
“Well, part of magic is manipulating energy with will. But there are rules. You know, the rules I pretty much ignored?” Willow paused and took a breath, “When you want something to happen magically, you need to set stipulations and limitations. Some limits are pre-set, based on how much power the person making the request has, or the type of request. But other limits need to be set by the person casting the spell. That's why weather magic is so tricky. You can't just look up in the sky and say 'I want rain.' Cos' the rain could come down hard or soft, it could rain for 10 minutes or 10 days, it could be accompanied by killer lightning storms or tornadoes. Without limitations and stipulations, you end up with a scene like Mickey Mouse with the mops and the water in Fantasia.” She shuddered. “That scene still gives me the wiggins. Anyway, that's probably what happened.”
“So we got caught up in their flight plan?”
Willow nodded, “Pretty much. Of course, the PTB's probably had a hand in it too. Buffy, maybe the PTB's want you to help them against this Rakoth Maugrim guy. You heard what they're fighting tonight. Does he sound a little like a certain Hell-Bitch we all know and remember?”
Buffy snorted, “I don't care. Mr. Rack of Grim is so not my problem. Dawn almost died the last we came up against a hell-god. This is their world and their problem. Our problems are getting back home, keeping Dawnie safe and helping you get better.”
Willow stiffened. Helping me get better? Like I was sick? As if losing T..Tara was some illness I'll get over? As if I hadn't tried to end the planet ... how do I get better when all I ever see is her blood and that look of surprise? Oh sweet Goddess, how do I get better without her? Tara is dead. There is nothing else. How does this get better?
She could feel darkness still within her, the blood rich power rising to press upon her whispering a seductive promise of emptiness. Oblivion for the easy price of submission. The scent of ozone hummed and crackled in the air. Crack! Willow's head snapped to the side from the force of Buffy's slap.
“Willow! Snap out of it. You're losing control again.” Buffy forced herself to not to hug the trembling redhead. She let her voice get cold. “We can't afford another apocalypse right now. I need you sane.”
Willow lifted a shaking hand to wipe at the tiny rivulet of blood leaking from her broken lips and grimaced. “That'll bruise in the morning.” She sighed. “I'm sorry Buffy. I'm trying so hard, but I feel so empty inside. Sometimes I, I almost w-”
“Thought you were avoiding the 'W' word,” Buffy quickly interrupted. She reached out to her friend and hugged her. “I'm sorry. I don't want to be scared of you, and I won't give up on you. We are all so worn down from the last few years. We all miss her, Willow. We miss you too.” Buffy touched the reddened hand print and ruefully winced. “Yep, that's gonna bruise. Still we've done worse to each other.” She hugged Willow once more and said softly, “We'll make it through this, Wil'. We're all so screwed up, but hey, life on the hellmouth right?” Buffy smiled weakly.
“What if I don't want to make it anymore?” Her despair laden question hung in the air.
“Then we'll just keep hugging and slapping you until you do.” The joke was flimsy at best, but it still brought tremulous smile to Willow's face. Before anything else could be said, Buffy cocked her head and signaled for quiet. “Someone's coming this way,” she said softly. She turned back to her friend and apologized. “Listen, I'm sorry for this but I have to leave you alone for a little bit. I need to find out what's going on, and Wil',” she paused with a sigh, “you just aren't ready yet. Let Giles and Xander know I went out to see what's the what, ok?” Without waiting for a response, Buffy slipped out the door.