Chapter Fourteen: Damsel in Distress
Standard Disclaimer: I do not own the copyrights to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, X-COM: Enemy Unknown, Stargate Atlantis or Stargate SG-1. All of the above belong to their respective copyright holders.
"How is she?" Buffy asked Dehya.
The elven girl shrugged, dusting off her healer's robe. "Hard to tell. Master Amn and I have been dosing her with blood restoration chants and strengthening oils for the last hour, and she's still too weak to regain consciousness. It'll be a while before she's in a position to be woken."
Buffy glanced around the infirmary. It seemed like any other room in the castle, except for the curtained-off sections around each bed and the glass cabinets stocked with bottles of various types.
Their rescuee was lying in the nearest bed, with bandages and salves spread liberally over her skin. Buffy had flashes of her few times in hospital. This couldn't be the nicest place to wake up in.
"We'll call you when she wakes," suggested Dehya. Recognizing a dismissal when she heard one, Buffy decided to go and brief Thorne.
Over the next several hours, Buffy and Frost found themselves going over what they'd heard - and learnt - many times with different people. The seers wanted exact details of the prophecy of Artafos. They explained the two phrases they knew. Thorne wanted details of the vampires' movements - he'd already sent troops to the various settlements, trying to figure out where the Ghauvr demons were. The archivist had shown up - a stuffy little elf with a serious attitude problem - complaining that he couldn't find any details about the Ghauvr demons, and are you sure the vamp didn't just make that up? Frost had thrown him out.
Lunch was a subdued affair, with slices of fruit delivered from the kitchen as they obsessed over ancient books and sketchily drawn maps. Between bites, Buffy asked Sedhya: "How long has Dehya been a healer?"
"She's been wanting to be one since she was five," responded the elf-girl, "but she started her formal apprenticeship after coming here. Forty years now."
Buffy's eyebrows shot up. "An apprentice for forty years?"
"No, she qualified as a full healer thirty years ago. But yes, ten years is a long period of apprenticeship. As one human healer once said, life is short and the art is long." A grin. "Fortunately, elven life is not short..... Dehya's primary skills are blood replenishment and mind stabilization. She's not needed too often since we're all ridiculously healthy, but her skills would make a major difference on the battlefield. Or during a siege."
"Or with a vampire attack victim?"
It was evening when Dehya came by. "She's awake. You can see her," she held up a hand as Thorne, Buffy, Frost, Sedhya and Lancaster all got up, "one at a time. Only one visitor to start with; if she doesn't get agitated, Master Amn has agreed to allow a second."
Thorne nodded. "We'll wait outside. Buffy first, then Frost, and if Master Amn allows, me next."
The girl still looked incredibly fragile, Buffy thought. Some of the colour had returned to her cheeks, though.
Buffy sat by the bedside. "Hi. I'm Buffy. What's your name?"
The girl turned to look at her. "Eleya, milady."
"I'm nobody's lady, just call me Buffy. You know where you are?"
"The nice healer told me. Castle Autumn." She paused. "Is the village okay?"
"What village is that?"
"I'm from Enneswood. The last thing I remember is those ... things .... attacking me and the others doing the washing."
"Don't worry, we've send help to Enneswood." Buffy remembered the name - it was one of the places Thorne had dispatched troops to, to find out if the Ghauvr were planning to attack. "Do you remember anything of what happened while you were with the monsters?"
The halfelf cringed slightly. "It was scary. I don't want to remember."
A suspicion entered Buffy's mind. "Eleya, how old are you?"
This had to be the youngest elf - or halfelf - Buffy had ever met. Still, it explained a lot. "Eleya, you're in a safe place, and there's no-one here who would hurt you. We already killed all those monsters, and we're going to keep you safe. Will you trust me on this?"
Eleya nodded hesitantly.
"Don't worry about a thing. We'll even teach you to fight the monsters, if you want."
"Oh, I could never do that, ma'am."
"Balls. I fought 'em off and I'm only twenty."
Eleya's eyes were wide. "But, ma'am... begging your pardon... you're a full-blood. You're Sidhe. You look almost a hundred."
"Well, that's not a nice thing to say about someone."
Eleya giggled. It was a good giggle. "Ma'am, you don't look old, I mean you look .... distinguished."
Buffy grinned. "Distinguished, huh? You must be pretty good with the diplomacy."
"Thank you, ma'am."
"So, Eleya, you'll stay here?"
"If permitted, ma'am."
They chatted for a bit. Buffy learnt that Eleya had grown up with her human mother in Enneswood, that she'd never met her father but knew he was a noble of the Winter Court, that she'd had a hard time growing up as the only half-elf in a village of mostly human inhabitants, and that she'd been running her mother's old shop for the last year. And that she loved to read, and was a 'minor talent' at magic.Willow would get along famously with this one. Oh well.
After a while, Buffy felt Frost walk into the room. She nodded at him. "Eleya, this is my friend Jack. He helped us to bring you out of that place."
Eleya blushed. "Thank you, Lord Jack."
Frost bowed low. "It was my honour, and I am no lord. Please call me Jack."Well,
thought Buffy, that's nice of him. Maybe Frosty is thawing out a bit.
"Eleya," she continued, "would you tell us a bit more about the vampires?"
Seemingly a bit more comfortable now, Eleya began to go into more details about what she could remember. It was not much. She, too, had heard the name 'the Destroyer', but little more than that.
"They did mention," she explained, "that he was to the south. I got the sense they meant very far to the south..."
"Beyond Land's End?" inquired Frost.
"Maybe.... There was one who said 'when the next ship comes in'. They were talking about when they might get fresh supplies of flameweed."
"When the next ship comes in? That means the port at Land's End is operational." Frost's brow furrowed. "If the demons have a working port..... Maybe it means their base is on the South Continent."
"The South Continent?"
"I haven't been there in a long time. Not since the Vashari patrol, for sure." He steepled his fingers, frowning and thinking.
"The Vashari campaign?" inquired Eleya. "They taught us in school it was a great victory. Led by...." She paused. Blinked.
"Let me guess, Frosty," grinned Buffy. "You led that 'great victory'?"
Frost nodded. "Not one of my best campaigns. We did have a good propaganda department, though."
Buffy turned to smirk at Eleya.
But the halfelf had gone white. She was clutching at the edge of the bed, almost as if she was trying to crawl away.
Buffy turned to Frost, puzzled.
"Lord Frost," squeaked Eleya. "I beg your pardon. I would never have presumed... I have presumed too much... forgive me, please...." She was turning whiter and whiter.
Master Amn rushed up to them. "Get away from the patient!"
"But...." began Buffy.
"Now! I said no agitating the patients! You two need to leave! Now!"
The Slayer could hardly squawk a word before the healer rushed them from the room.
"All right," snapped Buffy as soon as they were outside. "Would someone explain to me what that
Frost looked defensive. "I didn't do anything." He looked around, perhaps hunting for Thorne... but the elf-lord had left some time ago, and now only Lancaster and Dehya were witness to their exit from the infirmary.
"Well, I don't get it. That girl wasn't just nervous, she was terrified
of you. You know why. Tell me."
Frost's face was stony. Dehya was looking desperate to be anywhere else.
Surprisingly, it was Lancaster who answered:"Winter's breath chills the glade.
Ice and frost be his blade.
The children dance in Danu's eye
When Winter comes, they shall die.
Flee now from that winter breeze.
In your throat it shall freeze.
In Winter's hands our hearts will break.
And Winter will our last lives take.
Winter is the killing cold.
Winter is us growing old.
Winter ends the days of grace.
The horseman rides with Winter's face."
Lancaster turned and bowed to Buffy. "Lady Summer. I give you Sir Jack Frost, Lastborn of the Elven houses, First Sword of the Court of Autumn, Lord of Snow and Ash, Knight of Winter, and prophesied Last of the Elves."
Frost's expression was deadly cold. "I told you never to call me by that name." He wheeled and marched out.
Lancaster said nothing. Just... stood there.
"What does that mean?" asked Buffy.
"Father was not born of a normal elven line," explained Dehya. "His father.... was a creature of the snows. A spirit of hoarfrost." She paused. "It seduced a mortal woman, who gave birth to him despite having never lain with a man. He was born an elf of an unknown line."
"He was born to humans
"A cross between human and spirit," explained Lancaster. "Such crosses have great power.... but are rare in these days. Once, a long time ago, when the magic was strong - elves were born of such pairings between mortals and spirits. All the ancient houses trace their lineage back to such pairings." He paused. "But... there hasn't been a new house born this way for thousands of years. None of the living elf-kin remember such a birth, which means that the last one was at least fifty thousand years ago.
"To make matters worse - the day he came to the Court of Winter, a young elf with a burning desire to prove himself worthy - a Seer of Winter spoke this prophecy. She spoke of the last child of Winter, the last-born house, who would mark the end of the Elven race."
"The children of Danu," murmured Buffy. "Elves."
"When Winter comes, they shall die," agreed Lancaster. "The horseman rides with Winter's face - the fourth horseman, Death. They say Frost is the death of the elves.
"A bleak prophecy to place on the shoulders of a newcomer, one unfamiliar with our ways. An even worse fate to place on the shoulders of one so young, who had not yet passed his thirtieth year, on his first day in court.
"He was challenged, of course, by several of the most accomplished warriors of the Unseelie."
"He defeated them all. Every one who came against him. Perhaps, if he had been less deadly.... Five elves died by his hand that day, five of the fifteen who challenged him. Perhaps he grew weary after the sixth, or seventh, or eighth fight, and wanted to end it quickly.... perhaps he hoped that, by using a crippling blow, he would end the endless rounds of challenges. Nonetheless, he miscalculated, and killed instead of crippling. After that, the elves demanded the duels be to the death. He had no choice."
"He killed five people on his first day in court." It seemed unreal.
"It was two hundred and twenty years ago, and yet they remember that his first day in court brought death. And more, the prophecy and its interpretation... He is loved by those who disregard the prophecy and see the elf. He is hated by those who cannot forget it and cannot see what he truly is."
"And what is he?" asked Buffy.
"A true heart," replied Lancaster. "A loyal servant. A generous master. A caring father. A trustworthy friend. A noble soul. A worthy spirit."
Buffy nodded. "A good elf."
"So many cannot see that," continued Lancaster. "Lord Thorne saw it, perhaps before any other. It was he who offered Frost friendship, when Mab's lackeys spit on him, told him he was unworthy to be of the Court. They could not deny him, not after he proved himself in battle against the highest of the Sidhe, but they did everything they could to unmake him. Only a few in that Court ever cared to call him anything other than lackey." He sighed. "And yet, for all the hate he receives in the Court of Shadow, he would never be welcome amongst the shining ones. They are of Summer, and would cast him out as unworthy. Only here, where Autumn bridges the two, can he feel belonged. And so, for the last two hundred years, he has been the strongest sword to speak for the Autumn."
"Lady Alezuya must have been among them, then?"
"She was the only woman who ever saw him as a man," confessed Lancaster. "The others... to the Winterfae, he was a freak of nature, an abomination. They would have kept him with the dogs, fed him scraps from the table, if they could have. He endured much. He survived. Even then, they never treated him well. Only amongst those of Autumn has he found welcome, and kindness, and warmth, and respect."
"How did he and Alezuya...."
"Alezuya was young, not quite fifty, when they met. He was tolerated, then, by the older Fae, for who could challenge Thorne? Even then, they considered him an animal, below their dignity to deal with." He sighed. "When they came to know of the dalliance, they sent the Winterguard on him. Attacking an accredited diplomat... He was forced to fight, again, and flee the wrath of Mab afterwards. Only when Thorne sent a clear message did things clear up."
"What kind of message?"
Lancaster grinned. "Three thousand battle-armored elves on a reconnaisance-in-force."
Buffy smiled. It seemed exactly like what she would have done for a loyal friend. "Did they back off?"
"Yes, on the condition that Lady Alezuya not be taken away from the Court of Shadows and that her children be raised there. Thorne had to agree to that .... Alezuya could never have left her family that easily. Ekzel gave his word that there would be no hurt done to Alezuya's children."
"Alezuya's uncle, head of the Water Fishers clan." Lancaster paused. "He served as clan head until his death about twenty years later. That was when his son, Zel, became head of the Clan."
"Zel..." Buffy could remember. "You mean the one who...."
"Killed my mother?" asked Dehya. "Yes, that one. Her own cousin... wanted her dead for siring us." She exhaled. "Now you know why Father doesn't want anything to do with the Court of Shadows."
Buffy sighed. Every time she thought she had a handle on things, they got more complicated.
Thorne found her on the roof an hour later.
"I understand," he commented, "that you learnt the truth about Frost."
Buffy shrugged. "It's none of my business."
"Only..." she trailed off, ".... it's just. Too much, y'know? He's got all this broody destiny thing going, and it's not a good thing."
"In a sense, I suppose not," nodded Thorne.
They fell silent for a while, and watched the pigeons together. The birds were trying to pry open the eyes of the bound demon. Buffy wondered whether she should show them the easiest way to wake a demon. On second thoughts, maybe not - Thorne probably had enough on his plate for now.
The aforementioned lord was now relaxing in front of the stone statue.
"You know," mentioned Buffy, "just once - just once this year, at least - I'd like to be part of a team with lesser neuroses, psychoses and other types of -oses."
Thorne nodded gravely. "-Oses are no bed of roses."
Buffy shot him an annoyed look. "Was that a joke?"
"Humour in small doses."
"Aaargh!! The Prophecy of Artafos, the prophecy of Frost, what next? You'd think there were enough prophecies already. And how am I supposed to deal with Frosty the Terrifying Snowman?"
Another grave nod. "A serious problem this poses."
"Stop that. Help me out here, and not with the rhyming."
Thorne's face took on a somber look. "Buffy, I've found that if you let all the problems hit you at the same time, they will overwhelm you. It does not have to be that way. Prioritize your problems. Is Frost's eventual transition into a cold-hearted angel of death an immediate problem?"
"Is Artafos an immediate problem."
"I'd say maybe to yes. We don't know when the Destroyer is going to make his move. Heck, we don't even know which Destroyer it is."
"So, work on that. One war at a time?"
"One war at a time? .... Did you ever have to choose between wars?"
Thorne smiled bitterly. "All the time."
"Wow. That's gotta suck."
"And so it does. Still, elf proposes..." here Thorne grinned, "... and Fate disposes. You may find yourself having to deal with two battles simultaneously. Be somewhat prepared for it - but do not seek out multiple confrontations at the same time. A war on two fronts is a spectacularly bad idea." He nodded to her, then turned to go.
"Maybe you should have told that to Napoleon," muttered Buffy sarcastically.
From Thorne's retreating form came the reply: "He didn't listen."