Taming the Muse prompt - Wergeld
Warning: Gratuitously bad puns
Summary: Buffy receives a challenge she can't refuse.
Disclaimer: The characters of BTVS are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. They own all, I own nothing. Beta: thismaz
Of Slayers, Smoochies and Other Obstacles to World Domination
“Giles…” Buffy shrieked, as the arrow hissed past her head and embedded itself in the side of one of the library shelves. “Giles, put the teapot down and get out here.”
“Really, Buffy,” Giles huffed. “There’s no need to be quite so forceful. A simple knock on the office door would have sufficed, and I suppose I’m going to regret this question, but exactly why are you hiding under the table?”
“Good question Giles, old man.” Xander said as he ambled through the library entrance, tray of coffees in hand. Willow peered over his shoulder surveying the scene with interest, one hand towing Oz behind her. Oz seemed quite content to be the towee. “Enquiring minds want to know. I mean, it’s not like you to be doing the cowering and the skulking. I thought that was my job?”
“Xander, you don’t cower. You just have a healthy sense of self preservation.” Willow patted his arm, smiling reassuringly and looked back to Oz for a nod of confirmation.
“Well, now that we’ve re-established my manliness; what gives with the hide and seek, Buff?”
Buffy looked at him distractedly and glanced back at the thick layer of library dust coating the front of her skirt. “What? Oh, yeah. Well, it was the old duck and cover move to avoid being kebabed by that!” She point accusingly at the arrow and looked expectantly back to Giles. “So, what do we know about Robin Hood?” she asked innocently.
Giles peered at the arrow cautiously, and with no little effort pulled it out of the wood. He scowled at the hole gouged out of the bookshelf.
Xander slid over to stand next to Buffy, who was still fussing over her skirt. “Well, I suppose it beats the mail man for getting your attention, but I think I’d rather go back to traditional methods of delivery in the future. Less potential for being skewered. So, Giles, expound. Tell us your thoughts about the arrow and its inevitable portents of doom.”
Giles looked up from his examination of the arrow. “Well, I do think the delivery method was just to make a point. I suspect the meat of the mystery may be answered by the parchment wrapped around it.” Giles touched the paper gingerly and began to unwrap it slowly. “By the way, Buffy, did you happen to see who shot the arrow?”
“Are you serious?” She looked at him incredulously. “I was too busy trying not to get perforated. Anyway, what gives with the express mail delivery? Someone really wanted to get their message to us in a hurry.”
Giles scanned the message silently, his expression getting more grave with every line.
“Come on Giles, it can’t be that serious, surely?” Willow look at Oz anxiously and then back to Giles.
“I can feel an Oh Dear Lord coming on” Xander whispered in Buffy’s ear, making her giggle and earning a glare from Giles.
“Yes, well, perhaps I’d better just read what is written, yes?”
I, Aguti, ruler of the worlds between life and death do by the laws of the ageless void claim the life of the Slayer as Wergeld for my beloved brother Björnkarl the Mighty Hunter. Murdered on the eve of his betrothal, the Clan claim blood wite for this unlawful and terrible act. Under ancient law, I demand the head of the Slayer to be brought before me at the next full moon or the lives of all who follow her shall be forfeit and vengeance will be ours to claim. We have law on our side. We commend our demands and declaration to the righteous Gods.
There was a moment of silence, before everyone started talking at once. Buffy sat down heavily on the edge of the table, looking confused. Willow clung to Oz’s arm, digging her fingers into the creases in his coat. Xander just stood looking at Giles with disbelief. He turned to look at Buffy. “Buff, did you really kill someone called Björnkarl the Mighty Hunter? I mean, shouldn’t that go on your resumé or something? How long ‘til the next full moon Giles, because we’ve got some serious slaying to do here?”
“It’s tomorrow night” volunteered Oz softly, before Giles could form an answer. “It’s kind of at the front of my mind at the moment.” Willow petted him gently.
All eyes turned back to Buffy and she squirmed under the scrutiny. “What, I didn’t kill Björn whatever his name is. I don’t ask every vamp I dust for a calling card, but I think I would have remembered someone like that. Especially if they talked like that during my pre-dusting quippage routine. So we need a plan, because I’m really not liking the whole head of the Slayer concept.”
Xander moved up and patted the top of her head. “Yep, we like Buffy heads right where they belong and that’s on Buffy necks. Anyway, back to the Were-guild thing. So that’s like, kind of a social club for werewolves then? Like a wolfy version of the Masons?”
Giles looked irritated, but Xander ploughed on, intent on finishing his riff. “I mean, there must be other people like Oz out there, being hunted and going all Ozzy Osborne every full moon. They should band together, go on marches, have T-shirts printed with – ‘Werewolf Pride’, or ‘I’m Furry, but I’m Cuddly’. Perhaps, ‘A Werewolf is for Life, not just for Halloween’. I mean Willow and Buffy get all grouchy once a month; the full moon is just the wolfy equivalent. There could be… what? What? Why is everyone looking at me like that? Have I got something on my nose or something? Maybe it’s…ouch.” Xander glared at Willow, who just smiled sweetly at him and put the ruler back in her bag.
“If you’re quite finished Xander, perhaps we can get back to the problem at hand.” Giles looked tired and harassed, and all of a sudden Xander just felt guilty.
“Sorry” he said softly. “Everyone was just panicking so much. I was just trying to lighten the atmosphere for a minute. Sorry.”
“Well I thought it was funny,” Oz murmured. “It’s certainly given me food for thought.”
“Talking of food, this Slayer can’t make war plans without chocolate” With that, Buffy moved purposefully for the door.
“It’s alright Buff, I’ll go” Xander volunteered. “The vending machine and I have an understanding and it’s probably better you hear what Giles has to say about the wergeldly thing.” He turned quickly, and strode off down the corridor, intent on his mission.
“Right, now we have a little order in the room I can explain.” Giles looked around with his best school master glare. “Please keep any questions, comments, observations or bad jokes until then end. Ah, Xander, welcome back." He looked at each of them, as if measuring their attention. “Wergeld, or wergild as it is sometimes known, literally means man-money. It dates back to Anglo Saxon and before that to Old Norse, when honour demanded that a life taken had to be balanced by the value of that life. So the money, or wergild, was paid back to the dependents by the killer, either individual or State.”
Giles looked around again, seeing various stages of boredom and disinterest flitting across every face, except Willow who was looking at him raptly. "I trust this is making sense,” he said dryly, enjoying the embarrassed shuffles and nods. “I admit it’s not a word in modern circulation, but it’s fascinating to see the way modern science fiction and fantasy writers have utilised ancient languages to their own ends, to create their own mythic linguistics.”
“So, this is just dandy. I’m looking for a vamp who’s read too much Sword and Sorcery?” Buffy looked at Giles, worriedly. “There won’t be any Elves, will there? I mean, I really don’t want to fight anything that has better hair than me.”
Giles could feel the tension starting to creep up his neck as his audience stared at him and he looked longingly at the locked drawer where he kept his decent bottle of Malt. “No Buffy, I don’t think there will be any Elves. Or Dwarves, trolls, giants, dragons or walking trees. I was simply trying to put a modern context to some difficult historical concepts, so that they would be easier for you to grasp.”
Buffy smiled at him sunnily. “Oh, that’s okay then. Hang on, wait a minute. I think we’ve all just been insulted. Did anyone else feel insulted?”
Giles interrupted the potential diversion. “Can we get back to business, please? I believe that we are probably dealing with a very old vampire who is still living by the ancient codes of his ancestors. You will need all your wits about you when you face him. No doubt he has centuries of experience and guile to bring to the battle. However, the same codes will give him a sense of honour, which may work in our favour.”
Xander looked at Giles moodily, swallowing the remains of his chocolate in one huge bite. “So, this is great. Not only do we have to worry about Angelus stalking us, we also have to worry about some ancient vamp with a Conan fixation. But hey, maybe they’ll just kill each other? Like a two vamps for one stake kind of a deal.”
Willow grinned at Xander. “Giles, don’t you think we should research? I mean, that’s what we usually do when we get any kind of apocalypty message.”
Giles rubbed his eyes. “Well, yes of course, I would normally agree. But unfortunately my shelves are rather sparse on texts about ancient Scandinavian demonology. All the volumes which may be of use reside with the Council, and given the current deadlines I’m afraid research is not an option on this occasion, much as it pains me to admit it.”
“I could google him,” Willow offered.
Buffy slid off the table and moved resolutely towards the doors. “Google, smoogle, let’s just do it. I’ll go hunting, we’ll fight, I’ll slay and we can all go home and have a good night’s sleep and not worry about the Chem test tomorrow.”
Xander started to ask about the surprise test, when Giles intervened. “Buffy, I don’t know if that’s such a good idea. It could be a trap. You were specifically threatened. As were we all, now that I think about it.”
Buffy paused to pick up her weapons bag propped up against the wall behind the door. “Chill, Giles. All the more reason for a little bit of pre-emptive action. If he’s got so much honour, he won’t expect me to play dirty.”
“Well I suppose there is that. Very well. But please, be on your guard. This vampire is obviously very dangerous and not to be toyed with."
Buffy gave him a quick salute. “Check, no toying.” Giles smiled faintly, relieved at her unusual compliance. “But Giles,” she whined. “Where’s the fun in that?”
Giles looked back at the locked drawer longingly and followed the group out of the library. He promised himself a very large drink when he got back.
“You know, I’m beginning to get more and more cranky.” Buffy tossed her stake in air, boredom and frustration in every movement. “I mean, we’ve patrolled all the usual hot spots and not one solitary sniff of this Agassi vamp.”
“Aguti,” Giles corrected wearily. “I don’t think he would be much of a tennis player.”
“Okay, whatever. Anyway, Restfield is the last call on the list, so if he’s not here we really are going to have to come up with a new plan.” She looked around restlessly and started playing with her stake again.“You’d think he was scared of me or something.”
“I mean, he comes over with the big ‘I am’ in his demands, but I bet there’s a big yellow streak right up his back."
“Big, scaredy vamp. So much for centuries of experience and guile.”
“What?” She glared at Xander in exasperation and then followed his wide eyed gaze.
The Aphelion Tomb was lit by the soft glow of the almost full moon and Oz could feel a twitching sensation crawling under the surface of his skin. Standing by the entrance was a warrior, clothed in full battle gear with a winged helmet crowning a head of thick blonde hair, which was woven into intricate plaits. He strode forcefully towards the group, eyeing each one in turn before dismissing everyone but Buffy from his scrutiny.
“So Slayer, it is true. There is no honour in your line, or in the Council which you serve. Make peace with your Gods and present yourself for your punishment.”
Buffy just looked at him in astonishment. “Do you have any idea how ridiculous you look in that getup? Okay, the leather trousers and vest have a certain caché, but has no one told you that fur is definitely a no no these days. The coat really will have to go and the freaky metal head gear, just looks silly. I know vamps can’t look in the mirror, but you really should get feedback from a minion before leaving the crypt at night. Oh, and that whole punishment deal: firstly, I like my head right where it is, secondly, you don’t get to threaten my friends, and thirdly, both you and the brother I supposedly killed have really stupid names. So can we just fight, please?”
As the insults gathered momentum the vamp roared, slid into game face and raised his battle axe. He charged at Buffy, iron swinging in lethal circles and Buffy flipped gracefully out of the way and laughed. The rest of the group drew back discretely behind a nearby tomb stone and watched the action intently, ready to help if needed.
Xander shifted from one knee to the other, muttering to himself. “There’s something off about this, it’s on the tip of my tongue and it’s really bugging me.” He ran his hand distractedly along the back of his head, scratching at the mental itch. “Hang on a minute. It’s the voice, I’m sure I know that voice. Now where the hell is it familiar from?” He stood up creakily and crouched down behind the crumbling headstone, inching his way forward for a closer look.
He started, whacking his elbow on the broken cross, as Willow moved up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder. “God, Will. Just about gave me a heart attack. Gonna have a hell of a bruise tomorrow. Sometimes, I swear I don’t know why I crawl about in cemeteries at night when I could be safe at home, wrapped in a fleecy blanket, scaring myself to death with the latest Stephen King. At least I’d get to die of fright in the comfort of my own bed.
“Xander, you know…” Willow started to protest, when he stood up suddenly, banging his other arm. “I’ve got it. I knew I knew that voice. The summer before Buffy, remember Jesse and I went through that horror/sci-fi/fantasy kick – books, comics, films, role playing. You name it, we geeked it.” Willow nodded tentatively, totally confused by the way the night was going and about to point out that he was still obsessed with comic books. “One of the occasional gamers was a skinny, shy kid called James. James umm, James Stewart, that’s it, and yep he’d heard all the jokes. That’s him. That’s Aguti. Our geek is all growed up and set himself up as some kind of God.
Xander bounced up and down like Tigger on springs and moved towards the front of the mausoleum where the two fighters were still trading blows. “Hey James! James, hey Jimbo.” The vamp skidded to a stop, axe at the ready and looked round at the interloper in confusion.
“Who dares to interfere with the blood vengeance of Aguti. Get on your knees, serf and beg for a swift end to your pathetic existence.”
“Serf! Not so much with the serfing for the Xan man. I’m not that great with the whole communing with the endless expanses of the ocean, not since the swim team fiasco anyway.”
Aguti blinked and looked back at the Slayer questioningly.
“Don’t look at me. I never know what he’s talking about.”
“Hey, standing right here,” Xander protested. “Anyway, Aguti here is actually one James Stewart and yes, we’ve already done the bit about the jokes.” Buffy closed her mouth quickly. “Used to play D&D together, couple of summers back. You remember, Jimbo? Jesse, me and a couple of others getting down and dirty with the fate of Middle Earth."
The vampire stepped closer and peered at the boy. “By the halls of Valhalla, Xander? Man, I didn’t recognise you. You’ve got taller and broader and your hair is different." Willow and Buffy exchanged looks and Buffy whispered “geek-crush!” Willow giggled and listened with interest, as the vampire’s whole personality seemed to shift.
“It’s so cool to see you again, man. Not sure about the company you keep, though.”
“Hey, there will be no dissing of my friends, thank you very much. Anyway, what gives with the ruler of the worlds between life and death stuff and the whole wergeldy thing? How the hell do you know a word like wergeld anyway?”
“Xander!” The vampire stared at him, horrified. “I can’t believe you don’t remember. Lord of the Rings, man. Part 1, you know? Isildur cuts the Ring off the Dark Lord’s finger after the battle of the Dagorlad." He struck a pose and began to declaim dramatically, "This I will have as weregeld for my father though I buy it with great pain. Man, it was just such a cool moment and the effects in the battle scenes were just awesome.”
“You mean you thought up this whole bizarre scenario based on a scene from the Lord of the Rings movie. And you still got the quote wrong! I mean, you didn’t even have the decency to go back to the original books?”
Buffy whispered to Giles. “See, I had a feeling Tolkien would come into it somewhere.” She looked around nervously. “I’m still worried about the Elves.”
Xander grinned and turned his attention back to the vampire, who was now looking slightly embarrassed about the situation. “So come on Jimbo, what gives? What’s with the Viking getup and the big empty threats?”
The vamp’s shoulders slumped and he leaned heavily on his axe. “ Do you know how difficult it is to get established on the Hellmouth?” he asked, disconsolately. “I mean, it’s hard enough trying to get a decent rep with so many fledges about, but now that we’ve got Angelus running riot around the place, I just thought I had to do something to shore up my reputation and get a bit of a name for myself.” He paused, sighing heavily. “My girlfriend left me as well, said she didn’t like me wearing the helmet in bed.” He looked up timidly, “I really didn’t mean any harm to anyone, honest. It’s not like I wanted to be a vampire, but since I am one, I thought I might as well try to be important.”
The whole gang stared at him and Willow was making little noises of sympathy, until Buffy glared at her.
She flipped her stake again and eyed the section of the vampire’s chest where the leather vest didn’t quite meet. “So correct me if I get anything wrong here. You aren’t in fact a big, bad, important, ancient demon, you haven’t got years of mayhem and chaos behind you. You probably don’t even have a brother, never mind one with whatever ludicrous name you came up with.” The vampire nodded miserably as she counted the accusations off on her fingers. “You just wanted a bit of notoriety and decided that challenging me would be the best way of getting it.” He nodded again, visibly shrinking into himself with every word.
“Okay then,” she said brightly. “I’m glad we cleared that up. I don’t feel nearly so bad about doing this.” She bounced across the space between them and before the vampire could raise his axe she shoved the stake squarely into his chest.”
“Well that settles that,” she said, shaking dust out of her hair. “You know, I really am going to have to get this skirt dry-cleaned.”
The others just stood and stared at her. “What? What did I do? I came, I bantered and I slayed. Mission accomplished!”
Willow toed the dust with her shoe. “Didn’t you, sort of, feel the least bit sorry for him? I mean, he was big with the Buffy killage, which is so not a good thing. But he just wanted to be noticed. I just think it’s kind of sad that kind of pressure doesn’t go away, even when you’re dead.”
“All I know is I have a Chem test tomorrow and thanks to the mighty thunderbug there, I haven’t had any time to study. If I get a bad grade, I swear I’ll come back and set fire to his dust. Mind you, there is one bonus from the whole stupid affair” She stooped to pick up the battle axe lying neglected on the wet grass. “I get a shiny new weapon.” Smiling happily, she moved off towards the cemetery gates, the rest of the gang trailing behind her.
Xander swung in beside Willow and Oz. “You know, I really do feel kind of sorry for him. I mean, he set himself up with the whole God thing and he still couldn’t get a girlfriend. It kind of puts me off the whole supreme ruler of the galaxy plan I had going – there really doesn’t seem much point.”
Willow nodded wisely, “yep, with great power comes great responsibility, and very little smoochies.”
“I hear you,” he said. “Now about this Chem test…..”
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