Sunnydale library

Happily Ever After

by Maureen Wynn
Copyright © 1997

All right, this one is for Lizbet. very evil grin This was supposed to be a short little bedtime story for my cyber-daughter, but it just kind of growed — and unfortunately, it's the part that has nothing really to do with Buffy that chose to grow. Sorry! Hope you can enjoy it anyway.

"Once upon a time..."

"Oh, man, that is so bogus! C'mon, Xena-thingy, we're not 6 years old any more, we don't want to hear fairy tales. Don't you know something a little more racy, maybe something with an action-adventure theme?"

The story-teller glared at Xander, then smiled at him. Xander shuddered — he hated it when Xena smiled. Nothing should look that feral when it smiled. Especially one of the "little people."

"I not be telling thee a tale of 'fairies.' Thee not be strong enough to hear a tale of the faery-folk." Xander snorted, and opened the pizza box again, hoping that maybe another piece of pepperoni and onion pizza had magically materialized in it. It hadn't, and he closed the box with a sigh.

"Come on, Brownie..."

"I told thee to call me 'Xena'," the little creature interrupted.

"Don't do that to me!" Xander protested. "I say that name, I picture long legs and... breastplates. It doesn't fit," he said, gesturing to the extremely petite figure sitting on the table. "It majorly messes with my mind... and my teen-aged hormones."

"Could we not get into another discussion about your hormones?" Buffy asked. "I thought we were getting a story. I'm bored, and I can not take one more illustration of bug-eyed monsters," she said, tossing the leather-bound book she was holding onto the pile of books on the library floor. Willow winced, knowing the probable age of the volume, but didn't say anything. "I don't know why Giles wanted us to do all this research. He's research-man, I'm just the Slayer."

"So, thee thinks knowledge is not necessary for thy job?" the Brownie asked slyly.

"Well, yes... I mean no... I mean, I know I need information to fight the legions of the un- and semi-dead, but Giles can dig up all that stuff for me when I need it. The Slayer slays, she doesn't study."

"Studying isn't so bad," Willow said. "I mean, sometimes I get so caught up with what I'm reading, I forget to eat, or drink, and sometimes I even stay up all night, and suddenly it's dawn, and I'm thinking, "Boy, it's awfully bright for the middle of the night..." Willow stopped, realizing that both of her friends were grinning at her. "I really am the most boring person on the earth, aren't I?" she asked sheepishly.

"Nah, you're just a genius, and you'll probably wind up owning Bill Gates," Buffy said. "But that's your thing. Me, on the other hand, I am not destined for a lifetime membership in Mensa. So, before my eyeballs explode from the strain, I'd like to kick back for a bit and listen to a story. Please, Xena? I promise Xander won't interrupt you again." And she kicked Xander's chair, sending it skittering several feet across the library floor, just to give him a little bit of a clue. Xander picked up the chair, with his butt still on the seat, and pointedly moved it to the other end of the table, out of reach of Buffy's boots.

"He had best not interrupt, or I'll be turning him into a frog." the Brownie grumbled.

"You can't do that!" Xander sneered. "It can't, can it?" he asked Willow in a whisper. Willow smiled and shrugged, and Xander glared at the Brownie, but kept his mouth shut.

"Very well, I'll begin again. Once upon a time..." and it paused, glaring at Xander, daring him to interrupt again. Xander didn't say anything, and the Brownie continued...

Once upon a time, there was a girl who lived in a castle. She was a beautiful girl, petite and bouncy, with a wide smile and long golden hair, and all who met her loved her. She was a happy person, and smiled a lot. But she was starting to feel very overworked, and was smiling much less.

You see, she was an only child, and as her mother had passed away, she was the Lady of the castle, in charge of its care and maintenance, which she was happy to do for her Lord father. She was responsible for the halls and rooms and kitchens and closets and bed-chambers and attics and cellars and stables and barns and turrets and drawbridges and ice-houses and, well, everything. She had to oversee the cooking and cleaning, the scrubbing and airing, the ordering of supplies, the lighting of the lamps in the evening, and the extinguishing of the lamps at bed-time. She was also the only one in charge of the organizing of the servants, and the arbiting of the daily disputes.

She had so much responsibility, and it seemed that every day brought more to do, so that she began to long for a life of leisure. A life where someone else was in charge and all she would have to do would be to sit in a comfortable chair in the sun and have someone else bring her tasty foods and cool drinks. This seemed to her to be the ultimate luxury — to do absolutely nothing.

Well, one day came when she could stand it no longer. All day long it had been one thing after another, and she went from one chore to another, one crisis after another, more tempests in tea-pots than anyone could have ever imagined could have existed in one medium-sized castle. She had finished convincing the baker that strawberry tarts would be just as satisfying as lemon meringue, since he couldn't make the meringue after the poultry-girl had dropped the basket holding all the eggs that had been gathered that day, and she was resting momentarily in the kitchen after sending the baker and the poultry-girl to opposite ends of the building. The door to the outside was standing open, and the sun was streaming in, warm and bright, and she could hear the birds chirping in the trees in the orchards. The sun-beams seemed to reach for her across the room, and she found herself being drawn to the door, and through it to the yard beyond.

She walked through the kitchen courtyard, and out to the orchards. She seemed to be walking in a dream, moving softly and silently through the trees — first apricot, then peaches, pears, and apples, and then she was past the planted orchards, and she was walking in the wild forest, no longer walking easily through the neat rows of cultivated and pruned trees, but pushing her way through thickets and brambles, edging past huge old oaks and elms. But she kept going, and she walked, and walked and walked, enjoying the quiet of the forest and the occasional view of the bright blue sky through the leaves of the trees. The floor of the forest was so thick with the years worth of fallen leaves that she couldn't even hear her own footsteps, and the silence soothed her as nothing had soothed her in a long, long time.

She had been walking for quite a while and was growing tired when she entered a clearing in the forest. There was a cottage nestled into the clearing, and there was smoke coming from the chimney, so the girl knew there were residents in the cottage. She decided to ask the inhabitants of the cottage if she could rest there before she returned home. She was starting to feel somewhat guilty for having just walked away from her home, leaving her responsibilities behind her.

She knocked on the door of the cottage, and smiled at the old woman who answered. "I am far from my home, and wish to rest here for a short time before I walk there. May I warm myself at your hearth briefly?"

The old woman smiled warmly at the girl, then invited her into the room. When the girl was seated in a comfortable chair before the fire, the woman offered, "Would my lady like something to eat, or perhaps a drink of cool cider?"

"Why, yes, thank you, that would be very nice," the girl responded, pleased at the attentions of the woman. The woman brought her a plate laden with slices of warm bread, freshly churned butter, and sweet honey, and a large mug of frothy cider. They sat and talked while the girl ate, the woman getting up once to refill the mug with more cider. The girl was enjoying being waited on for once, and was thus in no real hurry to leave. She had finally, reluctantly, decided that she had to leave, when, glancing at the window, she realized that the light outside had faded, and darkness had fallen. She was going to leave anyway, hoping that she'd be able to find her way through the forest in the dark, but the old woman prevailed on her to stay the night, saying she feared for the girl's safety in the night-time forest.

When the girl awoke the next morning, she lay in the bed, luxuriating in the unaccustomed luxury of being able to sleep as long as she liked, without having to jump out of her bed at the first light of dawn to get the day's chores started. She stretched, then rose and dressed herself, and went to the door of the room. She was surprised when she found that the door would not open, no matter how hard she pulled at it. She knocked on the door, and called out, hoping that the woman of the cottage would hear her and come to open the door. The woman came, but instead of opening the door, she opened a small opening in the door, and smiling at the girl, said "Good morning to thee, my lady."

"Why is the door locked?" asked the girl, rattling the doorknob one more time.

At that, the old woman looked sad, and said, "I am sorry to lock thee in, but 'tis the only way to keep thee safe from the dangers that lurk in the world."

"I don't understand," said the girl. "What dangers could there be?"

"Oh, my Lady, there be many dangers to thee!" exclaimed the woman. "There be wolves and bears in the woods, and evil people. My own daughter..." and here the woman paused, looking ready to cry, "One day she walked out into the woods, and never returned. That is why, when I saw thee, out in the woods and so innocent of the dangers, I vowed that I would keep thee safe!"

The woman refused to understand when the girl explained that she must return home to her father, and all her pleading and weeping, threats and cajoling, had no effect on the old woman's determination to keep the girl in her cottage. Eventually, the girl stopped trying, realizing that the woman would not be swayed. She was confident that her father would search the forest once he realized that she was gone, which surely he must have done by this time. Eventually, he would find the cottage, and free her. So the girl determined that her best course was to relax and wait for her rescuers to come.

The woman treated the girl very well, and kept her well supplied with good food and drink, and gave her some musty books that had once belonged to the woman's daughter. So it happened that the girl was cared for and kept occupied, and time passed. First days, which turned into weeks, and eventually became months, and still the girl's father did not come.

At first, the leisure was a treat, and the girl luxuriated in the time to sit and read, or to sit by the window, with the breeze wafting in through the bars, and brush her hair until it shone in the sunlight like gold. Eventually, however, she grew bored, and wished she were back home, tending to the kitchen, helping with the harvest, or even dealing with a spat among the kitchen drudges.

She finally realized that her father was not coming for her. If he had searched at all, he had never found the cottage, and would not be riding in to save her. She determined that if she were to be freed, she would have to take it upon herself. She thought, and she plotted and schemed, and finally set upon a plan of action.

One day she asked the old woman if she had any sloe berry elixir. The woman admitted that she didn't, and indeed, didn't know what this was. The girl explained that it was a kind of drink, her favorite drink in the whole world, and that she had come to miss it dreadfully. She added sadly, "I guess I'll never again taste its unique flavor."

The woman had come to love her sweet captive, and hated to see her sad. She swore that she would do anything necessary to produce this elixir that her young guest wanted. She followed the directions the girl gave her, and made many forays into the forest to collect the fruits and herbs necessary to the brewing of the liquid. Finally, it was done, and the woman made a large batch, and presented the first bottle to the girl one night with her dinner. The girl made many exclamations of delight, and promptly poured out a mug, and drank it down. She urged the woman to join her in her repast, and the woman tasted it, and pleased by the sweet taste, poured herself a mug full.

The girl was pleased, and talked to the woman for many hours that night, each of them filling mug after mug with the sweet concoction.

As the night wore on, the woman talked slower and slower, and finally drooped in her rocking chair, so deeply asleep that she barely appeared to be breathing. The girl was ecstatic that the first part of her plan had worked. She picked up the mug with the elixir — the mug she hadn't been drinking from, contrary to appearances — and poured the stuff into the washbasin she had hidden under the dinner tray, with the rest of the elixir she had poured in there during the evening.

She took up the knife that the woman had given her with her dinner tray, and hadn't taken away as they were so engaged with their long conversation. She attacked the hinges of the door with the knife, and after hours of effort, managed to pry them out of the wood of the door. She pulled open the door with such a sense of sweet freedom that she practically danced across the floor of the cottage. She paused long enough to drape a warm blanket over the woman sleeping in the chair — after all, she was a kindly girl, and could not stand to see anyone suffer, even someone who had restrained her for so long. The restraint, after all, was kindly meant, if misguided.

Then she was walking out the door of the cottage into the first light of dawn. She'd had many hours to think about her journey on the day that she'd found herself at the cottage, and had fixed in her mind the way she had to go to get back to her home. She was so happy when she saw the first rows of the fruit orchards beyond the fringe of the forest, and knew that she was almost home, that she began to run. She ran through the orchards, and through the kitchen gardens, and through the yard, and finally reached the castle.

She called for her father, and when he came out of the castle and saw his only daughter, whom he had given up for dead many months before, he was speechless with surprise and delight. Everyone poured out of the castle to greet her, and there was great rejoicing that she had returned to them.

When everything settled down, and she was ready to return to her duties, she found out that in her absence her father had hired a housekeeper, and he was quite happy with her work, and inclined to keep her on. He had also hired an assistant for the farm foreman, so there was much less for her to do in the fields. And there was also a new head cook, who had taken over her duties in the kitchen. She was slightly regretful about this — it was, after all, during her years of working in the kitchen when she had learned to make the sloe berry elixir that was a powerful soporific. Without that knowledge, it was doubtful that she would have ever escaped from the remote cottage in the woods.

So she had much more free time on her hands, but she decided that she was going to do something useful with her empty hours, and was determined to add to the knowledge that she already had.

Giles walked quickly down the school hallway, hurrying back to the library. He'd been gone longer than he had intended to, and he fully expected to return to find his young researchers either gone or asleep. He was quite startled when he pushed open the door to find them all wide awake, and listening to the Brownie seated on the table. He was even more startled when he spotted Angel in the shadows between two stacks of bookcases, also listening intently. The vampire had spent a great deal less time in the library since the Brownie had moved in. Giles had hoped that the two would eventually come to a truce, but so far, neither had shown any signs of tolerating the other. Maybe it wasn't so unlikely a hope, if current appearances could be trusted. Giles moved closer to the group in the darkened library, coming into earshot in time to hear the Brownie say, "...and they all lived happily ever after."

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