"Your Highness, be reasonable, Tara turns twenty today and no man has reached the tower alive. How in the bloody hell are we going to get her back alive?" screeched Giles hotly. The Englishman paced back and forth in front of the King's empty thrown, rehearsing his speech for when the King did arrive. "No, no, too emotionally involved," he muttered, coughing into his cloth.
"I rather thought it was a lovely speech Rupert," traveled a voice from the doorway of the Grand Hall. Giles spun around on heels quickly, sputtering profusely.
"S-sir, I mean, Your Highness, I-I was just um, well," he stuttered, but was cut off by James wrinkled hand and throaty laugh.
"Rupert, it's quite fine. In some sense, I agree. Who would have the strength to accomplish such a goal? Some of the finest princes and nobles in the world attempted to court my daughter with no avail," he sighed exasperated.
"Well, I am at a loss there," trailed Giles, but clanking footsteps interrupted his train thought. The two older gentlemen turned around slowly to meet the upcoming figures.
"Ah Ms. Summers, such a lovely surprise to see you this early in the morning. And with a friend!" exclaimed James, trying to keep the animosity level as low as possible. The resentment these two radiated was colossal.
"Friend my ass!" spat the redheaded woman with Buffy, rolling her emerald eyes dramatically. The red-haired lady's hands were hog tied behind her back, and Buffy had two muscular arms around the weakly looking woman.
"Watch your tongue rat, you're in the presence of royalty," Buffy warned. The she focused her attention to the shocked king in front of her. "Your Highness, this is Willow Rosenberg. She's had multiple offenses of stealing food products from the market. I even heard she stole a horse from Ethan Rayne's estate. That's punishable by death sir," Buffy delivered, smiling smugly as Willow strained against her restraints. At the word 'death' Willow's head shot up and searched frantically around for some type of escape.
King James waved his hand and nodded conclusively. Buffy smiled and turned to exit the room with Willow.
"Hey, hey let's not be hasty, I mean. Those rumors about my horse weren't true. I mean seriously. He stole it from my father's property. I simply took back what was rightfully mine! And, and, damn that looks like a rusted sword. Pissh, you can't behead someone with a rusted sword! I mean," she gulped as Buffy withdrew the sword in question and the pristine weapon twinkled in the sunlight.
"Doesn't seem rusted to me," commented Buffy with faux innocence.
"What happened Buffy, huh? One day we laughed and splashed around in the lake and the next you're trying to behead me. Behead me, Buff!" Willow grabbed her pale neck to emphasize her point. "I don't get it," she simply stated.
"Shit happens," Buffy responded, growing somber for a moment. "I'm sorry Will, this is my job now. If it weren't for King James himself, William and I would be on the streets. The least I can do is help him keep the peace. And you disrupt it," Buffy finished, pointing her sword at Willow, though more hesitatingly than before.
"Like me," Willow stated, no longer trying to protect herself from the weapon.
"Huh?" she asked, letting her guard down, and standing with a curious glint in her eye.
"If it weren't for King James, you'd be on the street....like me; you'd be disrupting the peace...like me. You'd be a rat...like me. But the difference is...you lucked up, not like me. That doesn't make you better than me; that makes you luckier than me. You said it yourself. If it weren't for King James, you'd be on the streets...just as unlucky as me," stated Willow through clenched teeth. If she was going to die, she needed her old pal to realize that God bestowed a miracle on her, and that she was not better than the talented trickster herself. Buffy's eyes flared and she raised the sword again.
"Hold on there Ms. Summers, just wait a moment," Giles soft voice carried from the other room.
"Yes! Yes, hold on there 'Ms. Summers'. Just a moment!" Willow pleaded, using a fake British accent on 'Ms. Summers'. Buffy's mouth dropped in astonishment. She sighed and stood at an irritated position.
"Rupert, what is it?" questioned James as the two older men followed Buffy's trail into the next room. Giles gave a loud cough into his cloth once again and looked apologetically at the frustrated officer.
"We need someone to fetch Princess Tara, an expendable someone, sir. And if she returns with the Princess, the entire better. If she doesn't, she just gets what's coming to her," rationalized Giles, somewhat intellectually.
"I agree with you Rupert," James told his old friend and turned to the redhead. "Look young lady, I don't know the extent of your crimes, but I do know that my daughter is locked in a tower in the North Highlands. No one has been able to reach her without a....a change of heart," he smiled at the confused lady in front of him. "What I'm going to do, I rarely do. I'm making you an offer. I'll send you on your way to get the Princess. If you return with her unharmed, all your felonies will be dropped without a second look. If you fail to reach her, or she comes back hurt, you get what you should be getting right now-death. I should think this deal is more than air enough," King James bargained.
"You want me to play fetch with your daughter? Like a dog?" asked Willow roughly, but the point of Buffy's sword in her back soften the redhead's tone. "Have I mentioned how much I love and respect the canine species?" gulped Willow, smiling slightly.
"Deal then, you have my witnesses, Buffy and Rupert. I wouldn't back down on a deal young lady. Buffy, send that young woman Faith brought in yesterday with Willow on her journey, for any help she might assist in. We'll make a deal with her as well. Ms. Rosenberg, bring my daughter back safely please. If not for her own skin, for yours," James said as he left with Giles back into the Grand Ballroom, where the thrown was. Buffy cut the ropes off Willow's wrists swiftly, like a hot knife through butter.
"So is this other broad tough?" inquired Willow, rubbing her reddened wrists. Buffy gave her a look and laughed. She never answered the jaded eyed woman, she just laughed all the way down the Grand Hall.
"I am so glad to be out of that cellar! I mean, the rats were unpleasant, but this morning I saw this white, furry, beaded eyed bunny in the cell! Well, obviously, I screamed my head off and so did the guard, what's her name, oh yeah, Faith. Although, I doubt she was screaming at the fury animal of Hell, she seemed to just look really tired. But she should have seen it coming. I told her all last night about my fear of the Satan's pet of doom. All night I told her, and she still couldn't believe me when I screamed!" a blonde haired woman, shorter than Willow disclosed as the two trotted on a dirt path.
"I can almost hardly believe it myself," Willow answered, monotonously. This Anya woman had yapped her ear off from the exact moment they released her from the cellar. Willow wasn't sure, but she thought Faith had almost pushed the woman onto her.
"God, can't this thing go any faster?" complained Anya, digging her heels into the mass below her. Sadie neighed and shook her head slightly. Willow gently nudged her friend faster, but shot a glare at Anya.
"What? This thing is a source of transportation. Why it can't just gallop faster I don't understand. I mean, the faster we get to the princess, the faster we can get her home and the faster we are off the hook!" protested Anya, pouting.
The two convicts both rode on Sadie, with Anya wrapping her arms around Willow's stomach. When Anya became bored of the reoccurring scenery, she found it quite amusing to tickle Willow. This random act of amusement caused Willow to lose control of Sadie, who bucked at the sudden chaos and threw the ladies off.
"Gee, do all your friends get this royal treatment, or is it just me?" asked Willow, brushing off her rags for clothes and remounting her horse.
"Friends? You mean the people who you confide in and do all sorts of fun with? Don't have any," Anya stated casually as she too remounted the animal.
"Gosh, wonder why," Willow added in sarcastically, kick starting Sadie off again.
The two women travelled all afternoon, through the nighttime, and well into the next day before they came upon a sky breaking tower that seemed to sway with the wind.
Coming upon the bridge into the castle, Sadie backed away from the deteriorating structure.
"Oh Sadie, I know it doesn't look sturdy enough, but we can cross it," encouraged Willow, nudging persistently at the horse.
"Excuse me 'oh blinded one', I don't think your horse if afraid of the not-so-sturdy-bridge. I think it's afraid of the never-ending pit of Hell beneath the not-so-sturdy-bridge," stated Anya, mater-of-factly.
The emerald eyes rolled dramatically again, but stopped when they saw the heavens and Willow cried out, "Why me God? Why?"
Dismounting herself, she stepped onto the bridge carefully, but noticed something missing. She turned her head back to see a definite Anya still perched on Sadie.
"Uh hello, I'm not the only one up for a death sentence," she said, shocked that Anya still didn't move.
"I'm not up for a death sentence, I'm up for life. And that is a better deal than risking my ass on that flimsy bridge," came Anya's snappish reply. Willow huffed, but left the issue alone.
"Better off anyway," she mumbled as the crossed the bridge unharmed. When she reached the other side, she turned around and laughed at Anya, showing her that the bridge was safe. The redhead even danced a tiny bit, mocking the blonde.
"Hey Anya, why don'tcha get off your high horse. Get it? High horse! Hahahaha!" she laughed, gripping her sides.
Just as Anya thought up a retort, the wobbly bridge crashed into the never-ending pit below it. After what seemed like ages, the crash from below finally echoed around the visitors.
This time, Anya's laughed bellowed throughout the empty countryside.
"Oh big bad Willow the almighty....screwed herself over by running across the unstable bridge. Ah well, I guess mocking just has its vengeance," she giggled. Sadie neighed a few times, prancing her feet around in a dance similar to Willow's.
The emerald eyes rolled in a circle and her freckled hands flew up into the air, "Oh Hell!" she sighed. Flicking off the blonde and the horse, she turned to go inside the deserted castle.
"Hey! Wait, how are you going to get back across?" questioned Anya, steadying Sadie who wanted to help out her stranded friend.
The redhead scratched her fiery head and pondered a moment. Like a light bulb sprung into action, she screamed back across the gully.
"We'd have to go around the back of the castle. The trip would take days...maybe three or four. We'll head there and meet up with you, say the center square?" she answered, dying off at the end.
"What if I just go ahead and go back to the kingdom and you just bring her home?" Anya asked, quite frankly, putting on a false smile for Willow.
"Yeah that's fine. And then you can explain to the King himself that you just decided that you didn't want nor need to help so your deal is off," commented Willow nonchalantly, as if it was no big deal.
"Fine you redheaded asshole, you have your way. We'll meet you there in three or four days. But we'll be in the square between noon and half past noon,: that way, we're both on the same page. I'm not sitting on my ass all day long in that hot sun," grumped Anya, shaking her finger at Willow.
"Don't worry Anya, I wouldn't expect that much aptitude out of you anyway," Willow briskly said as she ascended up the castle stairs into the disturbing building. The last words heard by Willow before searching the crumbling castle were a 'hey!' from Anya outside.
Smiling to herself, Willow aimlessly waltzed around the castle, checking in rooms and such. The castle was worn down, with silky cobwebs covering the walls like wallpaper. The stone walls seemed to be covered in dust and soot with scratching on them. A pile of bones would pop up here and there, but nothing to frighten Willow, who finally walked upon a stairwell leading into a tall tower.
"I wonder what's behind door number...jeeze, what am I on...17?" she chuckled to herself at her lame joke. Climbing her way upward, a butterfly effect spread throughout her stomach and then to her entire body.
When she reached the wooden door, leading into the only room in the tower, she gently clasped the knob in her hand and turned it to the right. The door moved roughly, needing a push from Willow to get inside.
Stumbling into the room clumsily, she regained her composer to see the princess lying on the bed, looking like hell.