Sir Leon, the Immortal, Chapter 2, Merlin fanfic

Disclaimer: I do not own Merlin or its characters.

Gaius!” Myron burst into the physician’s chamber so forcefully that the door hit the wall and bounced back to hit him in the face so that he saw stars.

For the second time in the space of an hour, Gaius was startled into dropping something he was measuring. He turned around, exasperated, and exploded, “Myron, how many times must I tell you not to do that? I am an old man; my heart can’t take such commotion!” Suddenly, he noticed the look on his young assistant’s face. “Myron, what’s wrong?”

Myron waved his hands in front of his face, still trying to chase away the stars dancing in front of him. At Gaius’ question, he shook his head and stumbled towards him, babbling, “Sir Leon…the sleeping draught…fainted…something not right.”

Gaius grabbed the boy and shook him, trying to get him to calm down. When Myron grimaced and clutched his throbbing head, Gaius stopped shaking him, apologized, and said calmly, “Take a deep breath and tell me exactly what happened.”

Myron closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then another, and then a third before he began, “I took the sleeping draught up to Sir Leon’s room. He must have thought I was Sir Percival because he nearly ripped my head off when I knocked on the door, although I can’t imagine why he’d be so angry at SIr Percival; Sir Percival is Sir Leon’s best friend…”

“Time may be of the essence, Myron,” Gaius interrupted, resisting the urge to shake the boy again. “Please just tell me what happened to Leon.”

“Oh, right,” Myron replied brightly. “I told him you’d sent up a sleeping draught and gave it to him. He said he’d take it later if he needed it, but I told him you wanted me to be there when he drank it…that is what you said, right?”

Gaius’ rheumy eyes almost bulged out of his head as he gave Myron another shake. “Yes, yes, now what happened?”

Myron reached up to scratch his head, recalling what happened next. “He took the vial from me and walked over to the bed; I followed him. He smelled the draught and asked me what you’d put in there.” Myron grinned at Gaius and asked, “What did you put in it?”

“Ague root, willow bark…oh, for heaven’s sake, Myron! That’s not important now!” Gaius cried, throwing his arms up in the air. “Get on with it!”

“Oh, of course,” Myron stammered. “He closed his eyes and swallowed it down in one gulp, just like when I take Mother’s tonic.” Remembering what happened next, Myron’s expression became frightened. “Sir Leon glared at me and told me to tell you your potions taste like wet, moldy…”

Gaius shook his head. “Like wet, moldy what?”

Myron’s face crumbled as though he would cry. “That’s when his eyes got really big and he just fainted dead away. I came running as fast as I could to tell you. Is he going to be all right?”

Gaius began pacing around the room, thinking. Something suddenly occurred to him, and he looked sharply at Myron. “You said he told you the draught tasted like wet, moldy…something?” When Myron nodded, Gaius put his hand to his chin. “That’s odd. This sleeping draught shouldn’t taste that bad. I’ve even given it to children, and they seemed to find it quite pleasant.” Remembering that he had some left, he hurried over and picked up the flask. He held it up to the window and assessed the color. Pursing his lips, he held the flask to his nose and inhaled. His eyes flew open wide and he sniffed again. “Oh, dear…” he muttered. “Oh, dear, this isn’t good at all.”

“What is it?” Myron asked, clutching the back of a chair so that his knuckles turned white.

Gaius looked up at him. “When you burst into the room while I was mixing up the draught, you startled me. I was measuring valerian into the flask. I must have put too much in by mistake.” He thought back to when he was holding it over the flame, how long it had taken to turn the correct shade of green. “Oh, my. This could be serious.” He looked at Myron and started for the door. “Come with me.”

Gaius hurried up to the third floor as fast as his arthritic legs could carry him, with Myron close behind, fighting the urge to plow past his mentor to get to Sir Leon. The younger man’s mind raced with fear and feelings of guilt; if he hadn’t burst in and startled Gaius, he never would have measured too much valerian into the draught, and SIr Leon wouldn’t be…whatever he was.

As they reached the third floor, Gaius grabbed a torch from its holder on the wall and burst into Sir Leon’s room, followed closely by Myron. He quickly assessed the unconscious knight before thrusting the torch into Myron’s hands. “Hold this so I can see what I’m doing.” He leaned over Sir Leon, laying his ear against the young knight’s chest. Yes, his heart was still beating, though faintly. He held a mirror just beneath Sir Leon’s nose and breathed a sigh of relief to discover that he was still breathing, though only just.

Myron looked down at Sir Leon with anxious eyes. Even with his lack of training, he could tell the situation was serious. His adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed nervously and asked, “Will he be all right?”

Gaius didn’t answer right away, but stood staring at Sir Leon with his hand on his chin. He seemed to be searching his memory for something. Suddenly it seemed to register that Myron had spoken. “I don’t really know,” he replied with uncharacteristic uncertainty. “I have never had something like this happen before.” He turned to face Myron. “Come with me, Myron. We have some research to do.”

Back in Gaius’ chamber, the two men pored over books trying to find some kind of remedy for Leon’s condition. Actually, Myron was doing more fumbling than poring; the inexperienced man wasn’t entirely sure what he should be looking for. Three hours and a half dozen stacks of discarded books later, Gaius tossed aside his magnifying lens and rubbed his eyes. He looked across at Myron, who was paging through an ancient grimoire trying futilely to match up the negative effects of the herbs Gaius had used with counter active effects of other herbs. Seeing the look of hopeless confusion on Myron’s face, Gaius said, “Myron, I’m afraid this is beyond my abilities. I haven’t a clue what to do.”

Myron looked up at the sound of Gaius’ voice and blinked his blurry eyes quickly. “But I thought you could work anything out,” he replied reverently.

Gaius closed his final book and laid it atop a stack of books at his elbow. He chuckled at the boy’s words; he could be so naive at times. “I’m flattered that you think so highly of my skills, Myron, but you need to always remember that no one, no matter how wise, knows all things.” He picked up his magnifying lens and slid it back into its pouch before continuing grimly, “By all accounts, the potency of the sleeping draught…” He looked pointedly at Myron. “…should have killed him.”

Myron’s eyes widened, and he gulped audibly. “Why…why do you suppose it didn’t?”

Gaius sighed heavily, realizing there was much the boy did not know about events from Camelot’s not-so-distant past. “The reason Sir Leon is still alive is that he once drank from the Cup of Life.” Myron’s brows knit together in confusion, so Gaius related the story of how Sir Leon was mortally wounded in a skirmish but was then brought back from Death’s door when a Druid gave him water from the Cup of Life. “That is why he survived this fatal draught,” he concluded. “However, I do not know what to do to either awaken him or…” He gave Myron a pained looked. “…or allow him to pass on peacefully.”

Myron’s green eyes misted over with tears, and he was unable to speak for a moment. When he did, the wisdom of his words surprised Gaius. “The obvious answer is to find this Druid and seek his counsel,” he declared with a firmness and confidence that was unnatural for him.

Gaius smiled and nodded at the boy’s insight. Maybe there was hope for him after all.”I believe you are correct, Myron,” he agreed. “But first, we must inform the queen what has happened.” Looking out the window and noting the position of the moon, he continued, “However, the hour is late, and I see no need to waken her.” He rose stiffly from his chair and blew out the candles on the table before looking at Myron. “I am certain there will be no change overnight, but I still want you to stay with him. You can let me know at once if anything changes.”

And so Myron made his way back to the third floor and slept awkwardly in a chair next to Sir Leon’s bed. Sometime during the night, he heard footsteps coming down the passageway. They stopped in front of Sir Leon’s door before continuing on their way. Myron recalled Sir Leon’s reaction when he had knocked on the door earlier, and the knight had been angry because he had thought it was Sir Percival. He wondered again what the two had disagreed about, and he wondered how Sir Percival would react when he heard about his friend’s condition. For the briefest moment, he thought about running after Sir Percival and telling him the awful news, but he thought the better of it, knowing that Gaius would want to inform the queen first. He settled back in his chair and stared intently into the darkness till sleep overtook him once more.

Bright and early the next morning, Gaius seated himself in the Council Chamber before anyone else arrived so that he could speak privately with Queen Guinevere. The warm morning sun was just beginning to filter in through the windows when the queen entered the room. She was as beautiful as always, with her wavy black hair pulled back and secured with a simple gold and pearl comb, and wearing her favorite periwinkle-colored gown. Her confidence had grown during her time as queen, both during the time she ruled as Arthur’s consort and since his passing, and she carried herself regally, though never haughtily. Her dark eyes radiated wisdom, kindness and a touch of sadness that Gaius knew would never leave while she still breathed. Gaius rose from his seat as she suddenly noticed him sitting there, and she smiled as she greeted him. “Good morning, Gaius. You’re certainly an early bird this morning.”

Gaius smiled fondly at her, recalling the quiet, kind, and loyal servant she had once been and marvelling again at how much she had grown into her role. Taking her hands in his, he replied, “Good morning, Gwen. I wished to speak to you about…a delicate matter before Council meets this morning.”

Gwen’s brows came together in concern as she wondered what could be amiss. “Of course, Gaius. Please, let us be seated.”

The two sat down at the table, and Gwen asked, “What is it, Gaius? It’s obvious that something is troubling you.”

He raised his eyes to hers before looking away uncertainly, searching for the words to explain what had happened the night before. He worried about how she would take the news. She had already lost her brother and her husband, which had left her nearly devastated. Gwen and Sir Leon had grown up together; what would it do to her if she were to lose her dearest childhood friend as well? Knowing there was no way to get around telling her, he took a deep breath and began, “I am sure you have noticed that Leon has been…less than happy of late.”

A spark of sadness lit in her eyes as she nodded. “Yes, I have noticed that myself. I feel so bad for him, but I don’t know how to help.”

Gaius nodded. “Yes, and you’re not the only one who has noticed. Percival went to his room last night to urge him to come along with the other men to the tavern. He said he noticed that Leon had injured his hand again, apparently by punching the wall.”

Gwen sighed and threw up her hands in frustration. “Leon is so full of anger and regret over all that has happened. I fear he blames himself for much of it. He seems to be carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.” She looked at Gaius. “And I fear he doesn’t sleep much; he always has those dark circles under his eyes.”

Gaius closed his eyes, knowing that Gwen knew much more than he realized. “Yes, well, I have been watching him as well, and when Percival came to me last night, I thought…I thought I could at least help him get some sleep.” He looked at Gwen, and his lower lip quivered. He did not want to bring Myron into this, fearing she might blame the lad and punish him, so he bent the truth ever so slightly. “I fear I measured incorrectly, and I put too much valerian into the sleeping draught.” He paused, letting the weight of his words sink in.

Gwen’s eyes suddenly flew open. “Oh, Gaius! Leon isn’t…he didn’t…?” She couldn’t bring herself to say the words.

“No,” Gaius replied quickly. “He is not dead, but…you know the situation with the Cup of Life.” Gwen nodded, tears forming in her eyes. “Well, that has afforded him some protection, but it has also left him in an unconscious state that I fear I haven’t the ability to remedy.”

Gwen was silent for a long moment, obviously mentally preparing herself for what she was afraid her mentor would tell her. “So, what do you think we should do?”

Gaius sighed with some measure of relief. “It was a Druid–Iseldir–who brought him back from death with the Cup of Life, so I ask your permission to consult with that same Druid to see if by chance he may know what to do to either awaken Leon…” He laid his hand on Gwen’s. “…or to allow him to pass on.”

Gwen choked back a sob and bit down on her knuckle. After a long moment, she composed herself once more and nodded. “Yes, Gaius, I grant you permission to consult Iseldir and bring him to Camelot. You have my word that he will be under our protection. Why don’t you take Percival, and maybe Beldyn and Brandis. Go as soon as you feel ready.”

As she finished speaking, the doors opened, and the other counselors entered the room. Gaius bowed quickly to her and excused himself from the meeting, knowing that Gwen could competently handle making excuse for him and for Sir Leon. He had more urgent matters to attend to.

Sir Leon the Immortal, Chapter 1: Merlin fanfic

Disclaimer: I do not own Merlin or its characters. I also have not yet seen the final episodes of Season 5, so if I have certain details wrong, I apologize.

Sir Leon stood at the window of his chamber and stared out at the houses beyond the castle walls. He could see the faint glow of fireplaces through many windows in the deepening twilight, and he knew that the inhabitants of Camelot would sleep safe and sound this night, enjoying the hard-won peace that had cost Camelot so dearly. Morgana was dead and was no longer a threat to the kingdom or to Queen Guinevere. Sir Leon shook his head sadly, thinking once more of her tragic spiral into evil after finding out that King Uther was not only her guardian, but also her father, and that she had magic. Damn you, Morgause, he thought bitterly; if Morgana hadn’t gotten mixed up with her evil half-sister perhaps none of this would have happened.

His thoughts drifted to Arthur, his king and his closest friend. He was dead too, slain by one of his own knights in the last battle; many other brave and loyal knights died as well, not only in that last battle, but throughout Morgana’s quest to claim Camelot’s throne for herself. Sir Lancelot had sacrificed himself at the Isle of the Blessed to close the veil and defeat the Dorocha that Morgana and Morgause had released. Sir Elyan had been slain by an enchanted sword in the Dark Tower where Morgana had imprisoned Queen Guinevere after capturing her. Sir Gwaine had been tortured and slain when he refused to tell Morgana where Merlin had taken the wounded Arthur. Merlin. He too was gone, disappeared after Arthur’s death, never to be seen again. Was he dead too?

Of the original Round Table knights, only Sir Leon and Sir Percival remained. Sir Leon and Sir Percival had had to bring the tragic news back to Gaius and Queen Guinevere, and Sir Leon and Sir Percival–but mostly Sir Leon, having been the king’s right-hand man–had had to stand in support of the widowed queen as she learned to rule through her grief. Not that Gwen had really needed my strength, Sir Leon thought. True, she still grieved Arthur’s death and would do so the rest of her life, but she had risen to the challenge and was proving to be a very competent queen.

Which was part of the reason Sir Leon felt the way he did now.

He found himself thinking once more that he was no longer useful to anyone here, and he asked for perhaps the thousandth time, why couldn’t I have died along with them? Of course, he recalled bitterly, the Cup of Life. He was still alive because he had drunk from the Cup of Life. In a once-unusual, but now becoming more frequent flare of temper, Sir Leon suddenly and with great force punched the wall in front of him, splitting the skin on his knuckles so that blood trickled down his hand and dripped onto the floor. He grimaced momentarily at the pain, physical pain that did nothing to dull the raw emptiness and the guilt he felt deep inside at the loss of his friends. Cursing under his breath, he turned away from the window to find the scrap of linen he had used to bind his hand the last several times he had punched the wall.

After wrapping his hand to staunch the flow of blood, he threw himself onto the bed and lay on his back staring up at the ceiling. It would be full dark soon, and the room was growing chilly; still he didn’t light a fire, not really caring anymore. Sometime later–he wasn’t really sure how long; what did it matter anyway?–there was a soft knock at his door. Without taking his eyes from the ceiling, he called out flatly, “Enter.”

The door opened wide enough for a man’s head to pop in. Sir Leon could barely make out the man’s features in the torchlight from the passageway, but he knew it was Sir Percival. “I hope I didn’t wake you,” the young knight softly apologized, although he knew it was still quite early.

Leon laughed shortly. He hadn’t had a decent sleep in months, not since well before…he shook his head, trying not to think about it again. “No,” he responded simply. Sir Leon had always been a man of few words., but lately, he spoke even less. “Was there something you needed?” Right, he thought. Like anyone needs me anymore.

Sir Percival gave a slight shake of his head. “Just heading to the tavern with a few of the other men. Would you care to join us?”

Sir Leon closed his eyes miserably. He had gone with them a couple times before, thinking that being out with others would help him shake his morose mood, but he had been wrong. Being in that raucous atmosphere with all those laughing, talking people only made his loneliness and sense of loss seem so much stronger. How could they all move on so easily, especially Sir Percival? True, the large but quiet knight had felt the loss of Sir Gwaine more deeply than that of the others, but he had eventually come to the conclusion that his friend would have wanted him to go on with his life. Sir Percival still wore the necklace that Gwaine had always worn; he had taken it from his lifeless body and kept it to remind him of his fun-loving friend. Sir LEon had no such token to remind him of Arthur or any of the others; he was certain it would do nothing but remind him of his guilt anyway. Suddenly remembering that Sir Percival was waiting for an answer, he replied, “No, you go ahead.”

“Are you sure?” Sir Percival asked. “You hardly leave the castle anymore. Bloody hell, you hardly leave your chamber. A change of scenery might do you some good.”

Sir Leon sighed irritably. This wasn’t the first time they’d had this conversation, and it likely wouldn’t be the last. “Maybe next time, Percival.” He rolled over to face away from his friend, letting him know the conversation was over.

However, Sir Percival didn’t take the hint. He marched purposefully into the room and sat down on the bed. “That’s what you said the last time, and the time before that.” His forehead showed lines of worry that he was much to young to be wearing.

Sitting up and facing Sir Percival, he replied irritably, “Then it shouldn’t surprise you that I’m saying the same thing again. I just don’t feel like being sociable.”

Sir Percival’s sharp eyes spotted the blood-stained linen on Sir Leon’s hand. “Leon, your hand. Again?” When Sir Leon wordlessly jerked his hand away and tried to hide it, Sir Percival continued, “Leon, you must talk to Gaius, or to Gwen, someone. You need to move on…”

“She is your queen; show her some respect and call her by her proper name,” Sir Leon spat angrily, startling his friend. “Please just go away. Go enjoy yourself at the tavern and leave me be.” He threw himself back down on the bed, facing away from Sir Percival once more.

After a moment’s silence, Sir Percival stood and walked to the door. He stood staring at the broken man on the bed for a moment, and then left, closing the door softly. He walked steadily down the passageway to hiso wn chamber, where he grabbed his cloak and pinned it on. He was about to leave the castle to join his friends at the tavern, but he could not get Sir Leon out of his mind. He turned and hurried down the back staircase into the lower level of the castle where Gaius’ rooms were. He knocked softly on the door and heard a cheerful young voice call out, “Yes?”

Sir Percival opened the door and stuck his head in. He saw Myron, Gaius’ new assistant, hastily sweeping the floor. “Hullo, Myron. Is Gaius in?” The boy’s eyes involuntarily swept to the side room, where Gaius often consulted books, but he said nothing. “Please?” Sir Percival continued. “It’s quite important.”

Myron was about to formulate an excuse when Gaius’ weary voice came from the side room. “It’s all right, Myron.” A moment later, Gaius appeared at the door. “Percival, what can I do for you?”

Sir Percival edged into the room and looked pointedly at Myron, who shrewdly took the hint, propped the broom in the corner and hastened out of the room. Gaius chuckled. “Nice boy. Reminds me a bit of Merlin when he first arrived here.” A brief look of sadness passed over his eyes before he cleared his throat and asked again, “Was there something you needed?”

Sir Percival, too, had a brief moment of sadness as he thought of the young assistant who had been so close to Arthur. Banishing the thought, he looked at Gaius and began, “I’m worried about Leon.” Gaius raised his eyes to Percival’s, obviously thinking the same thing. Sir Percival quickly related what had occurred in SIr Leon’s chamber.

When the young knight finished, Gaius stood silently for a moment, thinking. Finally, he shook his head. “I wish there was something I could do for him, but it seems some part of him has lost the will to move on.” He did not voice the thought he had that if it weren’t for the Cup of Life, Leon might have already succumbed to his grief and passed on as well.

“Isn’t there anything?” Sir Percival asked pleadingly. “He looks as though he hasn’t slept since…before the last battle.”

Gaius looked sharply at the knight. He doubted it was the answer, but what other course of action did they have? He replied, “Maybe I can mix up a sleeping draught for him. A good night’s rest may not solve all his troubles, but it certainly can’t hurt.” He nodded, dismissing Sir Percival, and turned to his bottles and potion books. He paged through an old dog-eared volume and quickly found what he was looking for. After scanning the ingredients, he went to his storage shelves and grabbed the bottles and pouches he needed.

A few minutes later, Gaius was at work measuring out ague root, willow bark, anise and chamomile into a large glass flask. Every few minutes, he held the flask over a candle and heated the mixture, shaking it gently. At last, he came to the last ingredient, valerian. As he was carefully measuring the powdered herb into the flask, Myron came bursting into the room, startling Gaius and making him unknowingly dump too much of the powder into the flask. “Myron, how many times have I told you not to burst in here like a pack of wild donkeys?” he asked in an exasperated voice.

The boy was immediately apologetic, making Gaius feel guilty for snapping at him. “I’m sorry, Gaius. Really, I am. I’ve just too much energy, I suppose.”

Gaius chuckled and waved away Myron’s apology. “Well, in just a minute, I’ll have something for you to take to Sir Leon. You can run off some of your energy going to the third floor.”

“Is Sir Leon sick?” the boy asked innocently, his shaggy blond hair hanging down in his eyes.

Gaius sighed; Myron was a nice enough boy, but he lacked any real insight when it came to people. Merlin was able to see beyond the surface, and he wished for the hundredth time that the young warlock was still here with him. “In a manner of speaking, he is,” Gaius replied. “He is heartsick, one of the most difficult illnesses to remedy.” He doubted Myron would really understand, but he tried anyway.

Gaius held the mixture over the candle for a few minutes. He couldn’t remember it taking so long to make this potion, but then he hadn’t had need of it for some time, and his memory wasn’t what it used to be. When the liquid in the flask finally darkened to the correct shade of green, Gaius took the flask away from the flame and allowed it to cool. When it reached room temperature, he measured some of the potion into a small vial, stoppered it, and handed it to Myron. “Take this to Sir Leon and give it to him. Stay with him until he’s drunk it down.”

Myron furrowed his eyebrows and asked, “But what if he’s asleep? I’d hate to wake him.”

Gaius sighed and looked at the boy once more. No, he certainly lacked Merlin’s insight. “Don’t worry. I’m sure he won’t be sleeping. This potion is to help him sleep.”

Myron’s mouth formed an “O” as he finally understood. He turned to go a bit too quickly and almost stumbled over a stool. He looked over his shoulder and grinned sheepishly as he dashed out the door and up the stairs. On the third floor, he hurried down the West passageway, trying to remember which chamber was Sir Leon’s. At first he knocked on a door, and Sir Afton, on his way out to patrol, greeted him and pointed him in the right direction.

Sir Leon’s door was tightly closed, so Myron hesitated before knocking softly. When he got no answer, he knocked a bit louder. An irritated voice from inside said something that he couldn’t quite make out, so he knocked again, even louder. This time he heard feet hit the floor and stomp across the room. The door suddenly flew open, and an angry Sir Leon growled, “Percival, I already told you…” Seeing Myron’s startled, apologetic face, he stepped back and ran his hand over his face. “I…apologize, Myron. I thought you were Sir Percival. Was there something you needed?”

Myron gulped, staring up at the tall, reddish-blond knight, and answered timidly, “Gaius sent up a sleeping potion for you. He..he said it might help.”

Sir Leon looked curiously at Myron, wondering how Gaius might have thought he needed something. Realization swept over him as he thought to himself that Percival must have paid Gaius a visit before he went to the tavern. He tried not to be angry; he knew that Percival was only trying to be a friend. He took the draught from Myron and thanked him. “I’ll take it later if I need it.”

As Sir Leon was shutting the door, Myron stammered, “Uh…um…begging pardon, Sir Leon. Um…Gaius wanted me to stay with you…to be sure you’d taken it.”

Sir Leon rolled his eyes, then let out a defeated sigh and motioned for Myron to come in. He walked over to his bed and sat down, then pulled the stopper out of the vial. He held the vial under his nose and took a whiff–he didn’t like to be surprised by a nasty taste on his tongue. Grimacing, he asked, “Bloody hell, Myron, what did Gaius put in this?” When Myron shrugged, obviously clueless, Sir Leon shook his head, closed his eyes tightly and drank it down in one swallow. He thrust the empty vial into Myron’s hands, coughing, and lay back on his bed. Glaring up at the boy’s apologetic face, Sir Leon muttered, “Tell Gaius his potions taste like wet, moldy…” He didn’t finish his thought before his eyes went wide for a second and he lost consciousness.

Myron blinked rapidly a few times, unsure of what had just happened. He had given people sleeping draughts before, but he had never seen one work this quickly. As slow as his mind could sometimes be, he knew something was amiss, and he hurried back down to tell Gaius what had happened.

School Spirits, Chapter 32

As Spook and I made our way back through town, we were both quiet for a time, each of us contemplating the shop owner’s story. While I was glad we finally had a large and important piece of the puzzle, I still couldn’t figure out how an alleged witch from the 18th century fit in with Professor Childress, Mary Bollinger, and whatever happened in the Appleton bell tower almost 200 years later.

Spook reached out to take my hand, drawing me out of my thoughts. I turned to face him and managed a smile. He responded with a tight smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “Anyplace else you’d like to go, Kyr m’dear?” he asked.

I shook my head, no longer in the mood to stroll down Memory Lane. “Let’s just go back to the hotel,” I replied in a tight voice.

Spook nodded tersely, and we turned the next corner and headed down the side street that led back to our hotel. After we’d walked a couple blocks, he cleared his throat and said hesitantly, “I’m…sorry about what happened back there. Maybe I shouldn’t have started the…witch hunt.” He chuckled shortly at his own joke.

I gave him a half-hearted thump on the shoulder before replying, “I think it was my fault she flipped out on us. If I hadn’t mentioned Professor Childress and Mary…” I didn’t finish my thought.

Spook was quiet for a long moment before he nodded and agreed glumly, “Come to think of it, I think you’re right. It is your fault.”

I stopped walking, put a hand on my hip, and stared at him with my mouth agape. He stopped and turned to me, raising his eyes to mine. “You know, you didn’t have to agree with me wuite so quickly.” I tried to hide my hurt, unsure if he was serious or just joking around.

After holding my gaze steadily for a moment, a serious expression on his face, the corners of his mouth twitched and he burst out laughing. He pulled me close, and we continued walking. “I’m just giving you a hard time, Kyr,” he teased, gazing down at me with a sparkle in his eyes. “You’re so much fun to pick on; it’s so easy to get a rise out of you.”

When we got back to our hotel room, Spook flopped down on the bed and let out a long, weighty breath. Glancing up at me, he smiled and patted the bed next to him, so I sat down and relaxed into his embrace. I closed my eyes, inhaling deeply and taking in the scent of his cologne mixed with the warm aroma of his body. He leaned his head against mine and slowly stroked my back and my hair. As the tension left my body, I stifled several yawns before one finally escaped. Spook chuckled and said softly, “You’ve had quite a long day, Kyr m’dear. Why don’t we catch a few winks and then go down to the restaurant for some dinner?”

Gazing sleepily up at him, I smiled and murmured my agreement before snuggling up to him. Within minutes I fell asleep to the steady rhythm of his heartbeat and breathing.

Neither of us slept very long before our growling stomachs awakened us. After quickly washing up, we headed downstairs to the hotel’s restaurant. Surprisingly, only a couple other people were there. Everyone else, it seemed, had either eaten earlier or had opted to eat at the street fair. We chose a corner table in the back and looked at the menu. Although the restaurant was small, it offered a fairly diverse menu. Since I had splurged on the rich cheesecake earlier, I decided to eat light tonight, so I ordered a grilled chicken salad while Spook ordered a surf and turf platter.

As we ate, we chatted about everything except the one thing I knew was on both our minds. Just as I was going to ask if Spook what he wanted to do later that evening, Copa Cabana began sounding from my purse. Spook laid down his fork and raised an eyebrow in amusement as I dug my phone out and answered it.

It was Phil. “I’m not…interrupting anything, am I?” she asked, barely keeping a giggle out of her voice.

Honestly, she was as bad as JoEllyn. I felt a blush creeping up my neck and into my cheeks as I raised my eyes to Spook, who was regarding me with a smirk. “No, Phil, you’re not interrupting anything; wer’e just having dinner.”

Spook’s shoulders shook as he picked up his fork, speared a shrimp and stuck it in his mouth. Obviously he had figured out why I was blushing, because he said loud enough for Phil to hear, “If you’d been interrupting that, she wouldn’t have answered the phone.”

He and Phil both laughed as my face grew even redder. “WIll you stop?” I mouthed at Spook before attempting to ask Phil nonchalantly, “So, what’s up?”

Still giggling, she replied, “Ed and I were just wondering if you guys were going to the street fair fireworks tonigiht.”

I paused with my fork in the air. “They’re doing the fireworks tonight instead of Monday night?”

“Yeah,” Phil said. “They changed that about five years ago. Since most of the visitors leave before Monday night, they started doing the fireworks on Saturday. It also brings more people into the street fair.” She paused. “What do you think?”

I glanced up at Spook, knowing he wasn’t keen on going back into the crowds. “We weren’t really planning on going back down to the street fair,” I hedged. Spook raised his eyes to mine once more, suddenly attentive.

“No problem,” Phil said, and I could tell she was smiling. “Did you ever watch fireworks from the cemetery on campus?”

I laughed out loud. “From the cemetery? People still do that?” JoEllyn and I, along with a few other friends, had sat at the top of the cemetery hill to watch fireworks several times. To Spook, I asked, “Fireworks later?”

A slow grin spread across his face, and he wiggled his eyebrows suggestively. When I let out a huff and turned away, he laughed out loud before responding playfully, “Oh, you mean those fireworks. Well, all right.” He jumped and laughed as I kicked him under the table.

I told Phil we were in. The fireworks were supposed to start around 9:30, so we agreed to meet in the Student Center parking lot around 8:45 so we could claim a spot as close to the top of the cemetery as possible.

Shortly before we left the hotel, Spook addressed the question I knew we’d both been thinking about since accepting Phil’s invitation an hour earlier: Would we let her and Ed in on what we had found out, and if so, how much would we tell them? I somewhat guiltily suggested that we say nothing unless they came right out and asked. Spook chuckled and accused me of being sneaky, although I could tell he agreed with my suggestion.

When we pulled into the nearly-empty Student Center parking lot, Spook looked around in surprise. “Where is everyone?” he asked. “I would have thought this lot would be packed.”

“Willow Lake always was a suitcase college,” I replied. Seeing his confused expression, I explained, “A lot of students go home for the weekend, especially a long holiday weekend.”

Spook shook his head, trying to grasp the concept. “That makes no sense,” he commented. “They pay how much for room and board, and then go home on weekends? And this is only the first week back.” I shrugged noncommitally, and he turned to me and asked, “Did you go home a lot?”

I snorted, “Are you kidding? I counted down the days till classes started again. I was only too happy to get away from home and be where I could do what I wanted and not feel like I was under surveillance all the time.”

Spook gave me a sidelong glance and laughed, “And here I thought you were a good little bookworm. Don’t tell me you’re a secret party animal.”

I looked away, feeling a bit silly, then laughed at the joke on myself. “No, I definitely wasn’t a party animal. I guess for the most part I still did what I would have done at home.” I glanced at him and gave him a crooked smile. “It was the idea that if I wanted to go partying, I didn’t need to ask anyone’s permission.”

He rolled down his window and turned off the ignition before regarding me for a moment. Trying to hide a smile, he asked, “So did you?”

“Did I what?” I returned, looking at him curiously.

“Did you ever go out partying?” His expression was so smug, I almost wanted to smack him.

I crossed my arms and hesitated before answering, “I went to a couple parties, but it just wasn’t my thing.” I lowered my head and admitted, “I was the boring one who preferred things like poetry readings, theater performances, stuff like that.”

He chuckled, “Or walking alone along the river late at night.” He pulled me close and tucked a stray lock of hair behind my ear. “You’re not boring, Kyr; you’re just you.” He leaned down and kissed me deeply.

A voice right next to Spook’s open window startled us. “I hope you two aren’t going to do that the whole time.” I jumped away from Spook, blushing. We hadn’t noticed Ed and Phil pull up beside us.

Spook smirked at her and quipped, “I don’t think so. I don’t find cemeteries particularly romantic.”

We got out of the car and climbed the stairs between the residence halls. I tried not to smile as I recalled the night we walked back from A Drop in the Bucket in the rain. Spook caught my eye and grinned, and I knew he was thinking about the same thing. He winked at me and squeezed my hand.

As we crossed the street, Spook turned to Ed and asked, “So, how many people watch the fireworks from the cemetery?”

“Not very many,” he replied. “Probably not more than a dozen. Most people either go downtown or watch from one of the dorms on the hill.”

“Besides,” I added, “Campus law enforcement usually comes by to chase people out.” I was hoping not to meet up with Officer Daly, even if he was one of the friendlier campus policemen. I giggled as I recalled, “We always had a lookout, and as soon as we’d see headlights coming around the bend in the road, we’d duck down behind gravestones till they passed.”

Spook turned to me in disbelief and laughed out loud. “So you didn’t go to parties, but you hid behind gravestones in the cemetery to avoid being caught by campus police?” I smiled sheepishly and shrugged. “What kind of woman am I dating?” he joked.

Phil laughed and informed me, “Law enforcement gave up on chasing people out. I guess they figured that students were going to be up here whether they patrolled or not, and heaven knows they’re not going to actually get out of their vehicles and walk through the cemetery.”

Ed added, “They still drive through to make sure no onei s drinking or vandalizing the graves, but they don’t bother anyone unless they’re acting suspicious.”

About three-quartes of the way up the path, we started seeing students sitting on blankets in between gravestones. We found an empty spot near the top and spread our sweatshirts on the grass. The sky wasn’t quite dark enough yet, so we knew we’d have to wait a while for the fireworks to start. Sounds of quiet conversations drifted to us from the others around us, and we could hear faint music from the bands at the street fair. I swatted at a few mosquitoes and wished I’d thought to bring bug repellent. Still, I felt relaxed and peaceful; as I’d told Jason once, I was completely at ease in cemeteries.

The peaceful atmosphere was suddenly disrupted as Spook’s cell phone went off loudly. He swore under his breath and scrambled to answer it. Laughter and joking cries of “Aw, man,” and “Really?” came from people around us. Spook glanced at the screen before he answered, “Hey, Grant. What’s up?” After a pause, he laughed. “Yeah, sorry I didn’t get back to you. We’ve been busy all day.”

Phil laughed and nudged me. “I’ll bet you were,” she teased.

I was glad for the darkness as I felt my cheeks growing warm. I glanced at Spook and saw him smirk before he responded somewhat uneasily to Grant’s question. “Uh, yeah, we found out a little more about it…actually a lot more, but we still don’t know how it all fits together.” Ed and Phil glanced at each other and watched Spook expectantly. He looked around, gauging the proximity of others around us, who didn’t seem to be paying attention anyway. He said, low, “We’re out in public, so I don’t want to go into any details. Let’s just say the mystery has its roots a lot further back than we expected.” Another pause, and he continued, “Yeah, this is becoming more of an involved mystery than a simple ghost hunt. I’m not really experienced with this kind of thing, and I’m sure you’re not either. We’re just not sure where to go from here.”

After Spook finished his conversation with Grant, he put his phone on vibrate and put it back on his belt. Ed, Phil, and I continued to watch him expectantly until he finally turned his attention to us. He gave me a tight-lipped smile, likely thinking, so much for saying nothing.

Before Spook could say anything, Ed grinned and joked, “We’ll, I guess we weren’t the only ones doing some research today.”

“But it sounds like you guys were more successful than we were,” Phil added, a slight edge to her voice. I got the feeling that Phil could be quite competitive.

Spook looked at Ed, at Phil, and then back to me before offering, “We did find some very significant details, but like I told Grant, we’re not sure yet how it all fits together or what to do with it.”

A sudden flash of color in the sky followed almost immediately by a loud boom signaled the beginning of the fireworks. Ed quickly leaned towards us and suggested, “Why don’t you come back to our place after the fireworks, and we can compare notes?”

We agreed to that plan and turned our attention to the fireworks. For the next twenty minutes, we enjoyed Willow Lake’s small but impressive fireworks display. After a loud and colorful finale, a brief burst of applause, cheering and whistling erupted around us, followed by people getting up and hastening out of the cemetery, likely headed to off-campus parties. “That’s it?” Spook commented.

I nodded and replied, “Willow Lake is too small for anything really impressive, but they do pretty well for a small town.”

We stood and gathered our sweatshirts to head out ourselves. As we made our way down the now-dark path, Phil glanced over her shoulder and remarked, “I didn’t notice a law enforcement drive-through, did you?”

The rest of us shrugged and shook our heads. Ed joked, “Maybe they decided to drive through the donut shop instead.”

We agreed, laughing, and kept walking. As we were about to cross the street, my eyes were drawn to Appleton. I did a double-take as I caught what I thought was a brief flash of light in the bell tower. I stopped and stared intently at the clock face and the side window facing us to see if it appeared again. “Kyr?” Spook asked, stopping too. “What’s wrong?”

Not taking my eyes off the tower, I answered, low, “I just saw a light up there.”

Ed and Phil had turned and were now also staring intently at the bell tower with Spook and me. After a moment, the light hadn’t reappeared, so Spook suggested we walk down past Appleton and cross at the other corner. We headed up the street at a leisurely pace, trying to keep our eyes on the bell tower without being too conspicuous. There was more traffic on Belle Vista Avenue because of people heading home from the street fair, and we didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves by stopping in front of Appleton to gawk at the bell tower. I reluctantly admitted that I might have imagined the light, or that it may have been a reflection, but I had a gut feeling that that wasn’t so. I was certain the light I saw had come from within the tower, and it resembled a flashlight beam.

We made it back to our vehicles, and Spook and I followed Ed and Phil back to their downtown apartment. While Spook and I made ourselves comfortable in the living room, Phil went into the kitchen for snacks and drinks, and Ed went to retrieve the notebook containing the information they had found. When we were all settled, Spook nodded towards the notebook Ed had brought out. “So what did you find out?” he asked, taking a swallow of beer.

Ed glanced at Phil to ask, “Would you like to do the honors?”

“Sure,” she replied, popping a few pieces of Chex Mix into her mouth and wiping her hands on her shorts. She picked up the notebook and flipped a few pages before laying it on the table in front of us. “We just started with some general research on the area’s history and found a few interesting pieces of information. We’re not sure yet how it ties in to Appleton’s haunting, if it ties in at all.” I leaned forward to glance at the notebook as she spoke. At her first words, my eyes snapped up to meet hers. “Did you know there was a small settlement just north of town that predates Willow Lake?”

Spook and I exchanged a look, and he shrugged and nodded. “We came across that too,” I replied. “What did you find out about it?”

“Well, not much, and nothing really concrete, since the settlement existed before anyone really started keeping records here,” Phil replied somewhat dejectedly. “Most of what we found talked about the Native American tribes that lived here before the town was settled.” She pulled out some photocopied maps and mentioned that a lot of artifacts had been found between the river and where the present campus stood. “As far as paranormal activity goes,” she surmised, “if any burial grounds were displaced when they built the college, that might have angered spirits and stirred things up initially, although it really doesn’t play into Appleton and Mary Bollinger.”

Spook shook his head and added, “I don’t necessarily buy into all the cursed Native American burial ground stuff myself.” Phil looked at him curiously, and he continued, “If you think about how many Native Americans may have lived around here, or anywhere the white man has settled in the past 250 years, I’d guess that a lot of towns, colleges or whatever could have potentially been built over someone’s grave. I just think curses and resulting hauntings are few and far between.”

“You have a point there,” Ed admitted, adjusting his glasses and flipping a page in the notebook. “And there didn’t seem to be much happening here before the fire in 1954, which there would have been if there were spirits angered by way of their graves being disturbed.” He fixed his eyes on Spook and added, “One thing we did find that seemed a bit odd was that this settlement seemed to have vanished off the radar for almost 200 years; did you notice that?” I glanced up at Ed and then over at Spook. He returned my look, and a slight chill ran down my arms.

Phil jumped in again, “The only reason anyone knows about the settlement was because a construction crew building a Wal-Mart found a handful of old building foundations and artifacts that predated the town of Willow Lake.” She curled her leg beneath her and sat forward, obviously warming to her theory. “Isn’t it odd that none of the Willow Lake histories mention a settlement that was supposedly here before the town itself? What happened to the people who lived there, and why was there nothing left but the foundations?”

Spook held up his hand, again making himself the voice of reason and skepticism. “Slow down, Phil,” he said calmly. “Don’t try to write a mystery where there might be none. Maybe the people from the settlement assimilated themselves into the town when other settlers moved in. You just said this place was inhabited by Native Americans; they may have decided to move closer to the town for safety reasons. There’s nothing mysterious about that.”

Phil threw her hands up in exasperation; obviously her mind was made up. “The settlers themselves may well have moved into the town, but what about their settlement? They didn’t take their houses, their barns. How is it that, what, ten or so homesteads were out there without anyone knowing of their existence until about a decade ago?”

Ed usually tempered Phil’s enthusiasm, but even he seemed to be following Phil’s logic on this point. “I think Phil has a point here. The area where these homesteads were found isn’t densely wooded or even that hard to get to, so it defies logic that any evidence of a settlement hadn’t been discovered by someone.” He leaned forward and took his glasses off for a moment. “My question is, why did it take a construction crew digging up the site to discover evidence of a settlement? Why weren’t there any above-ground structures? We’re talking about actual homes here, not just temporary campsites.”

Spook looked back and forth between Ed and Phil, his mouth opening and closing wordlessly. I could tell he either wasn’t sold on their theory or else wasn’t convinced that the settlement’s disappearance was important, but he seemed to sense that any reasonable argument he gave would be wasted breath. He cast a helpless look at me and siad, “Kyr? You’ve been relatively quiet; what do you think?”

My eyes widened, and I returned his helpless look. I hadn’t given much thought to the settlement’s demise or disappearance, and I wasn’t sure myself that it was important to the mystery we were trying to unravel. They were all looking at me, waiting for me to offer my input. I searched my mind wildly for a moment and blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “Did you find out about the witch bottles?”

Ed and Phil looked at me as though I had grown another head. “Witch bottles?” Phil asked. “What’s a witch bottle?”

“Wait,” Ed exclaimed, nudging Phil’s shoulder. “That one article said there were glass bottles found buried near the foundations of the houses.” He looked at me. “Is that what you mean?”

I glanced briefly at Spook, figuring we might as well put everything we had on the table. “Yes, those were the witch bottles,” I replied. I went on to tell them what we had heard from Mrs. Rutter and her mother about the archaeological dig and about the chapter in Biddlesbacher’s book about the Willow Lake witch, or as Mrs. Rutter put it, the supposed witch. “Mrs. Rutter thinks the idea of a witch is just superstitious nonsense, but it seems that witches were as plausible to the early setllers as Mary’s spirit is to us.”

Ed seemed to have regained his level-headed skepticism as he asked, “Do we have anything besides a bad corn crop and a few sick cows to base that claim on?”

“Great minds think alike, Ed,” Spook joked, setting his beer down on the table with a thump. When I gave him a dirty look, he smirked at me for a moment before becoming serious again. “Sorry, Kyr. As neatly as the book lady’s story fits into what we’re investigating, the fact remains that without any hard evidence, it’s just that: a story that has been passed down.”

Phil was looking back and forth between us, realizing that she and Ed were missing a big part of the picture. “Okay, I’ll bite. Who’s the book lady, and what story did she tell you that you two seem to disagree on?”

I let out my breath in a huff and scooted forward in my seat. “After we left Mrs. Rutter’s house this afternoon, we walked around town for awhile. We went up to the northern end of the downtown area, up past the movie theater, you know where I mean?” Ed and Phil both nodded, so I continued, ” We came across this ancient-looking book shop and decided to check it out.” I told them about our unsuccessful search of the local history section, followed by our conversation with the shop owner. Ed and Phil listened with interest as I related the woman’s tale about the witch settling near where the campus now stood after the settlers drove her out. “It seems that some of the settlers passed her cabin on the way back from hunting and witnessed her…” I looked at Spook, who wore his typical skeptical expression. “…conversing with the devil himself.”

“What?” Ed exclaimed, exchanging a look with Spook and shaking his head in disbelief.

Even Phil had a hard time swallowing that tidbit. “They certainly had no lack of imagination, did they? What made them think it was the devil and not just someone passing through?”