The parcel stood on the library table, beautifully wrapped in silver foil patterned with angels. A small matching card, firmly handwritten, read ‘A Joyous Christmas and a Happy New Year’. Giles watched as Buffy reached for the gift, running her fingers over its outlines as if that would tell her what it contained. It didn’t, of course. She sighed, and carefully unwrapped the paper. The contents took her breath away.
It was an exquisite silver casket, with a domed lid. A raised design of roses entwined around winged lions covered both long sides, the roses continuing around the edges of the casket and over the lid. Each flower had a deep red garnet at the centre. At the ends, the design was that of an angel, the wings outstretched backwards over the lid, meeting tip-to-tip in the centre, as if guarding the contents. The knob on the lid was a beautifully formed pomegranate, with seven seeds scattered at its base.
Inside, she found two small figurines, a blonde woman, bound with chains of ivy, and a dark-haired man, crowned with a wreath of holly. At his feet lay a wreath of oak leaves. She looked at Giles in confusion.
“Buffy, he’s playing games again. You should take no notice.”
“You know what he means. Tell me.”
There was no point in keeping her ignorant of the message.
“The pomegranate represents many things, but in this case the important thing is the seeds. In Greek myth, Persephone was stolen by Hades, the god of the underworld, to be his bride. Because she had eaten seven pomegranate seeds, she had to spend three months each year with him.
“In Western traditions of witchcraft, the Holly King is the lord of winter and of death. He replaces the Oak King, the lord of summer and of life. Perhaps as Angelus has replaced Angel’s soul. In English tradition, the last sheaf of the harvest was always bound with ivy, and known as the Harvest Bride, or the Maid of the Ivy. And ivy was sacred to Osiris, Lord of the Dead.
“He’s saying that, by every tradition, he claims you as his.”
She sat quietly for a moment, gazing at the box, before lifting out the card lying underneath the heads of the figurines. It simply read, ‘Soon’.
Almost wearily, she stood, then walked to Giles’ weapons chest, lifting out a broadsword that glinted in the soft glow of the table lamp. Then she smiled at her Watcher, a small, feral thing.
“When does the Oak King get to depose the Holly King?”
“They battle every Mayday.”
“And the Holly and the Ivy?”
“They battle each Christmas.”
“Then I’d better go and keep up the tradition. And how about we find a way to get the Oak King back by Mayday?”
As she left the library, Angelus smiled in the darkness, and headed back home, where the halls were already decked for her with boughs of holly. The chains of ivy could wait until later.
THE END 28 December 2003
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