Crossover between ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and the ‘Conan’ stories of Robert E. Howard. Rating R. May contain traces of femslash. This instalment is exactly 6,000 words.
The Witch’s Promise
Willow pushed the lifeless thing that had passed as Warren and it fell over. “Guess you don’t need to call the cops after all,” she said to the bus driver. “False alarm.”
“That’s… a robot,” the driver gasped.
“Sure is,” Buffy confirmed. “A decoy.”
“Yeah,” said Xander. He nodded to the bus driver. “Thank you for your co-operation.” He picked the inert robot up, grunting with the weight, and tried to sling it over his shoulder. “Jeez, that thing’s heavy,” he said. “Buffy, you’d better take it.”
“Why?” Buffy asked, but she took the robot from him and swung it into a Fireman’s Carry.
“Maybe we could use it to repair the Buffy-bot,” Xander said. “You never know, it could be useful, and we can always dump it later if it isn’t.”
Willow turned away and began to walk back to the car. “He tricked me,” she said. “We’ll have to find him another way.”
“And then what?” Buffy asked, following her at a brisk walk despite the robot’s weight.
“I’m kinda tempted to kill him,” Willow said, “but handing him over to the cops would do instead, I guess, as long as we could be sure he’ll go away for a long, long, time.”
“Hey, Will, what’s with the vengeance kick?” Xander asked. “Okay, he shot Buffy, and he’s a scumbag who really needs to be put away for everybody’s safety, but she got better. We don’t kill humans.”
Willow spun on her heel and faced him. “He shot Tara,” she growled. “When he shot Buffy he hit her too. Upstairs in my room.”
“Oh, my God,” Buffy gasped.
“Guess the last shot was the charm,” Willow went on. “I’m not letting him get away with it.”
“She’s… dead?” Xander asked.
Willow shook her head. “She would have died,” she said, “but I managed to save her.”
“So where is she?” asked Buffy. “In the hospital?”
“In an alternate dimension,” Willow replied. “The same one I sent Olaf to. She’s not dead but I don’t know how I’m going to get her back. And I’m not even going to try until I know that Warren’s out of the way and can’t hurt her again.”
“You sent Tara to the Land of the Trolls?” Xander’s eyebrows climbed so high they almost reached his hairline.
“Apparently I missed,” Willow explained. “Olaf went to somewhere called Hyboria. It seems to be some kind of Dungeons and Dragons world. Now Tara’s there too.” She resumed her progress toward the car.
“You have a whole lot to tell us,” Xander said.
“Even him shooting Tara doesn’t mean we can kill Warren,” Buffy said. “He’s still a human.”
Willow’s mouth twisted. “Maybe we can’t,” she said, “but no way am I going to let him run around loose. I’m tempted to take out Spike’s chip and send him after Warren. He always liked Tara.”
“You can’t do that!” Xander protested. “Spike’s dangerous to us. He tried to rape Buffy!”
“What?” Willow spun around again.
“That’s… an exaggeration,” Buffy said, aiming a medium-intensity glare at Xander. “We had a bad fight, and he went way too far, but it wasn’t rape. Sexual assault, I guess you could call it, and he’s blown any chance he ever had of getting back together with me, but that’s all. But, right now, maybe you’re right and he would be dangerous with the chip out. He wouldn’t touch Dawn, and he likes Tara, but Xander… might not be safe.”
“He’d kill me for sure,” Xander agreed. “Although… if we use him to get Warren, and then dust him – no, I hate to say it, but only a total jerk would play a trick like that. Maybe if he promised to leave town after…”
“Using Spike to kill Warren would be no different than killing him ourselves,” Buffy said. “The chip stays. That doesn’t mean we can’t make some use of Spike. He could track Warren for us, or he could bodyguard Dawn while we hunt, or maybe he could terrify Warren into confessing. He scared Warren into making the Bot, after all.”
“As long as Warren hasn’t found out about the chip,” Willow said. “With all those cameras he had spying on us he could have learned pretty much anything. Come on, we’re wasting time. We can talk more in the car.” She set her jaw into Resolve Face. “But one thing’s for sure. The only two ways Warren leaves Sunnydale are in handcuffs on the way to prison or in a coffin.”
“I do not recognize the king’s head, or the script,” the money-changer said. He frowned at Tara. “They are well-minted, admittedly, and for that reason I will accept them at almost face value. I’ll take the coppers as my commission and give you three silver pieces for the lot.”
Tara would have accepted the offer but Roshan had insisted on handling the negotiations. She turned to Roshan and raised her eyebrows.
“Three silver pieces? You jest,” Roshan said to the money-changer. “I saw the avarice in your eyes as you gazed upon the coins. You can sell them to a collector, I know, for far more than you offer us.” She stared him in the face. “I suspect you will be able to get golden lunas even for the coppers.”
“Gold for copper coins? Ridiculous,” the money-changer scoffed. “True, the minting is masterful, and I may indeed be able to sell them at a profit…”
“A very large profit,” Roshan said. She narrowed her eyes. “We will accept ten golden lunas.”
“Ten? Certainly not,” the money-changer said. He licked his lips. “Four.”
“Eight,” countered Roshan.
“Six,” the money-changer offered.
“Seven, and ten pieces of silver,” said Roshan.
“Six gold and ten silvers.”
“Six gold and fifteen silver pieces,” Roshan proposed.
The money-changer hesitated, drummed his fingers on his bench, and then nodded. “Six golden lunas and fifteen silver stars,” he said. “We have a deal.”
“That went even better than I expected,” Roshan said, after they had departed from the moneychanger’s shop. “You now have enough to purchase, for instance, a riding horse and tack.”
“That w-was amazing,” Tara said. “I could never have done it. I’d have considered myself lucky to get three silver pieces.”
Roshan shrugged her shoulders. “My father is a merchant,” she said, “and I have learnt to read the faces of those with whom I trade. I could tell that he was eager to purchase the coins. It was merely a matter of finding out just how eager.”
“And he’ll really make a profit?”
“He thinks so, which is the important thing,” Roshan said, “and I suspect that he may well be correct.” She focused her gaze on Tara’s chest, causing Tara to blush slightly, and narrowed her eyes. “We must buy you another garment to replace your shirt, or to cover it,” Roshan observed. “Those blood-stained holes may draw attention. People might think you took the shirt from a dead body. That is… frowned upon.”
“I should think so too,” Tara said.
“Personally,” Roshan continued, “I take from the dead only coins and gems.”
The meal at the inn was roast beef accompanied by an unfamiliar, and rather pleasant, variety of cabbage. Tara ate enthusiastically; she was hungry and recognized that her usual inclination towards vegetarianism was unsustainable in this age. The beef was available only in well done form; in a culture that probably had little idea about food hygiene that was probably a good thing. So, too, was the provision of only ale to wash it down. In what was effectively a medieval city it might not be safe to drink the water. And they hadn’t invented toilet paper here.
As she ate the cabbage Tara mused on some of the other things she might never see again. Not just the technological products of the twenty-first century but basic foodstuffs that originated in the New World that, in this place, hadn’t been discovered. Potatoes, tomatoes, corn, turkey, and chocolate; the only way to taste any of them again would be to find a crew willing and able to sail across thousands of miles of unknown ocean. For chocolate, Tara thought, it might just be worth it; of course then she’d have to deal with whatever ancestors of the Aztecs, or the Mayans, existed here and avoid having her heart cut out as an offering to the Sun God. Perhaps not.
At least, according to Roshan, this world did have coffee. It was rare, obtainable only from a few merchants who traded with Turan, and very expensive, but it did exist. Roshan had tasted it only once and hadn’t liked it. Sugar, too, was a rare and expensive import from the mysterious East. Honey was the only sweetener for all but the very rich. This wasn’t a problem for Tara, as honey was her sweetener of choice anyway, but it was another way in which this world differed from the one with which she was familiar.
“Ho, pretty ladies, what do you in this tavern?” A male voice broke into Tara’s chain of thought. “If it is male company you seek you need look no further.” It seemed at least one thing was pretty much the same as back home. The speaker was a big man, no doubt a warrior of some kind, who was clad in a chain-mail hauberk and had a massive axe strapped to his back. He was reasonably clean, his beard was neatly trimmed, and he would have counted as handsome to most girls who liked their partners with a ‘Y’ chromosome. He, and another warrior who was smaller and more lightly armored, were gazing at Tara and Roshan like cats gazing at fresh salmon.
“We seek no male company,” Roshan replied. “We are tired from long travel, and have far yet to go, and seek only rest.”
“Oh? To where do you travel?” asked the man, obviously not discouraged.
Roshan sucked in her lower lip briefly, glanced at Tara, and gave a slight shrug of her shoulders. If Tara read the body language right Roshan was regretting not being able to say straight out that she was gay; it would have been her usual way of cutting off a male making approaches, Tara believed, but the possibility of it getting her burnt as a witch rendered that tactic unusable. “We were on the way to Tarantia to seek audience with King Conan,” Roshan replied. “A mischance meant that we had only one horse between the two of us. We turned back and came here to purchase a fresh horse.”
“Ah, then your misfortune has turned slightly to your advantage,” the warrior said. “King Conan is not in Tarantia. He passed through here just yesterday on his way to visit Ophir. He had five thousand knights of his guard escorting him; I would think that the two of you, traveling light, should be able to catch up with such a cavalcade. Or you could wait here, and save yourself a journey, for he will no doubt pass through Shamar again on his return.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” Roshan said. “I think we shall follow the King’s trail, rather than awaiting him here, for staying in an inn is too expensive and it is hard, in a city, to find a family who would offer travelers a bed. Especially when two travel together. What say you, Tara?”
“Uh, yes, why not?” Tara replied. She was all in favor of getting out of the city; it was smelly, intimidating, pitch dark at night, and it didn’t even have much in the way of clothes shops. Apparently the poor made their own clothes, the rich had them tailored, and the only way to buy clothes ready-made was to purchase them second-hand; which, she had rather disturbingly discovered, usually meant that the garments’ original wearers were deceased.
“Then that is what we shall do,” Roshan said. “When tomorrow dawns we shall buy a horse for you and then set out.”
“I agree,” Tara said. She had meant to say ‘Okay’ but, as she had discovered the previous day, the word didn’t seem to exist in the local language. “Uh, Roshan,” she added, as a thought occurred to her, “Why didn’t we buy a horse today? That was what we came to the city for, after all.”
“Because,” Roshan explained, “had we done so, we would have had to pay for its stabling tonight.”
“I think,” said the warrior who had not yet spoken, addressing Tara, “that you are new to the life of a wandering adventurer.” His eyes narrowed. “Or you are a maiden running away from your family.”
“Even if that were the case, which it is not,” Roshan said, a hard edge coming into her voice, “it would be no business of yours.”
Tara felt her cheeks flaming at the mention of running away from her family. The two men both glanced in her direction, and could hardly have failed to notice and to draw the – incorrect – conclusion that Roshan was lying, but they did not call her on it.
“If you go to see the King,” the first speaker said, “then it is the King’s business. And far be it from me to question the decisions of King Conan.” He paused to take a swig from his flagon of ale. “Perhaps we could escort you to the King? The journey would be safer with four than with two and both of us,” he waved his hands in a gesture encompassing him and his companion, slopping ale over the edge of his goblet in the process, “are experienced fighters.”
“Thank you, but no,” said Roshan. “I know you not.” She shrugged her shoulders. “I am sure you understand my caution.”
The bearded warrior nodded. “I do, and I am not offended. We shall be breaking fast here in the morning if you change your mind.”
“We won’t,” Roshan said, “but thank you again. Now, as we are tired, we shall retire to bed. I bid you goodnight.”
Tara prodded the mattress. Straw filling. She lifted up the corner and saw that it was supported by a lattice of leather strips stretching across the bed’s timber frame. It wouldn’t be as comfortable as the sprung mattresses she was used to but it shouldn’t be too bad. Of course the comfort, or otherwise, of the mattress was a minor point compared with the bed’s most significant attribute.
It was a double.
While Tara was examining the bed Roshan was going around the room scrutinizing the walls. She peered closely at them, ran her hands over the surface, and tapped on them in several places.
“What are you doing?” Tara asked.
“Checking for secret doors,” Roshan answered. “It is not unknown for innkeepers to be in league with thieves. To assume that we are secure, just because the door is bolted, is to risk being robbed, or raped, or taken captive to be sold to slavers.” Tara gulped. Roshan went to the door, worked the bolt a couple of times, and bent to peer at the screws that held it in place. “But such is not the case here,” she judged. “We may rest safely.” She turned away from the door, unfastened her sword-belt, and leaned the weapon against the wall near the head of the bed.
“Uh, that’s g-good,” Tara said. She unfastened the embroidered jerkin that she now wore, her fingers fumbling with the ties, and took it off to reveal the blood-stained blue top. She hesitated before going any further. The few garments she had managed to buy, before the merchants closed up for the night, did not include any nightwear. Sleeping in her clothes, as she had done the previous night when they had camped out in the wilds, didn’t appeal. On the other hand sleeping in the nude, next to a hot lesbian who was clearly attracted to her, was… maybe a little too appealing for Tara’s peace of mind.
Roshan sat on the side of the bed, pulled off her boots, and then rose and unfastened her pants. Tara averted her eyes, sat down on the other side of the bed, and removed her sandals. She decided that sleeping in her bullet-punctured top was probably the best compromise between nudity and sleeping fully dressed; at least, that way, the only garment that acquired more sweat would be the one that was already in need of a thorough wash and serious darning or patching. She stood up, pulled down what was undoubtedly the only zip fastener on the planet, and took off her jeans.
“If you desire a measure of… privacy in bed,” Roshan suggested, “we could place the bolster down the middle to serve as a divider.”
Tara felt as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. “That’s not a bad…” she began, turning to look at Roshan, and the breath caught in her throat.
Clothed, Roshan was no more than moderately attractive. Her beak of a nose detracted from what would otherwise have been a very pretty face. Naked, however, she was… stunning. She had the slim and lithe figure of a professional tennis player, small but perfectly formed breasts that jutted out proudly, golden skin against which her brown nipples stood out and looked… very lickable; Tara had to force herself to look away. She took a deep breath and thought of Willow.
“Uh, yes, it w-w-would be a good idea to put the, uh, bolster down the middle of the bed,” she managed to say. “Then w-w-we can, uh, sleep without disturbing each other.”
Roshan’s left eyebrow quirked upward slightly and she smiled. Tara had the distinct feeling that the other girl knew exactly how tempted she had been. “As you wish, so shall it be,” Roshan said, pulling back the bedclothes and positioning the long pillow. “Sleep well.”
Tara didn’t. She lay awake for a long time, very conscious of the girl on the other side of the bolster, and wondering what that whipcord-muscled body would feel like in her arms. Probably, she decided, rather like Buffy; if Buffy was gay and six inches taller. Eventually she fell asleep while wondering what was happening back in Sunnydale and what Buffy, and Willow, were doing.
Buffy staggered as the bullet hit her in the center of her chest.
“Take that, bitch!” Warren cried. He fired again and the blonde figure fell to the ground and lay still. “Yeah! Slayer strength can’t beat Mister Smith and Mister Wesson.”
The fallen girl stirred. Her hands moved, and then her legs, and she clambered slowly to her feet.
Warren took aim and pulled the trigger once more. It was too dark to see the bullet strike the target, especially as the muzzle flashes had ruined his night vision, but he knew that he’d scored another hit. His victim collapsed but then began to rise again.
“Bitch!” Warren growled. “Why don’t you just stay dead?” He fired twice, without apparent effect, and then squeezed the trigger again and again in a fusillade of shots until the last cartridge in the magazine was gone and the pistol’s slide locked back. The Slayer had gone down again and this time she wasn’t moving.
“Have you finished?”
It was Buffy’s voice, coming from above and behind, and Warren yelped in surprise. He spun around, fumbling with the magazine release and simultaneously grabbing for the spare magazine in his pocket, but he’d only just managed to jettison the empty mag when Buffy dropped out of a tree and landed beside him.
“H-how?” Warren gasped. His question turned into another gasp, this time of pain, as a hand closed on his wrist with a grip like a bear trap. “That’s the robot? But it was destroyed.”
“Pretty much, yeah,” Buffy confirmed. “Except we still had the top half. And then you, very helpfully, provided us with a new bottom half. From the waist down that thing,” she pointed with her free hand, “is you. And can I say how totally glad I am that Xander was around to do the joining together bit and save me from finding out if it’s – eww – anatomically correct. We couldn’t get it to do much more than walk, and Willow had to steer it with magic or it would have just gone in a straight line until it collided with a wall, but that was all we needed.”
Warren brought his left hand across and tried to punch her in the face. Buffy intercepted the blow and twisted him around until she had both his arms pinioned behind his back. “Mister Smith and Mister Wesson can’t do jack against a Slayer if they run out of bullets,” she said. “Now stop struggling and come along quietly or I’ll dislocate both your arms.”
Warren stopped struggling and stared at the motionless robot. “I thought I’d put Willow out of action,” he said.
“Oh, please. You thought you could trap Willow with a couple of tricks you picked up from Rack? Get real.”
“You know about Rack?” Warren’s jaw dropped.
“Who do you think told us where we could find you?” Buffy replied.
“And she only had to break three of his fingers,” another female voice chimed in from behind them. Willow. “Go on, Buffy, break something of Warren’s.”
“Slayers aren’t allowed to hurt humans,” Warren protested. His voice quavered.
“Wrong,” Buffy said. “When you started using magic for evil you put yourself in my jurisdiction. Apparently there’s a whole section in the Slayers’ Handbook about what I’m allowed to do to warlocks. I can inflict ‘sundry divers punishments’. I thought that meant, like, feeding them to giant squids, or cutting off their air supply, but Giles tells me it just means ‘various’. There’s a whole lot of wiggle room for me to get inventive. So,” she wrenched Warren’s arms painfully up behind his back, “I’d recommend that you plead ‘Guilty’ to everything. If you beat the rap then it’ll be up to me to deal with you. And, after watching you pump bullets into something with my face, I don’t have a problem with cutting off your air supply.”
“We shall see the plain of Shamu as we crest this ridge,” Roshan told Tara, as they rode toward the crest of a hill. “It is there that King Conan is to meet with King Amalrus of Ophir. We have made good time and might even–” She broke off in mid-sentence, her eyes widening as she caught sight of the scene beyond the ridge, and pulled her steed to a halt. She rose in her stirrups and stared for a moment and then turned to Tara and snapped out an urgent command. “Get back! Move away from the brow of the hill, and quickly!”
Tara wheeled her horse, obeying Roshan’s command, and retreated a few yards down the trail. “What is it?” she asked, as Roshan made a hasty dismount and then led her horse back to join Tara. She had caught only a brief glimpse of a crowd of people in the distance and it had meant nothing to her.
“It’s a trap,” Roshan explained. “King Amalrus is there to meet Conan, as agreed – but he is there with his whole army, drawn up in full battle order, and I saw the banners of Koth flying too. This is no parley between kings but, rather, black treachery. Conan will be attacked by both hosts – and he has with him only the cavalry of his Royal Guard.”
Tara didn’t know much about the political set-up in this world, as yet, but she had gathered that King Conan was, in Roshan’s opinion, one of the good guys. “Oh, dear,” she said, and then winced at the inadequacy of her words. “Uh, could we… warn him?”
Roshan shook her head. “Too late,” she said. “I could see Conan’s men already there. They are maneuvering from line of march into battle formation. May the gods grant that they finish before Amalrus attacks. I must know how the battle goes. Let us go back to the crest of the hill and watch.”
“I suppose we should,” said Tara. She wasn’t wildly enthusiastic about watching a battle but could see that Roshan had good reason. She climbed down from her horse, in a move considerably less smooth than Roshan’s effortless dismount, and tethered the animal to a tree.
“Keep below the crest,” Roshan cautioned her, as they went back up to the top of the hill. “Do not allow yourself to be silhouetted against the skyline. Lie flat and expose only your head.”
“Right, I’ll be careful,” Tara said. “I know about not letting yourself be skylined.” She followed Roshan’s example, and found a vantage point where she wouldn’t be visible to the armies down below, and then settled down to watch.
“There are forty thousand at the least, I make it, cavalry, pikemen, and archers,” Roshan said, after a moment, “against Conan’s five thousand knights. It will be a slaughter.”
It was amazing to Tara that Roshan could manage to count such a horde. “Why don’t they just retreat?” she asked. “Surely they don’t have to fight. Or is it some kind of… honor thing? Uh, what do they call it, chivalry?”
“A knight cannot fight, or defend himself with his shield, while heading away from the enemy,” Roshan explained. “Only by going forward can he win. If this was closer to the border of Aquilonia then, perhaps, it would be worth them trying to escape but, this deep in Ophir, they could not reach safety before exhaustion compelled them to halt. And then they would be attacked as they camped. It would be massacre.” She shook her head again. “At least, if they fight here, they can make the enemy pay in blood for this treachery before they die.” She tilted her head to one side and half-closed her eyes. “With luck, even, they might buy enough time for King Conan to win clear and escape.”
“I hope so,” Tara said. She watched the formations of armored men moving on the plain below and tried to make sense of what was happening. At this distance it was like looking at wargaming figures on a table. All she could be sure of was that the small group that had arrived from the north, who flew black flags emblazoned with a brighter symbol that she couldn’t make out, were charging into a hail of arrows.
“Ishtar’s tits!” Roshan swore. “Conan rides at the head of his men. He will be slain most surely.” Tara had no idea how Roshan could recognize an armored figure at such long range. She must have exceptional vision. “I should have known,” Roshan went on. “It is because he asks nothing of his men that he would not do himself that he is a great king. Yet in this instance it is folly.” She bared her teeth in a snarl. “I shall return to Yarmouk and tell Olaf of Conan’s fall. He will wreak dreadful vengeance upon the treacherous Amalrus.”
“The Captain of the Royal Guard of Yarmouk,” Roshan said. “Men call him Olaf the Troll. A mighty man, a full head taller than any other I have seen, and sworn sword-brother to Conan. None can stand against him, when he wields his great warhammer in battle, save only King Conan himself.”
“Olaf… the… Troll. Oh.” Tara gulped. “Is he… green?”
“His skin is indeed of a greenish shade,” Roshan confirmed. She turned her gaze away from the battle, briefly, and stared at Tara. “I remember now; Olaf said that he had been transported here from another world. Was that your world?”
“Uh, yeah,” Tara admitted. This was the world to which Willow had sent Olaf? She’d been aiming for the Land of the Trolls but, as so often seemed to happen when Willow did complex magic, it must have gone wrong. Or maybe there wasn’t any such place as a Land of Trolls and the magic had simply sent Olaf to the most appropriate alternative. It didn’t explain how Tara had ended up here, of course, unless the first spell had established some kind of a connection between Willow and this dimension of swords and sorcery. Tara tried to think back to the events of Olaf’s visit to Sunnydale. “Uh, do you have shrimp in this world?” she asked.
“Shrimp?” Roshan’s forehead creased up. “Are you hungry?” She wriggled back away from the hill crest, stood up, and went to the horses. She returned a minute later, walking bent right over to keep out of sight, with her hands full. “I have no shrimp,” she said, “but perhaps this will do.” She handed Tara a piece of cheese and an apple, lay down again, and resumed her observation of the battle while munching on an apple of her own.
“It wasn’t what I meant,” Tara said. “One of my friends thought that Willow might have sent Olaf to a world without shrimp. I was just wondering if that had happened. But thanks anyway.” She bit into the cheese and gazed down at the battle. It seemed incongruous, even disrespectful, to be eating while watching men die; war as a spectator sport. Although, maybe not so different from her own world. She remembered a passage from a song she’d heard on Giles’ record player once:
Hey bartender over here
Two more shots
And two more beers
Sir, turn up the TV sound
The war has started on the ground…
And so Tara watched and munched on an apple, with ‘the bravery of being out of range’, as the gallant but doomed charge bogged down, and pikemen and archers closed in behind the knights, and brave men were slaughtered. The screams of the wounded and the dying were faint at this distance and Tara was able to hear another sound closer at hand. She turned her head and saw that Roshan was crying.
“Stop crying, Willow,” Anya commanded. “You’re getting tears on the books and some of them are extremely valuable.” In the past, after beating the bad guys, the Scoobies had gone forth and partied. This time, in the circumstances, the party had been replaced with a research session at the Magic Box.
“Hey, leave Willow alone,” Xander protested. “She’s been through enough.”
Anya folded her arms and glared at him. “No, you’re the expert at leaving people alone,” she said. “Especially at the altar.”
“Stop it, both of you,” said Buffy. “Getting Tara back is more important than your bickering. You haven’t found out anything, I guess, Willow?”
Willow dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. “Sorry, Anya,” she said. “No, not a thing, Buffy. The Keeper said that it might be possible to bring Tara back if I ‘penetrate the mysteries’, but I can’t even find out what the mysteries are. I’m totally stuck.”
“Don’t give up,” Buffy said. “I called Giles, to let him know what had gone down, and he’s going to come back soon. A week or so. There isn’t anyone better at research than Giles. If there’s any way of bringing Tara back he’ll find it.”
“After he shouts at me,” Willow said, glumly.
“Wouldn’t getting Tara back be worth putting up with a little scolding?” Buffy asked.
“You’re right,” Willow said. “But I w…” She chopped her word off short and glanced at Anya. “I’d really like him to come back sooner than in a week,” she said, avoiding the word ‘wish’. “According to what the Keeper said, Tara’s in a dimension that Olaf the Troll fits right into like it was made for him. Tara will be really out of place there. She’s probably totally miserable. Maybe even in danger.”
The battle was over, and the Aquilonian force had been wiped out, but there was still fighting going on. A single man remained alive, surrounded by an entire army, his back against a barrier formed of dead horses and men, hacking down all who came near.
“It is Conan himself,” Roshan told Tara. “I told you that he was a warrior without equal. Yet even he will fall, at the last, for they will bring up archers and shoot him down like a dog.” She paused to wipe her eyes. “We must be ready to run,” Roshan went on, “if any begin to ascend this slope. To be caught by soldiers, in the aftermath of a battle, would be... very unpleasant for us.”
“We might as well go now,” Tara suggested. “It’s not like we’re doing any good here.”
“No, I would see Conan’s end, that I might tell it to bards who can recount it in song,” Roshan said. “It cannot be long now. Hold, what is this?”
The ring of mail-clad soldiers surrounding the lone warrior parted and a single man walked through the gap. He seemed to be clad in robes, rather than in armor, and bore no visible weapons. The king took a step forward to meet the newcomer, steel flashed as he swung his broadsword, and then the king toppled to the ground and lay still.
“What happened?” Tara asked.
“Magic,” Roshan replied. “They did not fell Conan with arrows but with sorcery. It was a wizard, perhaps Tsotha-lanti himself, who brought him down.” She sucked her bottom lip into her mouth and bit on it. “I wonder…”
Roshan didn’t reply for a while. She was watching intently as the wizard summoned men who carried off the body of the king. “I think they have taken Conan alive,” she said at last. “Yes, they are fastening him in chains. He lives.”
“That’s… good,” Tara said. Memories of European Medieval history floated to the surface of her mind. “Will they, uh, hold him to ransom?”
“Perhaps,” Roshan said. She bit on her lip again. “I think not. Ophir, even allied with Koth, could never take and hold Aquilonia for long. I suspect they have an Aquilonian pretender lined up to seize the throne, with their aid, and to rule as their puppet. Such a man might decide, in time, to rule for himself. Conan, in captivity, would serve as an axe hanging over the neck of the pretender. He would not dare to rebel against his masters lest they release Conan to destroy him.”
“But surely he’d want to destroy the kings of, uh, Ophir and Koth even more,” Tara said.
“True,” said Roshan, “but it would be a measure of last resort. And I merely speculate. The intentions of his captors might be quite different. Tsotha-lanti may even intend to sacrifice Conan to some demon patron. See, it is the wizard’s chariot, not that of one of the kings, into which they are placing King Conan.”
“That’s horrible!” Tara said. “They sacrifice people to demons here?”
“Only the blackest of sorcerers do such things,” Roshan said. “Tsotha-lanti, alas, is one of that vile breed. Conan will be in dire peril even as he languishes in the dungeon.”
“That’s terrible,” Tara said, “but there isn’t anything we can do about it. So, what should we do now? Head off to your homeland?” She hoped Roshan wouldn’t choose that option; Tara had crossed Olaf’s path only briefly, and he probably wouldn’t remember her, but if he did, and if he still bore a grudge against Willow, things could get awkward. “Go back to Aquilonia and tell them that their king’s been captured?”
“It is likely that we would not be believed,” Roshan said, “until the armies of Ophir and Koth arrive at their gates, and then it would be too late. Perhaps we should indeed go to Yarmouk. Olaf would… no, I have a better idea.” Her face lit up with a smile for the first time since the battle had begun. “One that might bring us great glory and gold too; treasure enough, perhaps, to keep us in comfort for years to come. We shall rescue King Conan ourselves.”
Disclaimer: The Buffyverse characters in this story do not belong to me, but are being used for amusement only and all rights to them remain with Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, the writers of the original episode, and the TV and production companies responsible for the original television show. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER ©2002 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer trademark is used without express permission from Fox. The works of Robert E. Howard, including the Conan stories, are in the public domain according to United Kingdom copyright law. In the United States the copyright is claimed by Conan, Inc. and by Paradox Entertainment Inc. The song lyrics quoted are from ‘The Bravery of Being out of Range’ by Roger Waters.