The Life and Times

Part 3: Rhymes and Reasons

Chapter 27

"To expostulate why day is day, night night, and time is time, 
were nothing but to waste night, day, and time"
Hamlet, Act ii, Sc.2

Cole followed Francesca through the spirit winds. He laughed cynically when he remembered how she had irritated him and pushed him to the limits of his temper and his endurance when posing as his legal assistant, helping him through those first months after walking through the fire of his own making that lead him to his calling as a guardian. In the moments he was most infuriated and intimidated by her, he had comforted himself with the knowledge he could smite her in an instant. Caught in the wake of her magic, he now seriously doubted he had that much power.

Cole felt the time fold come around him and caught his breath as they came out of the spirit winds into the cold, cold mountain air of the Himalayas, high enough in the mountains to be above the tree line.

They materialised in a small courtyard and garden. On two sides of the courtyard were long, very old dark grey stone buildings with high arched rooves and long open verandas in front of thick clear glass arch windows without any blind or curtains. The other two sides were somewhat irregular and had a low stone wall over which Cole could see the mountain fall away to a deep chasm. High above, majestic and stark, the great snow covered mountains towered, over powering, unmoving, ancient. The courtyard had a thick layer of snow as did the wall, leaving the whole scene with an eerie an unnerving quiet.

Coe shivered, not entirely from the cold seeping through his thin cotton shirt. He moved and felt snow squish in his shoes. He glared with irritation at Francesca.

"Sorry" she said smiling., as he shivered again. Francesca had used her magic to appear in her whitelighter robe, which apparently offered some protection from the cold. "I thought you were smart enough to realise it snows in the Himalayas. And don't all me bitch," she added as he went to say something.

He opened his mouth and shut it twice but before he could retort, the demon guardian Proctor appeared from behind a thick wooden door set well back under the veranda.

"Francesca" he smiled satanically "Friend Belthezor. Welcome to my… abode. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"Cole wished to speak to you," Francesca said glancing at the towering mountains with disapproval written over her face.

"They provide me with a sense of purpose" Proctor told her a touch defensively. He looked much the same as always, dressed in his habitual black but the clothing, dark pants and long shirt and vest, with some embroidery on it that was typical of the area, rather than the long black coat he usually wore.

"That is good," said Francesca snippily walking past Proctor and Cole swallowed feeling decidedly an outsider.

Proctor indicated that Cole should go through the door. He entered a long dark room with a stone floor covered with rugs, local woven ones Cole guessed ,and mostly worn and old and the walls, also stone were covered by woven rugs with intricate patterns in surprisingly bright colours. A number of spirit lamps provided shadowy light and more shadows were provided by a huge fire in a very old fireplace that took up three quarters of the far wall. A door led off the room at on end and another to one side of the fireplace.

The room was furnished simply, local wooden furniture, heavy and probably antique, new when Proctor got it Cole suspected. The heavy chairs had bright woollen cushions on them, and there were a couple of softer almost comfortable European arms chairs, in soft bright colours. The whole room was a contradiction.

"It used to be a Buddhist monastery, centuries old " Francesca told Cole. "Always a place of magic and peace": Her face was brightly lit in the orange firelight, and had a soft angelic glow. "I doubt it has changed much since them." she added disapprovingly.

"That has " said Cole indicating the end of the room, where throwing out soft light was a bank of almost liquid crystal screens, flashing scenes and faces.

"I watch, Brother Belthezor" Proctor explained quietly "I have my own magic. I see much from my mountain and when needs must I move closer and I see what I need to see."

"Very little of which he is prepared to pass on " Francesca interrupted disapprovingly.

"I…pass on that which is needed to be...passed on," Proctor smiled with a leerish glint in his eyes. He politely offered a seat to Cole who shook his head and began to prowl up and down in front of the fire because without a jacket in the middle of a Himalayan mountain he was freezing.

"I'm missing something in Africa" Cole told Proctor. "I. can't see it. Evil is doing good business there. I know that Africa is a target, and I can't… I'm missing something.. I can't…"

"Help them " said Francesca somewhat primly.

"Damn it Mrs Rinaldi" Cole snapped. "You know I know better than that. You've told me that often enough. I listened."

"I'm please you have" answered Francesca even more primly, her eyes twinkling a little and slightly annoyed at same time.

Proctor sat back on one the of the chairs at the table in front of the fire. "That is good" he said.

"What is good?" demanded Cole.

"That you listen to Francesca" replied Proctor satanic.

Cole raised his eyes in frustration. "What do you see that I don't?" he insisted.

"I see nothing extra ordinary " Proctor answered slowly.

"You see evil? " Cole asked.

"Yes" said Proctor" I see evil in Africa but there are very few places where it would not be extraordinary to see no evil. I see occurrences in Africa that are the product of evil. I see things in Africa that are sent by evil and I see a great room for evil to seduce innocents to evil and to corrupt and gain."

"As it always is" Cole pressed.

"More so I would say," said Proctor lowly.

"Is evil winning?" Cole asked in a guardian voice which Francesca noted.

"It is gaining," said Proctor "From what I observe. Which is also not extra ordinary in the circumstances."

"Circumstances of the ambitions of a new Source." interrupted Cole softly.

"Exactly" said Proctor dryly.

"This does not bother you?" Cole demanded standing still thoughtfully.

"It is the order of things," replied Proctor his voice demonic, drier.

"What do you see that the Source can use as a…. conduit for evil?" Cole asked.

"What do you mean?" asked Francesca surprised at the question.

"What you said" he told her, "The dark ages, crusades, inquisition, with hunts. The last Sources found something. What has this one found?"

"You did listen to me" Francesca exclaimed. "Thank you Phoebe."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean? " snapped Cole losing the guardian.

Francesca smiled knowingly but refrained from answering.

"What do you see in Africa?" Cole demanded again of Proctor.

"I see what I always see " Proctor answered with nothing demonic in his voice. "I see poverty, and disease and hardship. I see small lives, happy and sad. I see deeds of great goodness in surprising places. I see contradiction and conflict."

Cole shook his head in frustration.

"Look to your own wisdom" " Francesca told Cole, whitelighter voice soft.

"My wisdom is all evil, and I cannot…. embrace good and find the answer there " Cole snapped. He lifted his hands and dropped them " I do not like… feeling so close to evil." Cole said. "It may be wisdom but it destroys hope or is this merely my experience?" he asked Proctor quietly.

"I find hope in looking toward good " Proctor answered slowly, his eyes on Francesca's face. "It is not necessary to embrace it."

"And that is your wisdom?" Cole challenged.

"No " said "Proctor in a dry gritty voice "It is my observation. But since you asked I will tell you what I found in evil." he said " I found evil torture on my soul, a carrion plague, an illness that overwhelmed my soul from which I believed there was no hope and no escape."

Cole stopped cold,

Francesca met Proctor's eyes and he looked away "You escaped " she said matter of fact.

"And I once told you why " Proctor replied quietly.

"I did not understand your answer then and I understand it less now" Francesca told him school marm in place.

"Perhaps " answered Proctor the satanic sneer returning to his face " but it gives me great pleasure to know that after all this time you still remember it."

Cole shuffled in front of the fire feeling decidedly in the way. "What else do you see in Africa?" he asked quietly.

Proctor sighed "All I can tell you is I see evil as frustrated and perplexed by Africa as you. That I see people living their lives as best they can, as they must. I see them balance or not balance their lives, with family and religion and culture. I see them with divided loyalties and affection and pain and love and hate." Proctor leaned forward in his hair " I see people Belthezor. Living lives much as other people."

Cole stopped pacing, "And you see nothing else?" he said insisted.

"Belthezor I do not know what else you want me to tell you I see." Proctor answered tersely "I can only tell you what I have seen."

"You see small lives conflicted lives. Some evil, many innocent, you see evil preying on their loyalties and lives." Cole asked. " And succeeding?"

"Cole " Francesca said very gently " You know Evil must succeed at some level, evil must stay strong, to hold Good to account or Good will fracture."

"I know," Cole said, standing still and half smiling "There is nothing different is there? Its always the same" he said in a voice that was purely guardian.

"And you have found the answer to Africa?" Francesca asked suspiciously.

"No" Cole replied quietly shaking his head "I do not know the answer to Africa. " he shrugged "I've been many thing, I was the source, inhabited by the source of evil but even having that wisdom I do not have the wisdom to find the answer to Africa."

"Do you have the answer you seek from me?" Proctor asked with some understanding.

"Yes Brother Proctor, I have the answer I seek. I thank you." Cole shivered violently. "My family are inclined to be amused that I feel the cold so badly" he suddenly grinned a little awkward. "Blame it on me having grown up in a warmer climate. I am gone" Cole told Proctor as Francesca laughed. "Be well"

"Be well brother" said Proctor.

Cole stopped suddenly reminded of the conversation Phoebe had interrupted "Mrs Rinaldi. I. Today That conversation I meant it. Its my choice" he said "I don't…. and I'm saying…..I resent," he stumbled.

The prim schoolmarm look was well in place and Cole suddenly forgot he was a guardian and was reduced to five years old again "Cole it is my choice too " Francesca said calmly " and it is my wisdom and you must respect that choice."

He all but stamped his foot petulantly. "You just are trying to be damned " he stopped " you are." he said not game to use the words he was thinking as he saw her expression "This conversation isn't finished."

"I think it is " said Francesca with a ghost of a smile.

Cole started to shimmer and Francesca watched him, her expression caught between amusement, a little annoyance and some sympathy.

Proctor stood up "Brother Belthezor" he called. Cole hesitated and stopped and Proctor caught his arm, then turned to Francesca to say "I need speech with my brother a moment" and then all but dragged Cole outside.

The freezing mountain air hit and Proctor knowing Cole was living mortal and not wearing a jacket of any sort, took a some what satanic pleasure in seeing him shiver, in the freezing mountain air.

"There is something that must be said Brother " Proctor said with a sneer that had none of his usual mockery "Francesca is an angel " he told Cole in a dark rasping satanic voice "It is her wisdom that the ah object of… affection is not responsible for that affection."

Cole swallowed nervously.

"I value Francesca's wisdom" Proctor said deadly quiet " having so little of my own. But there are times when I reject it. I believe that the… object of affection has a responsibility to be... worthy of the affection, in certain instances."

"I care a great deal for Francesca " Cole said softly but feeling out of his depth "I am in her debt. She has been… good to me."

"Then you are honoured " said Proctor satanic, demonic in his intensity "Be worthy of the honour Brother."

"I am beholden to her, " Cole protested.

"Then act accordingly," sneered Proctor "Francesca is good and will accept your… lack of consideration because she is a good, but there are those who have an …affections for her who would not. You understand me. "

Cole shivering in the Himalayan mountain nodded but could not say anything before Proctor continued, his voice colder than the mountain air "My calling is to be a fellow…traveller with Good," he said " but I am not an adherent. I do not embrace all the concepts of good. " Proctor almost whispered as Cole nodded compliantly. "I do not embrace the concept of turning the other cheek," Proctor added, so Cole shivered even more "You understand?"

"I understand " said Cole subservient. "But you don't need to fight Francesca's battles. She manages me very well without… help" he sniffed in a good imitation of Rodik.

"It's a small thing I can do " said Proctor," a small gift, to offer, a moment of not being…responsible. You hold some of her heart" said Proctor, and he shrugged "You have a great power." he said "You understand me Brother"

Cole sulked "I would not willingly hurt her" he told Proctor " I hold her dear. I would not hurt her."

Proctor softened marginally, then his face took on the dark cynical expression of a satyr "In this calling to be a guardian " he said "I have found some peace, a level of contentment. I envy few." He turned away and turned back " I… envy you a power I do not have and consequently will hold you to account for it"

Cole nodded, his eyes dark, shivered not from the cold mountain air blowing through his thin shirt "I have some understanding…brother " he replied. "As we are both creatures of the heart who frequently lack wisdom.

"As I have observed," said Proctor the watcher.

Cole half smiled then glanced over Proctor's shoulder where he could just see Francesca, behind one of the dark windows was wandering round Proctor's room, watching the crystals flash with a body stance between amusement and derision.

"Be well Brother Proctor " Cole said and shimmered.

When Proctor returned inside Francesca had seated herself by the huge fire huddled in an arm chair with her legs curled under her, whitelighter hood thrown back, salt and pepper hair in a pony tale, her twisted real face showing her concern. "It is hard time for him" she excused Cole to Proctor.

The satanic smile was fully in place as Proctor said "It is always a hard time for guardians… and their whitelighters. I observe Belthezor's brother whitelighter is feeling the strain of offering wise counsel to our Brother Durand."

"Leo is feeling the strain of Durand not listening to wise council. He will learn that all he can do is guide. Durand must make his choices and Leo must trust him." Francesca smiled.

"Exactly" said Proctor.

Francesca looked at him. She stared for a second, stood up and walked toward the window looking at the view of the great mountains. "I do not like the mountains " she said over her shoulder. "They have an awesome presence but their soul is cold."

"I know " said Proctor quiet his voice dry.

Francesca turned to him, her face severe and then she laughed, the golden one that had been loved by those before and after Proctor. "And I do not like it when you turn my wisdom on me."

He smiled and for an instant all she saw was his human soul and heart in the smile. " But your wisdom is so wise" he said "And I rarely have the pleasure of turning anything you say to my advantage. Indulge me." he said with the satyr smile back in place.

Francesca's face showed exasperation, annoyance, school marm severity then she laughed again.

"May I offer you something?" he asked gently.

She hesitated.

"Indulge me " Proctor pleaded, with only a small amount of cynical amusement. "it so rarely I have the pleasure."

"Thank you " she said quietly.

"It will be simple " he said "I have local bread and cheese and honey and a very good Italian red wine."

She laughed again and missed his smile as he half turned. "There was a time in my girlhood in Italy, way back in the times of Charlemagne, when it was so hard, such a meal would have been a feast " she said, eyes bright at her memory.

"I have heard such things" Proctor answered dryly. He left the room to prepare the meal while Francesca walked to the window and sighed deeply at the view of the mountains.

Proctor returned and she pursed her lips" I do not like the mountains " she told him disapprovingly "I much prefer the sea."

Proctor laid the food on the table "I know" he said.


Another night passed quietly enough at the Manor. Cole arrived home to be badgered by both Whosit and Melinda for treats as Leo glared at him. Leo had spent the afternoon babysitting and almost immediately disappeared to indulge himself in an hour's light reading of John Paul Sartre in French because he had just exchanged with the muse who inspired Sartre. Leo was therefore only vaguely interested when Cole tryed to explain in between giving a gurgling Wyatt aeroplane's that he finally had some headway on Africa.

Somewhat disappointed Cole changed, still feeling bone marrow cold from his visit to the Himalayas. He went downstairs to set the table for dinner and let Melinda help and Whosit think he was helping by carrying spoons and the odd unbreakable object.

Cole watched his son carefully climb on a chair and place each spoon exactly in line. Patsy clearly liked things in balance and fitting properly. Cole often wondered what went on in his son's head. Despite his cynicism about what he jokingly called voodoo Cole had read every-one of Phoebe's books on childhood psychology and development. But all he could learn was that Patsy was not following any known pattern. Demon children had to be self sufficient at an incredibly early age to survive, and Cole watching Patsy toddle to the kitchen, was very suspicious his son who could not speak beyond saying dada and mama and me was perfectly able to follow a certain logic and choose actions, that no 12 month old baby should be able to do.

Piper arrived home just as the table was set. Phoebe had dropped her at the club and she had spent a few hours going over lease applications for the upstairs restaurant and her head was aching from the long day of motherhood, magic and business. She had barely come in the door when a furious Rodik stomped down the stairs to scream at her because he had discovered that Piper had kept him frozen all morning while Marly had helped with potions. When Cole and Piper both told him to shut the fuck up he was so outraged he demanded the appearance of the whitelighter, screaming Angela's name to the spirit winds.

Angela finally arrived accompanied by Not-Casper and listened to Rodik rant with an expression almost as tired as Piper's. Angela eventually turned to Piper and said "Please."

"Sure " said Piper and froze Rodik again. " I just can't wait until we can get Willem and then part company with this little bastard." she told the whitelighters.

"I have to admit it been a relief not having to deal wit him alone" said Angela not far from tears.

"Do you know whispered?" Not-Casper so the Elders would not catch him "I find a certain pleasure in watching the little bastard frustrated at every turn by the Charmed Ones."

"The Charmed One's consider it a small courtesy to their whitelighters " smirked Piper making Angela laugh as the whitelighters orbed.

Piper looked at Cole .

"Leave him" said Cole."

Paige arrived home to find Cole feeding children and Piper cooking.

"What's Rodik doing frozen?" She asked.

"Mediating" said Piper.

"Not causing trouble" said Cole.

"Good" said Paige. She swallowed and then braved herself. "Cole " she said nervously. "I have to tell him Piper " she said as Piper started to interrupt.

"What?" he said trying to convince Patsy not to eat mash potatoes with his fingers.

"Jade knows you're Belthezor " she whispered in case Rodik could hear though the freeze.

Cole winced. "That could be awkward " he said slowly "How did she find out?"

"I told her " said Paige waiting for him to explode and becoming very unnerved when he didn't "What are you going to do?" she asked nervously but ready to argue any course with him.

"Nothing " he said slowly and Paige knew she was looking at the guardian. "Why did you tell her?" he asked calmly.

"It would have broken trust not to " Paige explained. "And she knew some witch you killed. Jenna?" Paige asked. "You're not going to do anything?" she asked again.

"I can't smite any creature good or bad for knowing what I am" he said slowly "I can feel the spirit winds already spinning on that one. Anyway if I killed everyone who knew some-one I killed when I was a demon, hell there wouldn't be any-one left."

Piper watched his shoulder's hunch and she gently put a hand on his arm.

"I was very evil," he said in a matter of fact voice. "And all I can do is hope there is some sense to it, some rhyme or reason to balance what I did. " he stopped speaking for a second then turned around "What the hell do you want?" he demanded angrily as Rodik appeared at the door.

"You froze me" Rodik screamed at Piper.

"Shut the fuck up," said Paige and Piper.

Phoebe came home from drinks at work to share supper with the family and a very sulky Rodik while Melinda watched TV and Patsy pretended to but was lost ins some game that involved moving blocks at odd angles.

"I think he's going to be a spatial genius " declared his proud mother.

Piper avoided an answer when Melinda called out "Look mommy Pussy " Melinda yelled excitedly as she saw a tiger in a TV commercial.

"Tiger, honey, " said Piper.

"Why don't we get her a cat?" demanded Cole.

"We are not getting a cat " hissed Piper .

"No way " said Phoebe.

"Not a good Idea " said Leo.

Cole and Paige exchanged exasperated glances.

Phoebe and Piper put the children to bed and Phoebe decided to take advantage of the quiet and have a long soak in the bath. Leo went back to his reading and Cole went to work on depositions in the conservatory, while Paige watched television in the living room.

After making sure the children really were asleep Piper came down stairs and leant against the stair balustrade, giving way to tiredness, then flushed as she saw Cole standing a few feet away watching her .

"Just tired" she insisted.

Cole put his hand out and caught he and just for a second she gave in to the luxury of letting someone hold her together. She started to pull away and he pulled her against him"

"I thought we had a deal Pip" he said when she gave in and lent on him. "You stop trying to be big sister and look after everyone all the time. You let me do it sometimes and I keep pissing you off."

"Who looks after you? " she said.

"I got to many people looking after me and checking up on me" Cole sighed as she leant against him" "Step back Pip. Mostly we're all grown up. We don't need Big Sister all the time. And I am not missing out on my fun pissing you off. I'd go crazy " he said.

"Yes sir big brudder" she said quietly and stood for a second.

"What do you think you're doing?" Leo said behind them a he came down the stairs.

"Seducing your wife " said Cole.

"Kay?" said Leo turning to the kitchen.

"L-eo " stormed Piper pulling free.

"What " said Leo.

"You could at lease pretend to be jealous, " Piper spat running after him.

"You know I trust you implicitly " Leo said angelically.

"L-eeeeeeeeeeeeeo" shrieked Piper furiously " "L-EEEEEEEEEEEO " she yelled as she stormed after him. Cole shut his eyes for a second and smiled as he could hear the yelling coming from the kitchen. He sat on the sofa in the living room, stared at the television then picked up the newspaper Leo had thrown there.

" What was that yelling about?" Paige asked .

"Leo told Piper her trusted her implicitly " Cole explained.

"Ouch" said Paige " sometimes I wonder what Leo does for brains."

"Well he's an angel; " Cole said still reading.

"God I hate reality shows. Nothing to watch "said Paige flipping channels. "Why do they think cooping a bunch of psychologically disturbed, immature people  in an unnatural situation is entertainment?"

"Psychologically disturbed, immature program developers?'" said Cole still reading.

"Hmm" said Paige.

" If you're bored you could always go on a date" Cole told her, stopping reading.

"Why would I want to go on a date? Paige snapped "I don't want to go on date" Paige insisted.

"Not because you can't " said Cole hurriedly, trying to be reassuring big brother "you seemed to have no trouble before Mark. You're quite a pretty girl you know."

"I'm an extremely pretty girl and I can get a date any rime I want. I don't want." Paige snarked, sliding down in the chair, bored and uninterested as she flipped channels.

"Sure?" Cole asked .

"You only want me to go on a date because you miss playing big brother scaring the pants off some poor innocent guy who commits the sin of thinking I'm attractive," Paige told him.

Cole grinned but did not deny it.

"Gone past it " Paige said " After Mark. You know just don't want to". She frowned at him "Why didn't you date when you and Phoebe were separated?"

"Didn't want to" Cole mumbled.

"You see" Paige told him earnestly "That was when I knew Mark was special, when he would not let you scare the pants off him, when he stood up to you."

"Glad I could help" said Cole smiling .

"Shut up" said Paige.

Phoebe came downstairs wearing loose red pyjamas and fluffy slippers and flopped down on the sofa so she could lie half across Cole's lap. He stroked her hair and she sighed contentedly and for half a second Paige was stung by envy before she dutifully pushed it away.

"What did I miss?" Phoebe asked,

"I was telling Paige if she is bored with television she ought to start dating again," Cole answered.

"He only wants me to date so he can scare boyfriends off " Paige snipped.

"Well some of the shits you dated needed scaring off" Phoebe replied safely snuggling up to Cole.

Paige slammed the remote down. She stood up pursed her lips and snorted," I have only one thing to say to you Madame Phoebe."

"What?" said Phoebe contented where she was.

"Miles" said Paige nastily.

"What?" said Phoebe stung.

"Miles" repeated Paige heading upstairs "Miles, Miles, Miles."

Phoebe let her breath out and nervously look up at Cole "My little sister can be a bitch" she said a little uncertain.

"You're little sister is damned smart arse" Cole murmured pushing his finger under her pyjama top to feel her nipple. Phoebe sighed happily.

Paige stopped on the stairs, half turned then made a decision. She went upstairs into her room shut her door and locked it then pulled open her purse until she pulled out a new CD she had bought that day. She read the title "Great Love songs of the Century" a little guilty and embarrassed.

"The century isn't that old," she said out loud. But old or not it was the century she fell in love irrevocably.

Nervous, hesitantly ,she put it in her player sat crossed legged on her bed and hoped to lose herself in magic, to find a place where the power and beauty of it overwhelmed her senses and lost her in its passion and fire.

All she heard was music. Some songs were pretty, some songs had a passion and some even had a sensuality but despite her efforts Paige was still sitting on her bed in the manor listening to love songs from which she felt excluded.

It was only when one toward the end of the disc started to play that she forgot wanting to force an exchange and lost herself in the song. It was not a particularly good song, slushy sentimental lyrics and irritating music. She remembered it because it had been playing in a small café as background when she and Mark had stopped after a movie. They had just been reaching the stage in their relationship when they were dropping the best behaviour masks and Paige was not happy about the movie, an art house one which she claimed was pretentious and manipulative, while Mark found it thought provoking and clever.

The discussion was generating into a 'we have nothing in common, you're a different generation to me' argument, that in hindsight Paige realised was make or break discussion in their relationship, when that song had played. Mark had been particularly scathing about its sentimentality and Paige had felt the need to defend it and even accused him at being 14 years older than her as far to old in his outlook to have anything in common.

"I wondered when we were going to have this argument " he said calmly angry in the way that irritated her no end and it had suddenly struck her that he was vulnerable and smart enough to know they were at a cross roads, waiting for her to say they had nothing to build.

She took a breath made a decision "Get used to it "she snarked, "We're going to have it every time you try snipping at things kids like me enjoy." she told him, deciding she was not walking away and was not losing herself.

"So its going to be quite often, does this mean you've gone past pretending to enjoy what I like just to keep it nice" he grinned, recognising they had stepped down a path signposted 'Together.'

"Yes "Paige had answered pertly not as apprehensive about the choice as she had thought she would be.

Over a year later sitting on her bed listening to a very bad love song Paige felt the tears come as she recognised right at that point she had realised she did not have to be perfect for him, she just had to be herself, when she was suddenly dragged away by the swirling of the spirit winds.

It was very dark and cold. She snorted and could see in the soft moonlight her breath in the freezing air. She could with heightened senses smell the water and hear the lapping of the lake as it feed into the marshes. There was strong smell of wet vegetation and reeds and they rustled as the animal and bird population of the marshland went about the nightly business of feeding and survival.

The marshes were alive with creatures, birds and reptiles and small part magic inhabitants, all intent about their small lives. She stepped carefully though the water, placing hooves that gleamed silver in the moonlight carefully, to avoid the creatures mortal and magic.

Some noted her presence, some just seemed to shudder as they felt the magic pass them. The water was cold on her legs and she snorted again tossing her mane and then lifting her head to sniff the air.

As a Ceffyl-Dwr phantom grey water horse ghost and protector of the marshlands, she shivered in the cold then curved her lips as she caught the scent of her prey, a poacher illegally and immorally stealing the life of the marshland, killing innocents, disturbing the fragile balance of magic and reality in this small realm. With magic footfall and grey ghostly equine outline fading into the moonlight, she tossed her mane and silently snuck up behind the poacher as he raised his gun.

Just before he fired she snorted mightily down his neck and then as he screamed and spun she snorted again appearing as a great ghostly grey horse snorting blue fire and eyes flashing in the moonlight.

The poacher wild eyed with terror froze unable to move. She reared up and with a silver hoof knocked the gun from his hand and he fell back in fear catching his feet in the marsh reeds and for a few seconds floundering under water until he finally appeared, soaking wet and spluttering the freezing smelly marsh water out of his mouth.

She snorted again, a grey ghostly horse figure in the moonlight and squelching water from boots and clothes, the poacher half staggered to his feet and ran screaming into the night to add his story to the already growing legends of the haunted marshes.

Paige shook her head and nodded smugly, as she and the Ceffyl-Dwr enjoyed the satisfaction of knowing they had done good and she realised that to be good it was not necessary to be perfectly good. Scaring the shit out of evil doers had its own reward. Paige and the Ceffyl-Dwr continued their night journey stepping carefully and slowly through the marsh land sniffing out evil doers.

Some hours later when the spirit winds pulled her back to her own room in the wee hours of the morning Paige fell back suddenly feeling happy, and deep inside her hoped somewhere that Mark was having as much funning doing good as she had that night.